January 27, 2022

Rarely has there been a better time for education students to enter the field.

Class online – Catherine Brophy, Program Coordinator of the Teacher Preparation program at Great Bay teaches Foundations of Education course with student Anna Layfield pictured in background.

PORTSMOUTH – Changes in the economy are creating unprecedented opportunities for education students at Great Bay Community College, who are joining the teaching ranks and filling critical needs across New Hampshire.

Rarely has there been a better time for education students to enter the field. According to a survey by the National Education Association, 80 percent of members said they have seen more retirements and resignations since the start of the pandemic, and 37 percent said the pandemic has made them more likely to leave the profession sooner than they had planned.

Because of those trends, Great Bay student Hannah Davidson knows she will find work as soon as she is ready to join the workforce. “We need teachers more than ever,” she said, imploring her peers to consider education as a career. “I feel there should be tons of people in this class right now to try to be a teacher.”

Many career educators have recently retired, and many more will retire this year, said Catherine Brophy, who coordinates the teacher preparation program at Great Bay. “Many educators had been staying in their careers because it’s a good career and they love teaching, but these last two years have been very difficult for a lot of people, and many have made the choice that it is a good time to retire and a good time to let the next generation step in.”

Great Bay is helping to fill the vacancies with its two-year teacher preparation program, where students work closely with faculty in small classes while gaining immediate experience in K-12 classrooms across the Seacoast. The program, which includes in-person and remote-learning classes, prepares students to transfer to a four-year school or work immediately as a paraeducator. Because of an acute need, many school districts are hiring paraeducators, and Great Bay students routinely begin working in education while completing their studies, Brophy said.

“There is so much demand, local school districts have been very supportive and flexible to the extent they can be,” she said.

This is Zoe Purdie’s second semester in Great Bay’s teacher prep program. She spent one semester at an out-of-state four-year school before returning home to New Hampshire and enrolling at Great Bay. She prefers the small classes sizes of Great Bay, because they suit her learning style, and Great Bay is much less expensive, she said.

“I am $13,000 in debt to (the other) school, and I have paid off all my classes here already,” said Purdie, who wants to be an elementary school teacher. At Great Bay, she has done an internship at the elementary school she attended growing up and is confident she will get a good job when she graduates, if not before.

To accommodate students, Great Bay is offering remote-learning options, enabling students to attend class during their workday or at other times. They attend in real time, via video link, and interact with other students and the teacher.

“The remote option was really good for me,” said student Heather Lobley of Derry, who is enrolled in Brophy’s Foundations of Education class and appreciates the flexibility of the community college system. “I don’t live too close to Portsmouth, so it would have been too much for me to drive into class. I appreciate I can do it online. It gives me the opportunity to be able to take the class.”

Lobley is enrolled in another institution to study music and took the education class at Great Bay to help prepare her for a career as a music educator.

Patricia Waggoner of Manchester also likes the online option. “This class is one that fulfills the prerequisites for a lot of other classes I want to take,” she said. “I like the format of the class, because we get see each other when we have our cameras on, and we have gotten to work in small groups and work on a project together. I feel like we have gotten to know each other even though we are not in the classroom together.”

Melanie Wells works in an early childhood center and takes her work break when it’s time for class. “Every Tuesday when I have to log on to class, I take my break while I am in class and then just go back to work. It works well,” she said.

Coral Brooks praised Brophy’s teaching style. “The class goes at a pace I am comfortable with. Cathy is great,” she said. “We can always ask her questions, and she always has an answer. I am just really glad I joined this program.”

Anna Layfield said Brophy helped her focus on occupational therapy as an area of specialty. As a first-semester student, she has already been in classrooms to observe teachers at work and has a clear vision of her future, she said. “Cathy has been great with helping me try figure out where I want to go after this. And this is probably my starting base. I am hoping to go to a four-year and then there will be some graduate school,” she said.

Brophy praised the students for committing to education and described them as community leaders.

“I feel that teaching is a leadership position right now in New Hampshire society, and one of service. Most students echo that sentiment. They want a way to give back and help children and families. They are not doing it for the money or to promote themselves. They just want to make a difference in their communities.”