Forum on Education of The American Physical Society
Summer 2007 Newsletter



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Transition to Teaching

Robin Willner

"[The IBM candidates] bring wonderful knowledge and experience -- real world experience, and they bring a lot of career exploration. Many of them have participated in programs in the community, or through IBM, that has allowed them to see what it looks like on the other side of this process. They have an idea of what it would be like to go back to school and what it would be like to actually be a teacher."

~ Susan Phillips, Dean, School of Education, SUNY, Albany

If you talk to our most successful business and community leaders, you will learn that they have few priorities higher than innovation. At IBM for example, " Innovation that matters for our company and for the world " is one of our core values; we work to put this value into action every day to remain competitive as we create new technologies and services that make a difference for our customers around the globe.

In education, innovation is imperative if students are to meet the increasingly complex demands of the global economy. Only by designing and implementing new strategies and by creating new tools and resources can we help our students achieve at higher levels. Schools alone cannot be the breeding ground for innovation; businesses and community organizations will play a critical role in igniting innovation in education.

To that end, IBM, as an extension of our efforts in education improvement, announced in September 2005 that we would help address the critical shortage of math and science teachers by leveraging the brains and backgrounds of some of our most experienced employees.

The Transition to Teaching program enables IBM employees, who are interested in second careers in education, to become certified math and science teachers. Through Transition to Teaching, IBM employees can engage in both online and more traditional courses and are offered a leave of absence for student teaching. Participants also are provided with online mentoring and support throughout the process.

IBM initiated Transition to Teaching for a number of key reasons: to address the severe shortage of math and science teachers; to help raise the math and science achievement levels of our nation's youth and prepare them for the demands of the global economy; and to respond to the needs of IBM's growing force of mature workers.

Why Transition to Teaching?

IBM launched Transition to Teaching in response to what we believed to be two important and converging trends: the need for teachers, especially in math and science; and the unique characteristics of the Baby Boomer generation.

Education . For the last 15 years, improving public schools around the world has been IBM's top social priority. As a business, we know that our enterprising spirit and economic strength depend most heavily on the ability of our schools to prepare our young people to become the responsible citizens, productive workers and visionary leaders of the coming Innovation Economy.

Through strategic grantmaking and public policy work, IBM has made significant and comprehensive impacts on education improvement in the United States and around the world. Our $75 million-plus Reinventing Education program is demonstrating how technology can help spur and support school reform efforts around the world, while our KidSmart Early Learning Program integrates new interactive teaching and learning activities using the latest technology into the pre-kindergarten curricula in more than 50 countries. IBM also supports literacy through Reading Companion, which uses cutting-edge speech-recognition technology to help both young children and adults learn to read. Through these programs and many more, IBM engages our technology, technical expertise, and our people throughout the world, allowing us to leverage our greatest strengths for the benefit of the communities in which our employees live and work.

IBM's Transition to Teaching was a natural progression of our work in education. Our efforts had highlighted the importance of the classroom teacher to student learning, and all of our programs included teacher professional development as an integral component.

We also recognized that new economic demands required new thinking about what we should do to improve our schools. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, jobs requiring science, engineering and technical training will increase dramatically in the future. The U.S. produces only about 100,000 engineers each year, far fewer than those graduating in other countries, including India and China . To remain economically competitive, the U.S. needs to grow its pipeline of engineers and other qualified IT workers. To prepare young people for these jobs, the U.S. faces the need for 2 million teachers - and a critical shortage of math and science teachers.

Retiring Workers . Simultaneously, IBM recognized that 76 million Baby Boomers are approaching traditional retirement age, with many reporting they plan to continue working in fields where they can give back to their communities. This generation will be the healthiest and best educated group of 60-somethings ever to walk the earth. They will be eager to continue to be productive and contribute to society, and they will have the mental and physical capability to do so. A recent study by Civic Ventures/Met Life Foundation found that 53% of Americans ages 50-70 plan on second careers, and a full 50% of Americans ages 50-70 are interested in taking jobs that help improve the quality of life in their communities. .

IBM knew that its tradition and reputation as a workplace of choice would enable us to prepare for and capitalize on a successful demographic transition over the next decade. IBM has always invested wisely and continuously in our employees. This includes a tradition of diversity, which extends to mature workers and would provide a foundation for a new approach to the career cycle. Focus groups around the country told us that our employees were interested in second careers as teachers - but they felt that the process was daunting. IBM also has a history of innovation in adapted work styles and schedules and involvement in public policy.

The Program . IBM launched Transition to Teaching program in January 2006, in the United States . All employees who met specific criteria could apply to participate. Participants did not need to be Baby Boomers; they could be employees seeking a mid-career change.

