Fulton engineer considers teaching career

About 12 years ago, Kristen Fortman of Fulton was working as a mechanical engineer with Heizer Aerospace Inc., a Missouri-based aerospace firm located in Jefferson County near St. Louis.

The firm machines aluminum alloys, titanium and other materials for the aerospace industry.

But when the contract for an aerospace project ended, the corporation did what many other aerospace firms do. It laid off numerous employees.

The skill and experience of the employees didn’t matter. The layoffs also included Fortman, who has a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and was working in her field at the firm as a mechanical engineer.

Shortly thereafter, Fortman and her husband moved to Fulton after her husband got a job at the Callaway Energy Center.

Fortman became a stay-at-home mother, then decided to become a substitute teacher in the Fulton School District. She’s taught in Fulton Middle School and in elementary schools.

“I’ve tried substitute teaching,” Fortman says, “and I like it.”

She wanted to become a full-time math and science teacher but that wasn’t possible because she did not have an education degree in Missouri.

She could gain teacher certification in her field by going back to college for two years. But that isn’t something she wants to do.

Fortman fits in a category that may solve a serious problem in Missouri secondary education — finding highly qualified experienced professionals to become math and science teachers in high schools.

Five years ago, Missouri passed a law authorizing online teacher certification to qualified holders of college degrees in fields other than education.

Fortman went to a meeting for the progam and is now considering participating in the American Board’s teacher certification program.

Betsey Hamilton, who represents the American Board teacher certification program in Missouri, hosted the forum on June 4 in Fulton to inform college graduates who may have worked in other fields how they can become a certified school teacher in Missouri without going back to school.

“We want to attract people like Kristen with experience in engineering, science, math and other fields to use that skill as a certified teacher in schools. They can bring the experience they have gained working in these fields to the classroom,” Hamilton said.

Many other highly qualified science and math college graduates are between jobs, retired or harboring a secret desire to teach that never was fulfilled. But going back to school for two years to gain teacher certification often is not something they want to do.

Hamilton said the greatest need for highly qualified teachers is at the high school level, especially in science and mathematics.

“The needs of Missouri are for middle school and high school teachers,” Hamilton said. “In Missouri there already are far more elementary school certified teachers than there are openings for them in Missouri schools. It’s been this way for a while.”

Hamilton said the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) worked with the American Board in setting up the program.

Since there already are more than enough potential elementary school teachers, both groups wanted the program to offer only middle school and high school teaching certification.

Hamilton said most of the teachers in the program already want to work with older students because they have the background and experience to teach more complicated courses.

Math and science is taught in some schools around Missouri by teachers who did not specialize in those fields.

One of the big reasons for this, Hamilton said, is people who have great knowledge of math or science have much higher-paying jobs available to them in fields other than teaching.

Hamilton said the online courses give the training needed to become a teacher and the knowledge to pass tests required for certification.

To be eligible for the American Board teacher certification program, DESE requires all college graduate participants to have a minimum 2.5 grade point average.

They also must spend at least 60 contact hours in a school working with children. The hours must be validated by a school principal.

Hamilton said 60 hours may sound like a lot of time. But by working eight hours a day, it’s only a week and a half of time. That’s something someone who is currently employed could accomplish during their vacation.

The American Board certification is offered in biology, chemistry, English, general science, math, physics and history.

Hamilton said the American Board came to Missouri to encourage highly qualified people such as Fortman with experience in these fields to consider teaching in order to allow students to benefit from the knowledge they have gained through experience in such specialized fields as science, chemistry and math.

“For most of them,” Hamilton said, “going back to college for a master’s degree or taking education courses in college probably isn’t going to happen.”

The American Board program costs about $2,350 and allows candidates to proceed at their own pace. Candidates normally complete the program in 8 to 10 months.

Hamilton said when American Board participants go through all of the material provided, they have a 97 percent pass rate.

Another option that became available in Missouri earlier this year is the opening of Western Governors University Missouri in February. It’s also offers online bachelor degree programs as well as teacher certification for people who already have degrees. It charges a flat-rate tuition fee for each six-month term of all teachers college programs of $2,890, a student teaching fee of $1,000, a $145 resource fee, and a $65 application fee.

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