Graduate program turns ‘career changers’ into teachers

By Theresa Evans 

Former Post-Baccalaureate Teacher certification program students Stephen Hodge (left) and Cary Halliburton (right) joined by Kathleen Pierce (top).

Rider’s Post-Baccalaureate Graduate Teacher certification program prepares students for future careers in the education field.

The program is popular among individuals interested in changing their career paths. 

“It’s very scary to try and change careers, but it’s actually much more despairing to be in a job that you can’t stand or to be working with people who don’t appreciate you or appreciate your value,” said Kathleen Pierce, a professor in the department of graduate education. “So, if you’re miserable, it’s frightening to change, but it’s also normal to find a better path that’s more of a match for your disposition, personality and talents that you didn’t even know you had.” 

Students in the program have various educational and professional histories including Ph.D.s and MBAs and their ages range from 21 to over 50. 

“Some of them have full careers, others have raised their children and are now doing what they want to do by pursuing teaching,” said Pierce. “Some of them have worked in schools as aids and paraprofessionals and want to become certified teachers, and some of them are still working in jobs and careers, transitioning as they’re doing the academic program here. Our students are graduate students in the department of graduate education, leadership and counseling, but they’re brand new to teaching.” 

A graduate student in the certificate program, Daniel O’Heney spent six and a half years working in New York City before coming to Rider. 

“My first role right out of college was with a small tech startup called Warby Parker, and, most recently, I worked in advertising sales at ESPN,” said O’Heney. “Teaching has always been my plan and was always in the back of my mind throughout my tenure in the city. For me, making the transition into education was all about aligning my values. I enjoyed my time in New York, met some great people, and learned a ton of helpful skills, but my strengths and the things that I value most are best served in a classroom and on an athletic field. I’m seven months into this career transition and, so far, I wouldn’t trade a single day for anything.” 

Pierce worked at a standardized testing company and as an English high school teacher before coming to Rider, allowing her to relate to students experiencing a career change. 

 “I had amazing conversations with Pierce and several other folks in the Admissions Office, so if we’re being honest, I felt very welcome, wanted and already accepted as a part of the Rider community,” said O’Heney. 

O’Heney credits the faculty for influencing his choice of Rider’s program. 

“Another big reason was the efficiency of the timeline,” he said. “As a career-changer, I wasn’t able to devote myself to a full-time academic schedule, so the part-time nature of the program was exactly what I needed at this stage in my life.” 

Students in the program take four courses and a semester of student teaching to be certified. 

“My mentor Don Ambrose really established this program here and I’m walking in his footsteps because he created something that’s a real gem and Rider’s the kind of place that allows us to create work that we believe in,” said Pierce.  

Pierce teamed up with local schools and teachers to create a hands-on experience for her students. Alumna Amanda Schott ‘13 continues the legacy allowing her eighth grade students to partner with the graduate students. 

Graduate students offer feedback and editing advice for Schott’s students, benefiting both parties in the midst of learning.  

“The partnership softens the hearts of beginning teachers to realize that a big part of what you do as a teacher is to be a human being,” said Pierce. “A kind, strong adult in a kid’s life. And to be the same person on Tuesday as you were last Friday and that’s a really important thing just even being there. You can’t fix what’s challenging and hard in kids’ lives. But if you create a safe space in your classroom and you’re a steady adult everyday for a kid, that’s huge.”  

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