IBM's criteria focused on those employees who had the best opportunity for success. This was not a program to rid the company of poor performers. Criteria for eligibility includes 10 years of IBM service; a record as a top performer; a bachelor's degree in math or science or a degree in a related field, and some experience teaching, tutoring or volunteering in a school or other children's program. The program also requires management approval as is the case with a large number of IBM human resource initiatives.

While Transition to Teaching is open to IBMers anywhere in the US , we also focused special programming and support in New York and North Carolina . These states were chosen because both have significant shortages of math and science teachers. Additionally, these are the two states that have the largest IBM populations and where many employees live after leaving IBM. In North Carolina and New York , IBM partnered with institutions of higher education to design pathways for IBMers. These were options that met the state requirements for certification and met IBM's recommended model for preparation. In New York , IBM developed partnerships with the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY). In North Carolina , IBM developed partnerships with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte , the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University .

The models included information and pathways for candidates in these states and would reduce the time it took to place qualified teachers in classrooms. The models also would include pre-service training, student teaching and in-service mentoring and would encourage the use of online curriculum, as well as completely online university programs.

IBMers were free to enroll in any existing certification program and apply for the financial incentives from IBM. IBM Corporate Community Relations Managers and Human Resources staff provided support and direction for applicants, but each participant was responsible for selecting and enrolling in an approved teacher preparation program and assuring that they could complete certification requirements within three years.

Recruiting Participants . Transition to Teaching recruitment began soon after the program specifics were announced company-wide in November 2005. The program received significant fan-fare both within and outside the company for its innovation in education and workforce development, receiving more media hits than any other IBM program or solution announcement that year. The value in advertising in print media alone for this positive story was $2.3 million.

To recruit IBM employees, IBM Corporate Community Relations and IBM Human Resources worked closely together to develop materials and host information sessions at IBM locations around the country to inform interested employees about the program. One such publication, Straight Talk on Teaching , was designed to help IBM employees, who are considering participating in the Transition to Teaching program, understand both the rewards and the potential challenges of a second career in teaching .

Transition to Teaching Today

Today 85 U.S. employees are participating in online course work, more traditional courses, and online mentoring while remaining at the company. IBM is reimbursing participants up to $15,000 for tuition and stipends, as well as offering a leave of absence of up to four months for student teaching. This is the first time that IBM has provided tuition reimbursement for courses that are not job-related, representing a long-term investment in our communities and labor force of the future. Participants must agree to complete their preparation and begin teaching within 3 years. If they decide not to complete the program, they can remain at IBM but must repay any funding they have received.

Participant Snapshot . While IBM began with our largest states, New York and North Carolina , the reality was that every participant in the program was unique. Each had a different recall of math or science; some have had a little pedagogical preparation, and others had none. In the end, there was not a single way to group participants - other than that they started their certification work in 2006. Currently we have employees in 17 states - the largest participating in NY, followed by NC, GA, TX, VT, AZ MA, MI , matriculating at 30 different universities. No two are the same.

Amazing IBMers are entering this program. Their enthusiasm to take applied math and science back into the classroom is inspirational. The following is a snapshot of our current participants:

  • Age range: 37-60
  • Male 57%; female 43%
  • White 73%; Black 21%; Asian 2%
  • Varied work experiences: Engineers 25%; Computer Science 21%
  • 69% want to teach math; 31% want to teach science
  • 44% plan to teach for 10 years or more; 38% between 3-9 years
  • 50% plan to teach in middle school; 50% high school
  • 83% plan to supplement income with a pension, spouse income or investments

The vast majority of participants cited as their reason for going into teaching the value of education to society (33%), while nearly a third (31%) expressed their desire to work with young people. Fifteen percent said that they simply wanted to change careers. As the most important factor for participation, almost half (46%) stated the ability to keep working while going through the program; a third (33%) highlighted IBM's financial help, and 10% singled out the program's vast choice and flexibility. The most common comment among the participants was a great appreciation to IBM for the Transition to Teaching effort.

Ongoing Program Support . Participating employees are receiving extensive support through a web site IBM developed specifically for the program at The Transition to Teaching web site includes background information for prospective participants, as well as teaching resources. A password protected site for actual enrollees provides online mentoring and forums so that participants across the country can hear from national experts on the most important issues in K-12 public education, ask questions, muse about the differences in corporate and educational cultures, vent, and share successes.

There are currently four Transition to Teaching mentors available through the web site. All are consultants from the Center for Teaching Quality , research-based advocacy organization committed to improving student learning, who provide advice and direction to the participants. Two of these consultants are second career teachers, so they are well aware of the issues involved in transitioning to a new career. Collectively, they have a great deal of experience in building virtual learning communities, working with novice teachers and moving into teaching as a second career. As the participants navigate through their certification programs, the mentors are ready to listen to their concerns and open up a dialogue on issues around becoming a teacher.

