Schools across the country face a critical shortage in finding special needs teachers. To help fill the gap, Hillsborough County is actively recruiting college grads from fields outside of education.
Autumn Grice and Vanessa Walters love teaching at Collins Elementary in Riverview.
"I'm happy every day when I leave here. Even on my worst day, I'm happy," said Grice.
"You know, each day, there's just a new challenge," said Walters.
These educators have something else in common: the path they took to teaching. In Hillsborough county, PATH is the program to attract and train high quality teachers for students with disabilities. Right now, Hillsborough County has 120 openings in that field.
"We've been exhausting the supply coming from the colleges and universities. They can't produce enough education graduates for us, so we've had to look at alternative means to try and find those folks," said Scott Richman, Hillsborough County Schools professional development supervisor.
PATH gives college grads without an education major a way into teaching. The first step is attending an information session, followed by free training classes and time shadowing in the classroom. At the end of the process, they can interview for a job. In just the past year, 30 teachers have already been hired through the process and the district says following the PATH helps make them successful.
"While nothing can truly teach you what it's like to be in a classroom, until you're there, it gives them more background information to really be ready for that," Richman said.
Autumn Grice and Vanessa Walters are in their first year of the program, working to complete their Florida teaching certification and getting mentoring support. They both feel their business backgrounds have given them an edge in coming to the classroom.
"With the kids, you never know what's going to happen each day. So I think being out in that business world just really taught me to sort of roll with the punches, go with the flow, always have that backup plan," said Walters.
And despite all the hard work that's gone into making the career change, both women say seeing results in these kids gives them reason to encourage others to consider taking the PATH to teaching.
"When you see these kids at the end of the day, and that impact you have on them, and to see their parents thank you just for spending the time you do with them a day, that's why you should do it," said Grice.
There are several upcoming information sessions on the PATH program. You can learn more and register for those sessions by clicking here .