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January 03, 2006

In the STAR: From the Courtroom to the Classroom: New Teacher Makes a Difference

Star Newspapers ran the following feature last week profiling Pia Conte of GSU's Alternative Certification Partnership Program:

It may have taken Pia Conte 25 years to find her true calling, but now that she is a teacher, her sense of purpose and satisfaction have never been greater.

Two years ago, to the surprise and amazement of many and with the support of her family, Conte left behind a successful career as a lawyer to embrace the nurturing, cultivating, and far more fulfilling role as a teacher.

"I had practiced corporate law for 15 years and then took care of my folks for eight years. While I was home, I volunteered at my children's school and taught Sunday school. When I started working with kids, I realized that's what I enjoyed."

Conte, of Homewood, currently teaches first grade at Gordon Elementary School in Posen.

"First grade is a hard grade to teach as we are laying the foundation of skills they need in the years to come. I have a passion for reading and strive to share that with my students."

Conte's success as a teacher came after 16 months of extensive study and training through the Alternative Teacher Certification program at Governors State University in University Park.

"It is hard work to go back to school when you are older," said Conte who entered the program at age 47. "The whole process; the exams, course work, being a student again and juggling your role as a student, mom and teacher, is not easy."

According to Conte, the Alternative Certification program prepared her thoroughly by putting her and the other adult students in the program through "teacher boot camp."

"You take a full range of classes before you get your own classroom. We learned strategies to engage kids and get them excited about learning."

Once in the classroom, the new teachers are assigned mentors who meet with them weekly, offering guidance and support based on their particular teaching situation.

The support of the school's staff, administration and district superintendents have also been invaluable to Conte and other teachers trained in the program.

"I value the maturity of the adults who become teachers through this program. I know their hearts are in education," said Greg Wright, Superintendent of Posen-Robbins District 143.5. "They bring both excitement and maturity to the classroom."

Since the Alternative Certification program began six years ago, Wright has hired 23 graduates.

"Most of them were successful in their previous careers. They come equipped with cutting edge teaching methods. It is a big investment for our district. We give them a lot of support while they get up to speed but they have changed the culture of our school district with their stability and sense of purpose."

Now in her second full year of teaching, Conte feels confident in her ability to face the rigors of teaching and the demands of a classroom of 6 year olds.

"I am a very hands-on teacher. I guess I am a mixture of old school and new. I am firm and push them to work hard but we also have fun."
Conte fills her students' day with music, movement, and creativity along with reading, writing, and math.

"It is challenging. There is not enough time to do all I want to with the kids. I try to supplement their studies with cultural activities and field trips. We do have a lot of fun but we work hard all day."
While Conte's family totally supports her career change, she has frequently faced incredulity and doubt from others.

"Some people can't imagine why I gave up law. Others don't think of teaching as a profession. They think it is easy to teach in the primary grades. I have become an advocate for teachers. It is fulfilling work, but it is not easy."

Conte is also an advocate of the Alternative Teacher Certification program. "It is an excellent program for someone who is ready for a career change and is willing to work hard."

According to Dr. Karen Peterson, director of the Alternative Teacher Certification program at Governors State University, "Our program has an urban teacher education focus. We are preparing teachers to work in high need schools."

Of the 120 teachers trained so far in the GSU program, 90 percent are still teaching or have moved into administrative positions.

"There is a tremendous need for certified teachers," said Peterson. "We bring highly qualified people, committed to working in the classroom into districts throughout the South Suburbs and Chicago."

For more information about the Alternative Certification program at GSU, call (708) 534-4399 or visit www.altcert.net.

Posted by n-battaglia at January 3, 2006 11:54 AM