Teaching program filling school vacancies and creating ‘superstars’ in the classroom

First-year teacher hopes to make lessons matter to students

John Rogers, a first-year educator, is teaching sixth-grade social sciences at Howard Middle School in Bibb County. After a career coaching college football and doing athletic strength and conditioning work, he now is going through Georgia's Teach
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John Rogers, a first-year educator, is teaching sixth-grade social sciences at Howard Middle School in Bibb County. After a career coaching college football and doing athletic strength and conditioning work, he now is going through Georgia's Teach

John Rogers is used to coaching on the football field. Now, he’s leading students inside the classroom too.

He teaches sixth-grade social sciences at Howard Middle School. As a first-time teacher enrolled in Georgia’s Teacher Alternative Preparation Program, he’s earning his teaching certification while working full time at the school.

Each year, Middle Georgia Regional Education Service Agency has between 160 and 170 first- and second-year students in TAPP, which began in 2001, said Pam Wacter, the Georgia TAPP coordinator. Close to 1,000 candidates have been certified through the program, which at a cost of about $6,000 is substantially cheaper than a traditional education.

Rogers is among 60 people now in the program in Bibb County, said Melanique Floyd, the district’s coordinator of strategic talent management. Houston County has seven new TAPP teachers this year and had eight in 2016-17, said Cindy Flesher, the district’s deputy superintendent for administrative services.

TAPP participants have come from backgrounds including retail, criminal justice, juvenile justice, sports, law, hospitality and film production. Some enroll just because they want to work with kids with disabilities.

“Their knowledge in the area of content is really a plus for them,” Floyd said. “They may need support in the areas of classroom management, but that is a definite advantage to student achievement with these people coming in that have high content knowledge.”

Rogers, 30, graduated from the strength and conditioning department at East Tennessee State University. He coached football at Tusculum College in Tennessee, Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia and Georgia Military College, and he did private sector athlete conditioning. But he said he wanted something different once he and his wife, Marlina, had a child on the way. Their son, William, is now 16 months old.

“Family is really important to me, and I wanted to spend time with them, and college football is not the way to do that,” said Rogers, who is helping with football at Howard Middle. “Coaching in college is not something you do if you want to be around your family a lot.”

He said teaching had always been in the back of his mind, and history was a subject he had a background in and enjoyed. His undergraduate major was geography, he started out as a secondary education minor, and he was working toward a history teaching certification while at Tusculum.

With TAPP, Rogers could jump-start his new career without having to “take a semester off of gainful employment,” which most traditional teaching education programs would have required for student teaching. Rogers started his first TAPP class, Essentials for Effective Teaching, in July and welcomed his first round of students Aug. 1.

“I think (that course) has been really good in bringing me up to speed as well as it can. I haven’t been in a high school or middle school since I graduated in 2005, so in 12 years I haven’t sat in a classroom. A lot has changed,” he said. “I also think that a lot of the concepts from my background in coaching have helped me feel a little bit better about this transition.”

‘Different ballgame’

However, it’s been a “totally different ballgame” going from teaching 18- to 22-year-olds to sixth-graders, he said. He has enjoyed building relationships with his students. Some of them have a tougher exterior, so he hasn’t gotten through to them all yet. He hopes he can eventually build trust with every one of them.

The program follows the same teaching certification rules that colleges and universities do, Wacter said. Participants have to hold a bachelor’s degree and a minimum 2.5 undergraduate GPA and pass assessments in reading, writing, math and content tests in the subjects they want to teach or special education.

Besides the essentials course, candidates also take introduction to special education and other courses and training depending on their certification areas. During the third year, they can work toward additional teaching endorsements.

Instead of student teaching, they do “job-embedded training” as teachers in the classroom, Wacter said. It’s up to the school principals to decide if they want to hire TAPP teachers, Floyd said. They look for certified teachers first and consider TAPP teachers next, Flesher said.

The new teachers sometimes don’t know what to expect on the first day or how much work and discipline are required, Floyd said. Plus, it can be an adjustment going from working with adults to children. Luckily, they’re not in it alone and have ongoing support and professional learning, Flesher said.

“There’s a lot to do. It’s a bit overwhelming. The first two weeks were really tough,” said Rogers, who added he’s lost 20 pounds since school started.

Each TAPP teacher has a candidate support team, which includes a school-based mentor, principal, supervisor from RESA and district representative. He or is she is observed in the classroom throughout the program and given tips and guidance. They also go through new teacher orientation programs.

Rogers said his mentors have been very helpful and have made sure he is progressing. He has weekly one-on-one meetings, and he is observed in the classroom one to three times each week between his school and RESA mentors.

“There is a higher rate of retention of TAPP teachers than the traditionally trained teachers,” Wacter said. “Our people have left other careers, whereas in higher education they come out of college to teach and then they might not decide that’s what they want to do.”

Flesher said there’re always a few TAPP candidates who realize teaching is not for them, but the majority stick with the profession. These teachers later have received promotions, become administrators and been named teachers of the year, Wacter said. Some have “gone on to be superstars” and are now in positions of leadership.

TAPP was started because of an unexpected teacher shortage, and it was expected to be a temporary program, Wacter said. Years later, it’s continuing to help districts fill vacancies.

“There’s just not a huge pool out there for us to pull from,” Flesher said. “We’re going to see (the teacher shortage) get worse before it gets better. I’m glad we have an alternative way for people to become teachers.”

“The goal is not just to fill the classroom with bodies,” Floyd said, but to help the new teachers get certified.

Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @TelegraphAndrea