Career changers are helping to fill teaching vacancies

Holly+Huynh%2C+talent+management+coordinator+for+Bibb+Schools%2C+welcomes+new+teachers+at+the+first+monthly+professional+learning+night+of+the+school+year+Sept.+8%2C+2022.+About+170+teachers+attended+and+all+were+recent+career+changers.

Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom

Holly Huynh, talent management coordinator for Bibb Schools, welcomes new teachers at the first monthly professional learning night of the school year Sept. 8, 2022. About 170 teachers attended and all were recent career changers.

After school on a recent Thursday, 170 Bibb Schools teachers were congratulated, rewarded then put to work for a couple more hours.

The group of educators, about 11% of the district’s teachers, all share at least one thing in common: they are career changers, new to teaching.

“You guys have survived your first month. How do you feel? ” Holly Huynh, the district’s talent management coordinator, said to the group gathered in the Professional Learning Center off Riverside Drive that evening. “You need to give yourself a round of applause. It’s a big deal.”

Each of them received a coupon for a free shrimp appetizer and a free pass to bowl. Others were rewarded for volunteering to participate and share practices during lessons about classroom management, teaching students expectations and behavior and more. The tokens of appreciation were donated by local businesses and, Huynh said, are a way to show appreciation and a way of saying, “we know … you’re learning a new profession on the job and then you’re still coming in the evening.”

Shanita Little, whose career was working for insurance companies, said, “I really didn’t think it would be this much work but I still love it.”

Little is a kindergarten teacher at L.H. Williams Elementary School in Macon’s Pleasant Hill neighborhood.

“It’s something I’ve always really wanted to do,” she said. “After GEICO and a lot of other insurance companies, no fulfillment, no anything, I just decided to do this and I love it.”

Tavon Mason, who moved here with his family last year from Baltimore, Maryland, also is beginning his teaching career. Mason has worked as a wide receiver for the New York Jets, as a parapro for a private company that provides at-home services to children with disabilities and as a stunt double for Cuba Gooding Jr. in the 2009 movie, “The Way of War.” He also appears in Season 3 Episode 5 of “The Wire.”

In 2013, Mason started working as a behavioral interventionist at Baltimore City Schools. Upon moving to Georgia to be near his brother, Mason said he started looking at teaching jobs.

Curlandra Lightfoot Smith, Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports coordinator for Bibb Schools, leads the first monthly professional learning night of the school year on Sept. 8, 2022, for new teachers who are “career changers.” (Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom)

“The main thing was just wanting to help kids,” said Mason, who was a co-teacher at the Academy for Classical Education last year before Bibb Schools hired him as math teacher and special education teacher at Westside High School.

Little, Mason and 375 other Bibb Schools educators are only able to teach without state certification because of a “strategic waiver” agreement Bibb schools, along with 129 other districts, have had with the Georgia Department of Education since 2016.

The deal is this: School districts agree to greater financial and academic accountability in exchange for specific waivers from the state that allow districts more flexibility spending and exemption from certain rules such as teacher certification and class size caps.

Waiving state certification can make it easier for school districts to fill vacancies amid the shrinking pool of experienced educators and fewer in college studying to become educators. Waiver teachers make up about a quarter of Bibb Schools’ teachers.

Teachers are normally certified by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission before they enter the classroom. With the provisional certification, teachers have a year to pass the Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators, GACE, in their specific field.

In addition to passing the test, waiver teachers who have a bachelor’s degree but lack formal teaching education have two options to obtain qualification to teach. One is through a program called GaTAPP, Georgia Teacher Academy for Preparation and Pedagogy, which allows teachers to continue teaching while also being enrolled in the program. GaTAPP is offered by the state’s 16 Regional Educational Service Agencies. The other option is to obtain a master’s degree in education.

Huynh said she has been meeting with each waiver teacher and “talking to them about the pros and cons of both of those and trying to help them figure out what is the best fit is going to be for them.”

The district tries to match teachers with subjects that match their backgrounds, Huynh said. For example, someone who has a degree in math or business might teach a math class.

Huyhn said about 90% of the teachers at Hutchings College and Career Academy are waiver teachers who are “industry people and we need them to teach like their industry to the kids that are in that pathway.”

The district is still working to fill vacancies for teachers, substitutes and paraprofessionals. A job fair is set for Sept. 26 from 2-7 p.m. at the Board of Education building at 484 Mulberry St.

The starting salary for teachers without experience is $41,893, acccording to the district’s salary schedule.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected]