Career Changers in Special Education: A Collaborative Direction in Teacher Preparation for School Systems and Institutions of Higher Education

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Schools across the United States are confronted with the critical demand for highly effective teachers to address the needs of the increasing numbers of diverse learners in their classrooms. In response, school systems are looking beyond the traditional four-year degree student to individuals who are entering the teaching field from other professions--career changers in education. These career changers are nontraditional teacher candidates who have a desire to help students and the motivation to teach (Chambers, 2002; Feistrizer, 2005; Salyer, 2003). Those who enter teaching from other professional careers want to contribute their life experiences to the classroom as a form of giving back, and this motivation is seen especially in career changers who choose to be special education teachers (Kurtts, Cooper, & Boyles, 2007). Over the last five years, there have been changes in federal funding opportunities designed to prepare career changers in special education (Pugach & Blanton, 2009). These teachers, who have rich life experiences, yet are novice teachers, with novice teachers' needs, need mentoring and support to achieve their goals as teachers. Nevertheless, there is limited research on their needs and how to support them. Such research is warranted, as teacher preparation programs, at all levels, will need to implement best practices to ensure that these career changers become effective teachers in special education (Cooper, Kurtts, Vallecorsa, & Baber, 2008).

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