Program allows adults to fit school back into busy schedules
CHAMPAIGN – Sam Flowers always wanted to be a teacher, but he got sidetracked before he finished his degree.
Last year, Flowers heard about a Millikin University program for adults who want to earn teaching degrees while they're working, a program also starting Oct. 2 on the Parkland College campus.
Now he's back in school finishing his degree and earning certification as a middle school teacher. And the father of four, who also works full time as an aide and coach at Centennial High School, has a clear plan for the future.
"I want to teach high school," said Flowers, 31. "I'll be certified for middle school when I finish this program and then I plan to teach a year and finish the classes I need to get certification for high school."
Paula Hyde is enrolled in the new program at the Champaign community college, one of 14 students who will be studying to become teachers. Hyde took a leave of absence from her job as an aide in Champaign schools to go to Parkland full time to earn an associate's degree, while she starts her education classes.
"Billie Mitchell is a friend of a friend," Hyde said. Mitchell is head of Parkland's adult re-entry center, who worked out program details with Millikin. "When she heard about my plans, she said, 'Do I have a deal for you!' It was great timing, and the program is perfect for me."
Mitchell said she's been looking for several years for a part-time program that will help adults earn teaching degrees.
"I wanted an education program because adults have options for other degrees but there was no way they could work and get an education degree," Mitchell said.
"It was a professional issue," said Karl Radnitzer, a coordinator and teacher for the Millikin program. "I was a principal in Urbana, and I had a custodian with a bachelor's degree. I said, 'You need to be a teacher,' and I got him a job as an aide but there was no program for him to earn teacher certification. I saw a lot of people who didn't have this opportunity."
Mitchell and Radnitzer said the program's designed to be flexible. Candidates can earn bachelor's degrees in education by taking general education classes at Parkland and transferring into the Millikin program. If they already have degrees but lack education classes and certification, they can take their certification classes at Parkland.
Most classes will meet for four hours on Monday nights although some will meet Saturday mornings and a few will meet twice a week. Students take one class at a time for five weeks, and those who transfer in 45 credits in general education should be able to finish their education degree in two years.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for adults who decide education is a good fit for them," Mitchell said. "Many of the aides working in schools already have associate degrees, and this gives them a chance to finish their degrees."
Candidates who enroll in the Millikin program at Parkland will officially be Millikin students, although they'll go to the Decatur campus only for orientation and graduation. They'll pay $338 per credit hour, half Millikin's usual tuition because they don't live on campus. Radnitzer said that's competitive with tuition at the University of Illinois.
Students like Flowers who want to teach at the middle school level take two extra classes. Radnitzer said he hopes to start an early childhood section and a second elementary section next summer.
Mitchell said the program's accelerated. "It won't work for everyone," she said.
They warn students going in that to teach in Illinois they have to make plans to spend 14 weeks student-teaching full time. Students must also spend 100 hours observing in classrooms while they're in the program. Mitchell said people already working as classroom aides get 40 hours of credit automatically. Many people will use vacation time to make up the rest of the hours, she said.
After high school, Hyde, who's 27, took five years off to be with her son, Connor, now a second-grader. She said her experience working as an aide convinced her teaching was the career for her. "The kids are wonderful, and I get along well with them," Hyde said. "I'm older now, more focused. And I think this is a good lesson for Connor. He's going to see me go back to school to work toward a goal."