The moment that Janie Taylor had been waiting for all year finally happened.
Her son, Nathan, stood to her left. Her son-in-law, Chris Cappel, was at her right. In their hands, they held their framed certificates of completion. Each had taught in Guilford County Schools for at least a year. Now it was official. They are GCS teachers.
At the end of July, they were among 57 graduates to complete the Guilford County Schools Alternative Certification Track program — a district record. Members of their graduating class will teach at elementary, middle and high schools throughout the county. They vary in age, experience and professional backgrounds.
The lateral entry program was established in 2008 to address teacher shortages. It establishes a pipeline of qualified teaching candidates for the school system. It also allows people working in other professions to transition to teaching more easily. They can become fully licensed in one year, while they are already teaching their first year.
The program gave Taylor’s family the chance to get right into the classroom with students more quickly. It wasn’t easy. Even for Janie Taylor, a veteran teacher. She admits to shedding occasional tears of frustration, but her family kept her going. They were each other’s cheerleaders.
Janie Taylor always wanted to teach. Hers is the typical teacher story. In the summers, she played by “teaching” her siblings. She homeschooled her three children through elementary school, then was a substitute teacher at their private school. In 2010, she began teaching developmental math at GTCC, where she remained for five years before her position was eliminated. She wasn’t certified to teach k-12, so she discovered the Alternative Certification, or Lateral Entry program.
Taylor’s son, Nathan, was just a few credit hours from graduating with a degree in music performance when he realized he wanted to teach. So he started looking for programs.
“I always loved helping kids learn new things, and I love my art,” Nathan Taylor says. “I thought teaching would be the best way to bring attention to the countless music genres and styles, as well as the history and cultures that surround them.”
Chris Cappel’s career history includes the Navy, military contract work and retail management. He discovered a gift for teaching while working in a teen rehabilitation facility in Oklahoma. He was warned that it was a position that came with quick burnout and high turnover. But he liked it. The students he tutored said he explained things better than their teachers.
While Cappel and the Taylors relate easily to students, they refined their teaching skills through ACT. Candidates learn pedagogy and research-based strategies they can immediately execute in their classrooms, says program administrator, Terrik Higgins.
“When I first started teaching, the idea was PowerPoint lecturing. That’s how I learned (in school),” Cappel says. “(ACT) taught us how to be a better teacher.”
“I thought I knew everything there was to lesson planning. Now I have so many more tools in my toolbox,” Janie Taylor says.
“Their idea was that we’re not just teaching you to be a teacher, but how to be a good teacher,” Cappel adds.
Still, there are some things that can’t be taught. Some things you just know in your heart.
One morning, Taylor heard a student’s stomach growling. She didn’t mention it to avoid embarrassing him. Finally, he said: “Mrs. Taylor, it’s hard to concentrate when you’re starving.”
In seconds, she had called another teacher who offered him snacks.
“Relationship is so important. They have to feel you care,” Taylor says.
She chose to teach at Pruette SCALE Academy because students there have struggled in traditional school settings.
“What keeps me going is the students, love for the students,” Taylor says. “My heart just longs for being able to teach them and also to model for them what a good role model looks like and what a positive relationship looks like.”
Since 2008, 326 teachers have graduated from the ACT program. Higgins hopes to enroll 100 lateral entry candidates this year. Among them is Cappel’s wife, Jessica – Janie Taylor’s daughter. Jessica Cappel, a former photographer and interior designer, teaches computer modeling, animation and project management at STEM Early College at N.C. A&T.
Janie’s other daughter, Shannon Taylor, was accepted into the GCS-ACT program this fall. She teaches at Southwest Guilford High.
“The whole family, except my husband, will be graduates of the program,” says Janie Taylor.
Higgins says many mid-career candidates share that they always had a desire to teach, but never pursued a degree. Others found themselves displaced because of lay-offs and budget reductions in other businesses.
“Now they are able to leverage their degrees in mathematics, history, science and business as they assume new roles as content specialists in our classrooms,” Higgins says.