Bob Pulliams has the time and money to take the college education courses necessary to become a state-certified teacher, but cumbersome certification requirements prevent many knowledgeable and otherwise qualified adults from teaching public school students.
Bob Pulliams knows the aerospace industry.
But after 25 years in the business, Mr. Pulliams is back in school and may soon have a classroom of his own.
"I retired from the aerospace industry in 1998 because I wanted to get into something different," Pulliams says.
Pulliams is now assisting students at Vista Charter Academy, a K-8 public school academy in Grand Rapids. His desire is to eventually become a fully certified teacher with students of his own. Pulliams has a bachelor's degree in business administration, but he must take additional education classes in order to meet various state requirements.
Until he becomes certified, Pulliams is working as a tutor with students in the upper grades. "My first year I worked with the students who were struggling with their reading and math skills," he says. "This year, my primary responsibilities are working with the third-grade classes and assisting the principal, Mrs. VanDeusen."
Jan VanDeusen has over 33 years of experience as a teacher and administrator and values the business background Pulliams brings to her school. "Bob has a very professional demeanor that has allowed him to gain the respect of both parents and students," she says. "At the same time, he relates extremely well with the children, particularly the older boys."
After raising two boys of his own, Pulliams understands what it takes to prepare children, both educationally and socially. "Trust me, I've been there," he laughs.
Pulliams appreciates the moral focus of Vista Charter Academy, which encourages him to instruct and guide students in making good decisions. "We stress things like respect, honesty, loyalty, others first, etc.," he says. "I think they are a critical part of every child's education and it is what makes Vista unique."
Vista Charter Academy is managed by the Grand Rapids-based National Heritage Academies (NHA), a private company that manages charter schools, and is one of four NHA schools in the area. Promotional materials for the schools stress a focus on "phonics-based reading, English, mathematics, science, and history." NHA schools also endeavor to teach students to "value high moral character, individual responsibility, and the dignity of work."
Parents also praise Vista.
"Our experiences at Vista, since its inception, have heightened our awareness of the challenges involved in starting a new school, especially one with as much diversity as Vista," say Dale and Joan Hulst, parents of Vista students. "However, these challenges have resulted in tremendous growth for our family, for which we are grateful."
The student makeup at Vista is very diverse: Approximately 65 percent of the students are either black or Hispanic, and at least 50 percent of the students qualify for federally funded free or reduced lunches.
According to a November 1998 survey, 95 percent of Vista parents agreed with the statements, "I would recommend this school to my friends who have school-age children" and "My child's teacher shows an interest in my child." Ninety-three percent of parents agreed with the statement, "I am satisfied with my child's academic progress this school year."
"We appreciate Vista for its high academic standards, its focus on building moral character, its multi-cultural community, and the emphasis on parental involvement," say the Hulsts. "But most importantly, we feel blessed to have a staff who is deeply committed to Vista's vision and who is deeply committed to each individual student."
Pulliams considers it an honor to be a part of such an effort. He has no regrets about leaving the aerospace industry for a career in education.
"Like any business, the bottom line was always numbersprofit, net sales, return on investments," says Pulliams. "What I've found is that there is a lot more gratification and satisfaction in working with young people."
As Pulliams awaits the day he gets a class of his own, Principal VanDeusen is already confident that he will do a great job. "Bob could actually teach a class today; he just doesn't have the state certification.
"We are just very happy that we can utilize Bob right now," she adds. "I know that when that day comes [for Pulliams to have his own classroom], he will do a wonderful job."