What is the University of North Florida’s Educator Preparation Institute?

Posted by Ronald | September 14, 2013  |  No Comment

Hundreds of thousand of aging baby boomers are expected to retire in the next ten years leaving school districts with lots of openings to fill. According to federal estimates, by the year 2018, nearly 500,000 new hires will be required to fill both public and private school teaching jobs. As one avenue to fill this void, the Florida Department of Education has created the Educator Preparation Institute that prepares mid-career professionals and college graduates who are not education majors to obtain teacher certification. For this article, I interviewed Dr. Betty Bennett, director of University of North Florida’s (UNF) Educator Preparation Institute to answer the critical questions: What is the University of North Florida’s Educator Preparation Institute? Why was the Institute established at UNF? What has been the success of the Educator Preparation Institute?

UNF’s Educator Preparation Institute:

The Education Preparation Institute (EPI) is a ten-month program combining instructional modules, field experiences and mentoring. The program allows individuals who have had former careers, or have obtained a degree and decided they don’t want to follow that profession or can’t find employment, and would like to become educators, to do so. Instead of going back for another bachelor’s degree, they can come through the EPI, take the three subtests of the Florida Teachers Competency Exam, complete a field experience and gain a Florida Professional Teacher Certificate. The UNF’s EPI runs from August – June and meets every other Saturday, except holiday weekends, for a total of 20 sessions, from 9:00 a.m. -3:15 p.m. Students also complete a field experience in a public school with a principal recommended Mentor Teacher. Each student is required to spend a minimum of 60 hours in the mentor teacher’s classroom. Upon completion of the program, students are eligible to apply to the state for their professional certificate.

Establishment of the Educator Preparation Institute:

Initially the state allowed universities and community colleges (now state colleges) to submit proposals to begin alternative certification programs. This was in response to the state’s efforts to address critical teacher shortages. Despite the economic difficulties, critical shortages remain in areas such as mathematics, science, special education, reading, foreign language and others depending on geographic area. In addition, there is a need for highly qualified individuals. The EPI holds special advantages in that many of our students, as career changers, bring with them experience and degrees with specific content. Some of our students come to us with degrees in chemistry, accounting, English, biology, law, medicine, aerospace, mathematics, engineering, technology, physics, foreign languages and more. One of our current students came to us with a Bachelor of Business Administration, Master of Business Administration, Juris Doctorate and Medical Doctor. He is a retiring physician who has always wanted to be a teacher. He has a passion for service and would like to give back to the community. We also have many retired military veterans who enter the program. We are Veterans Administration approved so they can use their benefits to complete the program. Veterans are successful in the classroom due to their focus on structure and organization.

Success of the Educator Preparation Institute:

In the last report released by the Florida Department of Education in June, our UNF graduates out-performed other EPIs in hiring, retention rates and scored 17 percent higher in math than the statewide mean for EPI program graduates. Our biggest success is being affiliated with UNF. We also pride ourselves with having a quality program that is concerned with listening to our constituents and growing with this feedback every year. Our curriculum coordinator comes with 40 plus years of experience that she pours into the program with very little pay. We have grown each year because of the quality of the people completing the program and gaining positions in our school districts. The confidence is growing with our surrounding community as the quality of our graduates continues to spread. The fact that the students who enter our program are of optimum quality adds to the mix. Students admitted to the program, write an essay reflecting why they wish to become a teacher. I read each one. If it doesn’t reflect a definite passion for education and the students they will teach, they are not admitted regardless of their other credentials. If there is a glimmer, I call them in for an interview. Unless there is some other glaring difficulty, passion is the ultimate criterion.

We sincerely thank Dr. Betty Bennett for sharing pertinent information about the Educator Preparation Institute at UNF. The program is available for individuals with bachelor degrees in areas other than education seeking to become teachers.

Dr. Ronald Holmes is the author of four books, “Education Questions to be Answered,” “Current Issues and Answers in Education,” “How to Eradicate Hazing and “Professional Career Paths.” He is publisher of “The Holmes Education Post,” an education focused Internet newspaper. Holmes is a former teacher, school administrator and district superintendent. He can be reached at rwh@theholmeseducationpost.com.

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