News & Features

Making the Switch

Hap Gentry juggles work, family and now classes to obtain a master's in education.

Hap Gentry has always been a teacher. Until now, however, teaching was never actually his job.

He’s held positions in banking and computer technology. He’s earned a degree in economics and a master’s in business administration. He’s coached swimming for as long as he can remember, and he’s been a stay-at home dad. He relishes the role of mentor and instructor.

At age 51, Gentry has decided to follow his passion and pursue a master’s degree in teaching at Fontbonne University. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s going great so far,” he said. “My teachers are fabulous and the course material is a blast. For me, stepping into the classroom won’t be hard.” He’s currently working as a substitute teacher while taking his first two classes. This fall, he’ll even have a companion on campus — his 18-year-old son, Michael, will be attending Fontbonne as an undergraduate student.

Like Gentry, more and more people are exploring numerous careers throughout their lives rather than settling on one. Many of them are considering the idea of teaching. “Sixty percent of our graduate education students at Fontbonne are changing careers,” said Dr. James Muskopf, director of graduate studies at Fontbonne.

Muskopf believes a lot of the current interest has to do with the economy. Many people lose their jobs and pursue teaching to fulfill lifelong dreams of becoming educators. Others see teaching as a stable career path in an unstable economy.

“In recession years, this happens,” Muskopf said. “It affects our numbers — we see an increase in the inquiries regarding teaching certification. Whatever the rationale for the decision, good teachers have a passion for sharing knowledge. When I meet with interested students, I can tell right away what kind of a teacher they’ll be.”

Debbie Suchanek, 52, a recent Fontbonne graduate, has a similar story to Gentry’s. She has two degrees — a bachelor’s in business administration and a master’s in human resources development — but she has always wanted to teach. Sixteen years ago, she began studying for her teaching certification, but after she and her husband adopted a child, she put her plans on hold to become a stay-at-home mom. She eventually put the teaching goal back on track, and just this year earned her teaching certification from Fontbonne.

“Once I got back to class, I just loved it,” she said. “I wish I had done this many years ago. This was my aspiration, but life has a way of changing plans for you. I look back now and wouldn’t change anything. I have lots of life experiences to bring to the classroom.”

The Fontbonne education department offers many degree possibilities for those who are changing careers. This variety is a good thing, according to Muskopf, because prospective students are interested in different types of teaching.

“Elementary school teachers, for instance, are passionate about helping children grow,” he explained. “They can teach a variety of subjects, and they love younger children. Those interested in middle or high school have a high regard for students, but also respect for a specific academic discipline.”

At Fontbonne, practicing teachers can enhance their resume with a master’s in education that has a choice of five concentrations. Those who hold degrees in fields other than education could pursue a master’s in teaching, thereby combining teacher certification with an advanced degree. Fontbonne also offers the Career Builders program, designed for those already working in classrooms as paraprofessionals or teacher aides or assistants. It specifically focuses on bachelor’s and master’s degrees concentrating in special education.

The graduate education program has grown considerably in the last few years, and Muskopf believes much of that success is due to the quality of the faculty and staff.

“We offer personalized attention, small class sizes, convenient scheduling and help with appointments to discuss financial aid,” Muskopf said. “And we work very hard to help graduates find jobs in local schools. Our placement rate is very high.”

And that’s good news in any economy.