“I thought it would be more interesting to leave the higher-education bubble and get working,” said Walters, who now teaches high school math and science at the Doane Academy in Burlington, N.J.
Because he hadn’t completed all of the program’s requirements by June 2009, Walters returned to the Princeton classroom after graduation.
The program, which certifies 10 to 20 students to teach in New Jersey each year, requires students to spend one semester student teaching at an area school. Since many find this difficult to do while completing a senior thesis, it is routine for students to return to campus for an extra semester, taking classes at the University but living off campus and completing the student-teaching requirement.
In addition to the semester of teaching, the program also requires students to take eight courses in their prospective area of certification and three required program courses.
“Student teaching is a full-time commitment,” said Todd Kent ’83, the program’s associate director. He explained that students attempting to student teach during senior spring are required to submit a thesis draft by the end of the fall semester.
The University does not allow students to major in education, but the certification the program provides “is all you need to go out and teach,” ninth-semester student Kaitlyn Golden ’10 said. The program only certifies students to teach in New Jersey, but the certification is transferable to many other states, she added.
Students who returned after graduation said they maintained some of their links to campus from their undergraduate days, but noted that their social lives changed markedly.
“I come back from time to time,” said Golden, who occasionally attends warmups for eXpressions, the dance group she performed in as a student. But, she noted, “It’s not like your other years here.”
“I saw a few undergraduate friends,” Walters said, adding that he usually feels at home on campus.
“It was only on rare occasions when I realized that I was a kind of student of a different status, like when I’d get invited to meals at the dining hall and realize that this was something I’d done three times a day every day for four years, and now all of a sudden it’s a once-in-a-while kind of thing,” Walters said. “So in those rare moments I did kind of feel that I was still lingering in a place that I’d already moved on from. But mostly it was just a pleasant continuation of my four years at Princeton.”
Rather than living on campus, returning students live near the University or the schools at which they student teach. Golden said living off campus gives her a chance to see more of the “real world,” and Walters said the chance to live more independently was one benefit of the program over graduate school.
“I had a really good scholarship at Princeton, but it was getting to the point where I wanted to see what I could do if I could take things into my own hands, start making my own money,” he said. “I also wanted to get my own place; I was tired of just having a single room. I basically wanted to live an adult life.”
Compared to the costs of an undergraduate education, the financial burden of ninth-semester students is much lighter.
Ninth-semester students are billed for the two courses they take as part of their student-teaching semester, as well as remaining courses in their certification area, at $764 per course, more than an 80 percent discount compared to normal tuition. Students seeking certification in math or science are also eligible for a fellowship that pays tuition and provides a housing stipend.
Participants also have access to campus facilities such as McCosh Health Center, Dillon Gymnasium, libraries and printing kiosks.
The program provides a way for older alumni to find a new career path as well, said Kent, noting that graduates from the classes of 1967 and 1983 have completed the program within the past two years.
Christopher Campisano, director of the Program in Teacher Preparation, said it helps alumni and students get involved in a field that many find compelling.
“There’s an amazing interest in education around the campus,” Campisano said, adding that he feels this interest reflects a broader trend in society. “There’s such an emphasis right now on teaching and the quality of teachers in the classroom.”