Sunday, May 24, 2009

The California Teacher Certification of a Teach for America Corps Member

A Teach for America Corps member tells the story of her ongoing certification work.


As a first year teacher who was charged with teaching English Language Arts young minds straight after a degree in journalism and political science, I am tremendously thankful to Teach For America for guiding me along every hurdle. I was told when and where to take:

  1. the four CSET exams—in May right after graduation; bad idea to take them all in the same sitting but TFA sent me a test prep book and provided a bus for all of us first-year corps members,
  2. the CBEST—in June, leaving me in amazement that a person gets the okay to teach after clearing this test,
  3. and the Teaching Foundations Exam—in August, right after five weeks of summer institute in Watts. This test involved driving for two hours in the early morning from Long Beach to a place called San Bernardino, but institute prepared us well for this test, and evidently it saved us from a slew of pedagogy classes, a strategy I quickly adopted—clear any test that will get me out of taking more of those classes.

After clearing these tests, I enrolled in classes to obtain my preliminary teaching credential. This process entailed attending three-hour long biweekly, and later monthly, sessions with a group of teachers who taught various subjects and classes. I dutifully made the trip after ten hours of teaching, but I was not a good student nor an active participant, and I used all my excused absences. At the same time, I never felt particularly guilty, because the whole program was run by a small, unknown university and tailored to fit the needs of TFA folks. It was a slight discomfort to type out 25-30 pages of Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) reports three times over the year, but I learned that I earned the same grade regardless of the effort I put in, so I went a few notches higher on my level of apathy. I also passed a technology test (yes, it allowed me to skip a whole semester of technology class) for which I was shockingly unprepared, but I managed with the help of Google and my memory that dug out nuggets of information from an 8th grade computer class.

In the end, the whole ordeal was not that harrowing. I received my credential, my Americorps reward from TFA covered the entire tuition, and I met some admirable educators. The most useful aspect of the program was being assigned a field supervisor, a mentor of sorts, who observed and visited me every two weeks. From what I hear, this assignment is a matter of luck, and I got excessively lucky with mine, who was kind, knowledgeable and supportive. Even the educators who ran our seminars and workshops are truly good teachers, but the entire program is set up in a way that makes every task just another step in going through the motions.

Minnesota Teacher Certfication - Alternative Programs on the Horizon?

Seems someone in the Minnesota House had a simple plan to provide teacher certification to those who didn't want to go through a traditional education program. It didn't make it into the final bill, but the senate is considering it.

The gist:

The proposal would allow an eligible college, university or nonprofit to sponsor intensive teacher training programs for college graduates with high GPAs. Participants would complete a minimum 200-hour prep course, work with a mentor and be required to pass skills exams and other tests.

You Minnesotans out there, get on the phone to your State Senator!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

California Teacher Certfication Story - Earning a Credential While Teaching

A California teacher describes his time in teacher training classes...

During my first year of teaching, I found a way to teach and receive my credential at the same time. I enrolled in a preliminary credential program which required a weekly meeting of 3 hours each. During class, I would have to sit through stories of teachers frustrated with their schools, colleagues, and even students. I doubt most of those new teachers had the desired passion and dreams to teach because they obviously didn’t know what they had gotten themselves into. So I would go to class with student work to grade and lessons to plan. At the end of each semester, I was required to do two teaching performance assessments (TPA), which were supposedly used to determine whether I knew how to modify my curriculum and teach ELLs and special-needs students. I usually start my TPAs the night before they’re due and it took me about 2-3 hours to fill out 20 pages of nonsense.

After I received my preliminary credential, I was told that it was not renewable and I had 5 years to complete a two-year induction program to clear it. So in my third year of teaching, I am in an induction program where I have to meet with a group for 3 hours once a month, meet with my coach twice a month, and turn in homework assignments to show my growth as a teacher. None of it is much different from the preliminary program, except I’m only required to attend class once a month instead of once a week. Next year, I will be teaching AP Calculus and hopefully be able to clear my credential and be done with it all. The only problem is that I doubt my mentor will be able to do much to help me prepare my students for their AP exams. I’m sure it won’t be so different from the last two years.