Our participants are now networking and learning form one another. Conversations around topics of interest in the teacher-preparation pipeline have begun, including preparing for work with students with special learning and language needs, teaching in a climate of high-stakes testing, and the challenges of engaging and motivating students. The goal is to connect participants and providing support as they make this major life change.

What We've Learned

IBM has earned a lot about state certification and is working to make sure that a second career person has a different route than an 18-year-old to becoming a teacher. We are focusing on eight states (CA, GA, MA, MD, MN, NC, NY, and TX) where we think public policy work can and will affect this agenda. In each state, we are beginning to see new flexibility in their second career programs, and we are working to focus on exactly what skills a new teacher needs to master. We want programs to provide everything necessary for the success of our employees' new students, but nothing more. We are also investigating new incentives and public/private investments to encourage second career teachers.

Transition to Teaching is beginning to make its mark on the national and state levels. The U.S. Department of Education has highlighted Transition to Teaching as part of the Administration's new program to enhance competitiveness In California , we are working with the Governor's Education Advisory Committee and the State's P16 Advisory Committee to expand second career programming. We are also seeing significant new initiatives in other states, as well as interest from many companies to initiate similar programs.

Internationally, the program is making its mark as well. Following an IBM proposal to Prime Minister Tony Blair to replicate the Transition to Teaching program in the United Kingdom , a Steering Group chaired by IBM has been developed chaired to implement a similar program in England . Five other companies are joining IBM on the steering group: Cisco, Lockheed Martin Aerospace, Astra Zeneca, BT and KPMG. They will be joined by representatives from the Confederation of British Industry, the Association for Science Education, the Teacher Development Agency, the Sector Skills Council for Science Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies and the Department for Education.

We hope that our new effort in education improvement will encourage other businesses, community organizations, as well as schools themselves, to bring greater innovation to education. IBM knows that Transition to Teaching will only make a difference if it is allowed to scale. As in the United Kingdom , IBM already has spoken with a dozen U.S. companies about their interest in creating a similar program.

If 100 other U.S. businesses initiated similar efforts, placing 100 of their mature workers with math and science backgrounds into K-12 schools, then that would result in 10,000 new math and science teachers - every year. The impact on education could be extraordinary.



Back to the Future: An IBMer's dream coming true through Transition to Teaching

IBMer Vickie Szarek, now a student teacher at Garner Magnet High School, was one of Transition to Teaching's first participants.

Twenty-seven years ago, Vickie Szarek thought about becoming a teacher. Then she married an IBMer and began a series of work-related moves. During this time she completed graduate work at NC State and a BS in Computer Information Systems at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton . She eventually became an IBMer and has been with the company for eighteen years. Still, Szarek never lost her desire to teach, even taking teacher certification courses in Florida until she was transferred back to North Carolina .

"I was beginning to think about retiring when I saw an article on Transition to Teaching," recalls Szarek. After being accepted into the program, Szarek applied to NC State for a slot in their NC Teach program, an accelerated curriculum for teachers interested in lateral entry.

Support from Szarek's IBM manager was crucial to her success in the program. "While all of the classes were offered at night or on the weekends, at the beginning it was difficult to balance working at IBM with often needing to leave work early to make it to a five o'clock class and then come home from work and do fifty pages of reading."

But Szarek's dedication remained and now, after a year of juggling school and IBM, she has taken a leave of absence from IBM and is in the classroom full-time. "I am currently on a leave of absence from IBM and student teaching at Garner Magnet High School - and I LOVE it!" she says.

Szarek began by observing science teacher Martha Ghali's classes, and quickly began teaching on her own. "My husband keeps telling me to wipe the smile off of my face," laughs Szarek. "I spend my days working on science labs and other activities to try to reinforce material - it is great!"

"She is earning the students' respect and teaching them content in great, innovative ways," says Ghali. "I have taken a few of her ideas and used them in my other classes, which is the best part of working as a team. We can share ideas and come up with new ways to help the students learn."

On June 1 Szarek will return to IBM, where she will continue working while interviewing for teaching positions across the county. Once she finds the right school for her, she will resign her position at IBM and begin her new career as a teacher.

And for other late-career IBMers, Transition to Teaching might also be the perfect opportunity at the perfect time. "IBM has shown genuine courage in being the first of many - I hope - businesses taking an interest in how they can positively affect our public schools by providing and supporting highly qualified employees to consider a career change into teaching," says NC Teach's Grant Holley. "I would strongly encourage IBMers with an interest in teaching to take advantage of this wonderful program."

Robin Willner is Vice President for Global Community Initiatives at the IBM Corporation



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