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Looking for a career shift, some professionals try teaching

After building a career in medicine, Dr. Michael Goler doffed his white coat in the fall of 2015 to take on a new challenge: Teaching biology at Burke High School in downtown Charleston.

“If you learn a skill, can you teach it? Because that’s the ultimate demonstration of knowledge,” Goler said.

Goler’s is an unorthodox career path, but it’s one that the state of South Carolina hopes more people will take. A state-funded study in May projected that schools’ long-standing teacher shortage is only going to get worse, particularly in specialties including Spanish language, special education, science and math.

To fill these teacher gaps, which often arise in rural districts and high-poverty areas, schools have long leaned on programs like Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to earn their teacher certification while working in the classroom. Another approach is to snag professionals who have established a career in their field and want to shift into teaching.

For professionals with a bachelor’s degree or higher making the jump into teaching in South Carolina, one route is the state-run Program of Alternative Certification for Educators, which requires a combination of online courses and in-person seminars over the course of three years. Another route is the privately run American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence, which offers online courses that can be completed in a year. Both routes require participants to earn state teacher certification while working in the classroom for three years.

In Charleston County schools, Director of Teacher Recruitment and Hiring Kathleen Magliacane estimates the district currently employs at least 50 teachers who are working through the PACE program. She said the district has six ABCTE teachers from last year, all of whom are still employed by the district. One of them is Goler.

“I think the most valuable piece is that they’re bringing real-life experiences into the classroom, particularly if they’ve been working in the field,” Magliacane said.

A career in teaching can be a hard sell, particularly in technical fields, where the move can mean taking a significant pay cut. A new teacher with a Ph.D. can expect to earn about $46,000 a year starting out in Charleston County schools.

But for Goler, who grew up in a family full of teachers and often helped out in his mother’s grade-school classroom as a young man, teaching has always been part of his job.

A 1978 graduate of the Indiana University School of Medicine, Goler has worked in pediatrics and sports medicine and served as chief medical officer at an Ohio hospital system. He served in the Navy, spending time on assignment in Hawaii and onboard a ship. But all along, he found ways to teach.

He trained nurse practitioners, taught graduate-level courses and even spent some time substitute-teaching in Indiana public schools while waiting on a permanent job assignment. After decades in medicine, teaching felt like a natural shift.

The career move meant he could finish out his career in Charleston, where he plans to retire. Specifically at Burke, it meant he could work on the vision that he said inspired him when he met then-Principal Maurice Cannon last year.

“Burke is an amazing place because it’s a place where there’s hope every day,” Goler said.

The biggest challenge, he said, has been in pedagogy. It’s one thing to master a subject, and another thing entirely to engage teenagers and help them understand. He currently teaches Honors and College Prep biology, and he recently trained to teach biology at the Advanced Placement level — a potential new offering at Burke.

He said he also strives to be a role model and to instill the values he learned in the Navy — the words “courage,” “honor” and “respect” adorn the classroom wall above his Smartboard. Inevitably, he ends up learning about the challenges some students face, at turns tragic and inspiring.

“These kids don’t get life handed to them on some silver platter,” Goler said. “The ones who succeed are the ones who figure out a way around their obstacles.”

Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or

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