In summer 2015, to fill an urgent need for career and technical educators in high schools and BOCES, a new partnership with SUNY Oswego began providing basic classroom management, lesson planning and other skills to candidates with no previous teaching experience from such in-demand fields as cybersecurity, welding, fire/rescue, forensic science, clinical laboratory work and a score of others.
Recently, the state Education Department approved a proposal by SUNY Oswego's department of career and technical educator preparation to recommend initial teacher certification for full-time practice teachers who complete a six-course undergraduate certificate program with classroom experience, helping pave the way to permanent teacher certification after three years of service.
The innovative program emphasizes mentoring, coaching, consistent feedback and hands-on experience to prepare the practice teachers for their new career.
Obernesser, a first-year teacher at the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler in the Syracuse City School District, learned of the SUNY Oswego program through a friend teaching forensic science there.
"I always thought I might want to be a teacher at the high school level," said Obernesser, who left a six-year job in a special investigative unit combatting insurance fraud. "I was worried about having to spend several more years in college."
Following interviews with Robert Leslie, the school district's director of career and technical education, and others, Obernesser took the introductory coursework last summer through SUNY Oswego's downtown Syracuse campus. He worked with seven students.
"It was a small taste of what it might be like," he said. "It was a good introduction."
Obernesser then observed and co-taught in cybersecurity with Brittany Mazzaferro, who also came through the SUNY Oswego program, before taking on his own classroom.
SUNY Oswego's Dr. Jan Woodworth, who coordinates the program, said courses include ones aimed specifically at subject experts with no previous teaching experience: an introduction to vocational education, curriculum and laboratory systems, adolescent development, serving special needs learners, language arts and literacy, and methods of teaching and assessment.
The initial, intensive two weeks in the summer gives the practice teachers a much-needed head start, Woodworth said. "The relief in their comments and on their faces in knowing what they are going to do on the first day of school is amazing," she said.
By the second summer, Woodworth said, the program and classroom experience "have fully transformed them into teachers." So far, 32 career and technical professionals have come through or are enrolled in the coursework, which offers feedback and follow-up from the employer school and the School of Education.
Dr. Benjamin Ogwo, chair of career and technical education at Oswego, said the goal is to help provide partnering BOCES and school districts -- mostly in urban areas often dealing with turnover of career and technical teachers -- with a strong corps of specialists who make teaching a career.
"So far, retention of these teachers has been excellent," Ogwo said.
'Nothing like this'
Syracuse city schools' Leslie said he's pleased with how the partnership agreement with SUNY Oswego has developed since the day in 2014 when he approached School of Education Dean Pamela Michael and said, "Here's my dilemma."
"Many of these prospective career and technical educators had degrees -- some even had master's degrees -- but not in education," he said. "They'd never been a teacher. We had to put the supports in place."
The partnership now provides secondary students with a pipeline of committed teachers in diverse career and technical fields such as cosmetology, geospatial technology, health professions, business technology, computer information systems, electrical trades and more.
Obernesser said he's happy he made the change. "It's been a challenge, for sure, especially making the transition from private industry. You just don't know how much planning goes into teaching," he said. "But so far, it's been pretty rewarding."
SUNY Oswego's program extends a mission that began 157 years ago, when Edward Austin Sheldon founded the Oswego Primary Teachers' Training School, adopting the then-revolutionary object teaching method to bring learning alive. The clinically rich approach of today provides a cohesive connection between teacher preparation programs and the realities and demands of the classroom.
The college invites other school districts and BOCES to partner in the program. For information on that and the undergraduate certificate program in career and technical education, visit oswego.edu/vocational or contact Woodworth at 315-312-2298 or [email protected].