Misti McDaniel gave up a more lucrative career in computer software design to make sure that seventh graders could learn to read and write more proficiently. She teaches at Neshoba Central High School.
Misti McDaniel gave up a more lucrative career in computer software design to make sure that seventh graders could learn to read and write more proficiently. She teaches at Neshoba Central High School.
Trading in your briefcase and fancy business lunches for chalkboard erasers and lunch lady sloppy joes can't be easy. However, for a whole group of new, non-traditional teachers in the state of Mississippi that is exactly what has happened in the past few weeks.

Most people wouldn't believe that highly trained career professionals would trade in their casual, calm white collar jobs for the possible chaos of a classroom. Despite the increasing pressure of state-mandated testing, and more paperwork and responsibility there has been a large increase in the number of non-traditional teachers who have sought employment in the state.

According to data provided by the Mississippi Department of Education, in the 2012-2013 school year approximately 1,500 people were enrolled in some kind of alternate route licensure program.

Professionals leaving their white collar worlds to enter teaching certainly aren't unheard of, but why would successful professionals make such drastic changes? Some professionals have found their given line of work to be mundane, impersonal, and unfulfilling. Although teaching may not be the fairy tale presented in movies such as "Lean on Me" or "Stand and Deliver" it offers many new teachers personal satisfaction.

Tiffany Hudnall gave up a more lucrative career in computer software design to make sure that seventh graders could learn to read and write more proficiently. Hudnall now works as a Language Arts teacher in Meridian at Carver Middle School. She says her transition to the classroom was easier than many may suspect.

"I have three sisters who were all teachers so I knew a lot more about teaching than most people did," says Hudnall. "I always thought I would eventually get into teaching. It is a lot different than working for a company. I loved my other job, but this kind of career is special."

In order to make her teaching dream come true Hudnall turned to Mississippi State University-Meridian and a unique scholarship program that helped her not only become a licensed teacher, but also helped ease the financial burdens associated with going back to school. The Learning and Educating through Alternative Programs (LEAP) scholarship was specifically designed for professionals like Hudnall, who wanted to enter the teaching profession. The scholarship offers applicants who already have a bachelor's degree in any other field the skills to quickly enter the classroom and make an impact in school districts that have long suffered from teacher shortages. The scholarship can provide financial aid of up to $5000 for recipients.

The opportunities available to participants of the LEAP program doesn't end with simply acquiring a teacher's license either. Participants who take advantage of the program can also choose to obtain a Master's degree through the university's Masters of Arts in Teaching Secondary (MAT-S) program. Mississippi State University officials estimate that more than half of LEAP students eventually obtain the Master's degree.

One of those students who chose to continue her education with LEAP by obtaining the master's degree was Misti McDaniel.

McDaniel originally obtained a bachelor's degree in Biological Sciences and thought she had a promising career doing biological field work, but she lost her once promising job due to budgetary cuts.

Although distraught at first, McDaniel decided to turn her passion for science into a career in secondary education by obtaining her teaching license and master's degree from MSU's online MAT-S program.

"I had taught a few science labs in college and I really enjoyed it, but I wanted to do field work at first," says McDaniel. "I always thought I would go back to school and get a master's degree in something eventually. When I heard about the LEAP Scholarship and MAT-S program it seemed like a great fit for where I was in my life."

After several years of teaching McDaniel now believes that she has found her true calling in a science classroom at Neshoba Central High School.

"Teaching is a challenging job and you have to learn to wear a lot of different hats on different days. Some days you wear just the teacher hat, but on other days you may have to wear the nurse or counseling hat," she says. "For me, seeing my students grow educationally and emotionally is rewarding. You feel like your job really helps to make someone else's life better."

For those who may be thinking about the kinds of career changes that Hudnall and McDaniel have made, the two say the MAT-S program can be challenging, but the Mississippi State faculty and staff offer a lot of support.

Many people who look to enter an alternate route teacher licensure program can be slightly intimidated because many are non-traditional, older students who haven't been in a university classroom in multiple years. Several of those non-traditional students can also be intimidated because they now have families and work to juggle along with a new college career. For those who think the burden is too much to overcome McDaniel offers some advice.

"It's kind of a scary thing to go back to school if you've been out a while, but I think people would be surprised to find out just how quickly they can get themselves back into that 'school mode' we all have. If you feel like you could be successful then do it because our kids need and deserve quality teachers."

Despite the many challenges that teachers now face, Hudnall agrees that the profession is a unique one in which the rewards may not be large financially, but emotionally there is nothing else as rewarding.

"We've got a lot of problems that we deal with like poverty and other issues on a daily basis and it is hard on you at times, but the students have this unique way of rejuvenating you. It's like their hearts lift you up when you teach."

Ben Alexander is the Coordinator of Learning and Educating through Alternative Programs at MSU-Meridian.

For information regarding the LEAP Scholarship or MAT-S program, contact him at Hbalexander@meridian.msstate.edu or 601.484.0100.