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The Point Park program allows holders of other degrees to pursue a teaching career

During Craig Johnston’s 20-year career as an engineer, the idea of ​​becoming a teacher often crossed his mind.

But it wasn’t until 2020 – months before the covid-19 pandemic put an end to most aspects of daily life – that Johnston took the leap.

In January of the same year, Johnston enrolled in Point Park University’s American Council for Teacher Excellence Certification Program. The approximately one-year program allows anyone with an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university to earn their teaching certification in various content areas.

Point Park is the only school in the state to offer the program, providing students with an alternative to pursuing a second bachelor’s or master’s degree.

“I thought I could make a difference in teaching, and I thought it would be important to try to influence young people because they are the future leaders,” said Johnston, a physics teacher at Ringgold High. School in Washington County. “And you can connect with a lot more people who teach than you would in, say, engineering. I just thought that was a way to contribute to society.

The state Department of Education first approved the program in 2003. Darlene Marnich, founding dean of Point Park’s School of Education, said classes began after college and the American Board Atlanta-based nonprofit — which strives to put qualified teachers in the classroom — has petitioned the Department of Education to offer certification in the state.

Today, students in Pennsylvania can earn a pre-K-12 special education certificate; preK-4; or a specialized secondary education in biology, chemistry, English, mathematics, physics and science.

“It’s the starting point for their teaching careers,” Marnich said.

Once Johnston decided to enroll in the program, he took two graduate courses online through Point Park. Students in the program must complete the two eight-week courses, which vary depending on whether they are pursuing a certificate in primary or secondary education. They must earn at least a 3.0 GPA to move on.

Johnston then had to pass the American Board exams, as well as the content exams and the Professional Teaching Knowledge exam.

After completing these steps, Johnston was able to apply for a temporary teaching permit, valid for one year.

He then began applying for teaching jobs that would allow him to complete the required 60-day teaching internship. The placement must consist of full-time, full-time education in the candidate’s area of ​​certification. During this mentoring process, the student is assigned an academic supervisor and must attend a virtual orientation.

According to Marnich, during this stage, a candidate can either work as a student or substitute teacher, or be hired by a school district that needs to fill a vacancy.

After the 60 days, the candidate then applies for their Instructional I certification.

Last year, nearly 50 teachers were certified under the program. So far this year, nearly 30 candidates are preparing for the mentorship portion of the program.

“It’s a lot of people who had a different chance,” Marnich said.

Local impacts

Locally, some school districts have used the program to fill vacancies.

Autumn Turk, director of curriculum and development for the Burrell School District, said she recently hired a special education teacher who completed the certification program.

“We’ve found that a lot of people who have gone through these non-traditional ways and come in and start working with kids, they find they love it,” Turk said. “They love teaching, they want to be with kids, they want to get certified, so the Point Park program is a great opportunity for them.”

She noted that the program is a way for districts to get to know potential teacher candidates who work as non-traditional substitutes before they receive all of their certifications.

“When we work with them in the program, (we) get to know them as a person and as an employee as they learn to become a teacher,” Turk said. “(The program) allows people … to do this in a way that is conducive to teachers who will fill in during the day or work another job during the day and take the certification courses online.”

The Burrell School District has seen an increase in applicants completing the American Board program in recent years, Turk said, which has also been seen in Point Park.

“I think we have more visibility. … I absolutely believe that success breeds success, so when we get 49 teachers out in a year … and they’re doing well in school districts, they’re talking about it,” Marnich said.

Despite those numbers, Marnich noted that the program isn’t essential to solving the teacher shortage, which she says largely began in the early to mid-2010s.

At that time, Pennsylvania was producing more than 15,000 teachers a year. In 2017, however, that number dropped to 5,000.

“We’re filling our needs in Pennsylvania and we have a few (teachers) left, but we’re not able to export nearly the number we were years ago,” Marnich said.

Yet, as the program continues to be successful, it offers candidates a chance to pursue a new career while gaining the added experience of their previous company.

“I’m definitely more excited about the job than I was before,” Johnston said. “I just feel a little more comfortable and a little more relaxed now. …I’m doing something that makes more sense to me, so I think overall it’s definitely been a positive change for me personally.

Megan Tomasic is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Megan by email at mtomasic@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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