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Alternate Route Alum Sharon Phillips Combines Love for Tech and Teaching

Headshot of Black woman wearing pearls

Alternate Route alum Sharon Phillips originally went to school for Information Technology, but found herself in education because of the raw talent her colleagues saw. 

For years, Phillips worked in coding, designing programs and training staff, but after the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s those in tech went from cherry-picking the job market to being thrust into cutthroat job competition. 

During this time, Phillips switched gears. She moved to New Jersey and focused on being a mother to two boys. That’s when education began creeping into her life. She became heavily involved in their school, from helping in the classroom to being part of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Phillips took to education so well that other people began to notice.

“One day, my son’s teacher had to run to the office, came back and said to me ‘You need to find your own classroom because you're a natural.’ I wasn't sure if it was an insult, but she's so sweet so I couldn't take it as an insult!”

That educator planted a seed that would lead Phillips down a rewarding path that combined her two loves. 


Phillips shines as a substitute 


It had only been two days into her first substitute teaching venture, but Phillips was so effective in her role that the school offered her a full-time position. 

Unbeknownst to her, Phillips was assigned to a classroom that had a revolving door of substitutes, each one overwhelmed by the rambunctious students. 

“I went in, had class and I noticed people kept walking down the hall and peeking in,” she said. “The principal kept asking if I was OK.”

During a previous substitute teacher’s short tenure, one student threw a chair at them.

“Administration was shocked that they came into the classroom and saw these kids sitting quietly with their books.”

School employees couldn’t figure out how she had commanded attention from the students, but Phillips knew.

“Children were not strange to me because I have two boys,” she said. “I was used to dealing with high energy.”

Phillips accepted the full-time substitute job and, as those who encountered her could obviously see, she was a natural. Colleagues encouraged Phillips to take the next step to get certified and that’s when she was introduced to Rutgers Alternate Route. 

“My husband asked, ‘Are you going to sub the rest of your life?’ I said ‘I guess I'll look at this certification thing.”


Combining tech and teaching


Naturally, Phillips gravitated toward technology in education and got her tech certification. As she explored teaching during her time in the Alternate Route, the program offered support in many ways.

“Alternate Route exposed me to different teachers in New Jersey and introduced me to topics I didn't know about,” Phillips said. “That’s what I needed. It fueled me and gave me a home base.”

While Phillips was subbing, she was introduced to Michelle Jones, a fellow Alternate Route candidate. The two shared the same favorite teacher and became close collaborators. 

I did lesson plans with her in her kitchen and I adopted her as a mentor,” Phillips said. 

Her education didn’t stop there. After becoming certified, Phillips went back to school to receive her master’s degree in education and technology. 

“My master’s training supported the foundation I got from Alternate Route,” she said.

Currently, Phillips serves as the Technology Coordinator/Teacher at St. Helena School and teaches preschool through eighth grade, which puts her at a unique advantage. 

“As they grow with me, they understand how my rules work,” she said. “If a newcomer comes in and starts acting up, the students will say ‘We don't play that way.’ My kids know their routine.
Sometimes all I need is to give them a look and they get it.”

Phillips runs a tight ship in the classroom for a reason. She wants her students to feel safe learning and exploring, and part of that safety includes having respect for everyone in the classroom.

“I don’t tolerate ridicule,” Phillips said. “There is no such thing as a stupid question in my classroom, which helps my students feel comfortable to talk.”

The discussions they have are wide ranging, with Phillips using real-world examples to show how technology is part of everything we do. Recently, Phillips asked her students what’s something they can do now as a way to earn money. The topic was prompted by an article about a seventh-grade student who made a million dollars off of making bracelets. Her students analyzed their hobbies, pulled together a business plan, made business cards, wrote up a financial plan and put together a drawing or 3-D image of their product or service. 

“I always teach my students they all have a voice, and to use that voice to represent themselves,” she said. “I want my eighth graders to know they’re going to be leaders.”


If you’re considering following your dream of teaching, Rutgers Alternate Route can offer you the support and training you need to succeed. Be sure to follow Rutgers Alternate Route on Twitter and sign up for Alternate Route’s monthly newsletter for more information and stories from the field of education.

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Heather Ngoma

Heather Ngoma has over 20 years experience collaborating with educators across New Jersey to drive education innovation. She currently serves as the Director of Rutgers University's Alternate Route Teacher Training Program at the Center for Effective School Practices, a program which helps career changers, recent college graduates and other aspiring education professionals become licensed teachers in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter @heatherngoma.