Published: Monday, August 25, 2008
More than 100 new teachers have entered the workforce over the past three years thanks to PJC’s Educator Preparation Institute (EPI).
Established in 2005, the institute is for people who already have a bachelor’s degree but are not certified to teach in the public schools. Instead of enrolling in a university education program, these PJC students can complete a 21-credit program at PJC in as little as three semesters.
PJC started the institute shortly after the Legislature authorized this kind of training. The state will need an estimated 15,000 new teachers over the next few years, predicted Dr. Hollace Craven, director of the PJC institute.
PJC’s EPI program has had 199 enrollees since 2005-’07, and 115 have completed the program since 2005.
The program is made up of only nine courses, some of which teach students about school law, educational technology, learning styles, and classroom management.
Aside from a summer research course, all courses are a minimum of four to five weeks. Students, however, must attend class on a concentrated schedule requiring about eight hours a week.
A five-week course is equivalent to a full semester, according to Dr. Sue Halfhill, assistant provost and one of the founders of the institute.
“A lot of [students] work still, and so it’s very intensive. It’s like working a full-time job and being enrolled in three courses as a part-time job,” Halfhill said.
Halfhill said that students need to be dedicated to teaching in order to go through this program. “In many cases teaching is one of the hardest jobs. Students aren’t always ready to learn [and] you might be taking a salary cut from your other job,” Halfhill said.
Aside from courses, potential students must go through a state-required interview with Craven prior to being admitted into the program.
“I’m looking for someone who’s interested in being with children—someone who is oriented towards that kind of a schedule, someone who has a passion for a particular subject area or grade grouping, [and] someone who can speak and write well,” Craven said.
Additionally, the program is “limited to those people who will be capable of acquiring a certification to teach,” Halfhill said. For example, students’ “educational background must fit into something that’s taught in the K-12 level” and they must also pass a criminal background check “to make sure that they have never been convicted of a felony.”
Eventually, after students are accepted into the program, they are placed in class with other students who are interested in teaching the same age group.
With class approaching, there are currently 41 students enrolled in the program for the 2008-’09 year. Courses for the fall semester will be Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.
Halfhill thinks that the program has been very successful in great part to Craven and Linke.
Halfhill and Dr. June Linke, district academic department head of behavioral sciences, wrote the initial agreement that allowed PJC to start the institute.
While Linke had a great vision and got things moving, Craven’s efforts helped the plan become reality, Halfhill said. “Approximately a year ago, we were one of only five [schools] to get [state] performance money, meaning that we turned out the most graduates who had met all of the qualifications,” Halfhill said.
Of all the EPI PJC graduates, 70 are known to have found jobs, according to Craven. She added that some graduates are still in the process of applying for jobs, while some have not notified her of the jobs that they took.
According to the Florida Department of Education, the estimated employment for K-12 teachers in Escambia County was 8,604 in 2007, and the projected estimated employment for 2015 is 9,796.
For the state of Florida, an estimated 378,419 K-12 teachers were employed in 2007 and the projected estimated employment for 2015 is 454,458.
“The job market this year for our students is tight for high school teachers,” Craven said. “However, our elementary and middle school teachers are getting jobs. The opportunities for new teachers in the Panhandle of Florida are not as wide open as the conditions in the eastern, central and southern part of the state. This has been the case for the entire life of the Educator Preparation Institutes.”
Overall, Halfhill is proud of EPI’s success: “I think it’s an ideal program. Our students are coming out and they appear to be well prepared for the profession. I don’t think it can get better than that.”