RICHMOND — A few Madison Central High School sophomores sauntered into teacher Scott Grigg's classroom Wednesday afternoon.
They slung their backpacks onto the black-topped lab tables and put their heads down for an afternoon nap. Some brought their hallway conversations into the classroom. And one student wandered in late and quietly took her seat.
The group isn't much different from the adults Grigg worked with during his 30 years in industry.
"The plant environment is the same people, just a little bit older," he said.
Grigg, 56, was a chemist by trade. But two years ago, he began to pursue a second career, in education.
Grigg is one of 29 people who have participated in Eastern Kentucky University's Try Teaching program, which gives professionals who have considered teaching a chance to shadow educators. The program is designed to give participants a glimpse of what it is really like in the classroom.
Ten Try Teaching participants have enrolled in the Master of Arts degree program in teaching at EKU. Two of those professionals, including Grigg, have started teaching full-time, said Cynthia Williams Resor, an EKU associate professor and co-coordinator of Try Teaching.
The program is entering its fourth year. Resor said she hopes Try Teaching will give professionals a chance to pursue a lifelong dream while potentially fulfilling a need for teachers.
Employment of schoolteachers in the United States is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2006 and 2016, about as fast as the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There has always been a general need in Kentucky for math, science and special education teachers, said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.
The state doesn't have "this huge pressing need" for teachers, but there is always a need for educators, Resor said.
The Try Teaching participants take one to two weeks to shadow teachers who work at a school near their residence. They attend classes and parent-teacher conferences, help grade homework, and — if they feel comfortable — they can teach a lesson or two, Resor said.
Like Grigg, many of the Try Teaching applicants have always had a desire to be a teacher, but they entered other professions, Resor said. Some also say they want to make a difference or to have a more family-friendly schedule.
Though two-thirds of participants decide not to enroll in EKU's teaching certification program, Try Teaching still works out in everyone's favor, Resor said.
"That is the goal of the program: for people to realize if that's a goal for them or not for them," she said.
Resor said there could be an increase in applicants to Try Teaching this year because of the economic slump.
"I think there are going to be a lot of people rethinking their careers because they don't have one right now," she said. But "teaching is the kind of job that you probably won't do well if your heart's not in it."
"You have to like kids. You have to want to help children."
Grigg said none of his friends or family were surprised when he decided to pursue his teaching certification.
"I'm one of those guys who always likes to explain things to people," he said.
By 2007, Grigg had ended his career as a plant manager and knew it was time to make a change. So he entered the Try Teaching program and shadowed two teachers at Madison Central High School in Richmond that fall.
"I'll be honest, the first three or four days when I got home, I was whooped," he said.
Grigg said he didn't realize how draining it could be to stand up and speak for an entire school day. But he said he enjoyed his interaction with the teenagers. He shadowed multiple teachers and taught a little bit.
"It felt good," he said.
The glimpse into life as a teacher was enough for Grigg to pursue a master's degree in teaching.
"I bring a lot of life experience to this," he said.
He teaches earth and chemical sciences to Madison Central sophomores with a provisional teaching certification. He expects to earn his full certification this summer.
On Wednesday, he quieted the students at the beginning of his class before he reviewed a worksheet about covalent bonds.
"Jonathon, stay with me," Grigg told one sleepy student as he drew a bond between two chlorine atoms.
He gently nudged one student awake as he handed out a six-question quiz on the lesson. He spent the next 10 minutes circling the desks and kneeling beside students who needed extra help.
Samantha Stewart, 16, said Grigg is the teacher she goes to when she has problems in the classroom or her personal life.
"I love him," she said. "He always helps. He's just the awesomest person in this school."