Thursday, October 29, 2009

Career Switcher by Robert Boucheron

When it comes to recessions, architects are the canary in the coal mine. We know, before anyone else, when oxygen is being sucked out of the economy. Construction projects are put on hold or canceled, billing decreases, and the layoffs begin.

I specialize in residential projects, so as early as 2006, with the decline in real estate sales, my practice started to dwindle. My employees left one by one, and I saw that I too would have to leave. I found a job as clerk of the works on the construction site of a new elementary school.

Then I heard about a program called Career Switcher, one of the state-approved programs that provides a fast track to become a public school teacher. I applied and was accepted. Phase One would last sixteen weeks, the fall semester, followed by one year of supervised teaching. If all went well, I could then apply for a regular Virginia state teacher's license. It sounded too good to be true. And in my case it was.

Tuition was 3000-plus dollars. The program was mostly conducted online, through the Virginia community college system. Six Saturdays were scheduled for a long video conference, connecting all students and instructors, at nine sites throughout the state. My site was Blue Ridge Community College.

The first video session, in August. Was rife with technical difficulties. None of the instructors knew how to operate the equipment. The program director dominated what discussion took place. The printed agenda was ignored. In our information packet, the pages were misnumbered, which turned the search for information into a scavenger hunt. The instructors, many of them former middle-school teachers, introduced themselves as "flunkies."

The assigned reading appeared to be a mixture of educational theories, platitudes, pseudo-scientific jargon, federal laws such as No Child Left Behind, and the Virginia Standards of Learning. The essay questions were riddled with poor grammar, and were vague. An example: "What must you know and be able to do to be an effective teacher?"

A favorite text was "Tools for Teaching," self-published by a man named Fred Jones, and illustrated with cartoons. Jones claimed to have devised an infallible technique for classroom management, compete with slogans we had to repeat. No dissent was tolerated. Students disappeared from the roster without comment...

After eight weeks, the halfway point, I received an email saying that my Career Switcher grades were less than 80% which was defined as failure. "How can that be?" I wondered. My bachelor degree is in English, from Harvard, and I have published many articles, short stories, and book reviews. I was told I had made negative comments.

Meanwhile, cutbacks in public school budgets meant that teaching jobs were becoming scarce. The placement rate for the Career Switcher program this year shrank below 50%, and will probably fall next year. Given the quality of the instruction, the message to me was clear: The game is not worth the candle.

My architectural practice may yet revive, or I may find another job. But the larger issue that worries me is that I wanted to be a teacher, and yet the patch my becoming one seemed more like a con than a good teacher-training program.

Robert Boucheron is an architect living in Charlottesville

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I write for lots of different venues, so this blog provides links to those places. Plus, occasionally, stuff that appears no where else . . .