More on the trouble in Massachusetts...

Eduwonk offers a good back and forth on the issue of Massachusetts teachers and their failure on the new math test. The massive failure is an embarrassment, clearly, but the question is for who: the teachers who failed, the programs that claimed to have prepared them, or the state that is choosing to deny itself that many more qualified teachers?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

...To California (Part Two)

A teacher formerly of Massachusetts, now of California, tells part II of her story...

After a year in Massachusetts [see From Boston (Part One)], I decide to move to California where I have to start all over again with certification because there's no transfer of provisional/step 1 type licensure. I end up having to take two new math proficiency tests to obtain a temporary license. I then take a few additional tests to enroll at Alliant University to gain teacher certification in California, and an intern license which allows me to teach for a year. I then obtain an initial license (step 2 license) at the end of my program. That milestone is finally at the end of my fifth year of teaching.

I thought I was done with certification programs and tests. However I find out in the fall of my sixth year of teaching that I will need to complete 2 years of beginning teacher's classes that are comparable in content to the very certification program I had just completed. I went through with it for about five months when I simply burned out from the whole process. I was deeply upset that all my years of teaching had afforded me no higher standing then a first year teacher in the eyes of the Department of Education, and that I had to resort to coursework that was added to my already demanding 60 hour work week. All said, it would mean I would not gain my teaching clear until my seventh year of teaching was completed.

8 years since I graduated college, and I've racked up:
7 years of teaching
3 math proficiency tests.
2 multiple subject tests
3 communication skills tests
4 earlier step teaching licenses
1 year of graduate school in education administration
1 year of a teacher certification program
.5 years of beginner teacher classes
0 professional licenses.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Teacher Certficaton Tests in Massachussets - Something Doesn't Add Up!

Seems there's trouble with the aspiring math teachers in Massachusetts. I wonder how many of them were education majors?

From Boston... (Part One)

A teacher formerly of Massachusetts, now of California, tells her story...

Although I was a psychology major, I had no interest in becoming a psychologist. During my junior year at BU, I began considering what steps I needed to take to become a teacher instead. I knew I wasn't interested in elementary school and was leaning more toward middle/high schools, thus I perused the Massachusetts Certification requirements for teaching psychology and the social sciences as a whole. You could not enroll in a teacher certification program teaching psychology, but you could for sociology. I had enough room in my schedule to double major, so I decided I'd do that. (In addition to passing a subject matter proficiency test, Massachusetts also requires that you either major or take at least ten classes in the subject you plan on teaching.)

Fall of senior year rolls around, and Massachusetts makes a decision to no longer offer certification in sociology. Unable to find a job, I end up going to graduate school in education policy to buy some time to decide what to do next. Although I wanted to teach in the inner-city, I could not do so because I was not certified and I lacked experience. Thus after my masters, I end up going to a parochial school out in the affluent Wellesley suburb of Boston. After two years there, I figure I have enough experience to attempt a position at a charter school, which I ended up doing, becoming a math teacher at a Boston Charter School. While there, I take and pass all the necessary proficiency tests to teach under a provisional license, one that expires after 5 years if I don't work my way to a professional license (which is contingent on passing at least ten classes in the subject matter.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New York Teacher Certfication Story - Earning Certification Without Student Teaching (It's Tricky!)

On of the lingering frustrations of my own certification saga has been the fall out of my decision not to student teach. Having been hired to teach private school at age 22, without formal certification, I simply started teaching.

This was all well and good, until I decided to switch over to the public system. At this point, there was a problem. Most Masters programs in teaching involve student teaching, which I didn't need. The good news is that New York State does allow waivers to student teaching. The not so good news is that if one does not student teach with a Masters program, the State of New York insists on evaluating your case individually, rather than simply allowing your graduate program to approve it. This may sound like a minor detail, but it amounts to a major roadblock: an individual transcript evaluation takes something on the order of 16-19 weeks, while a graduate approved one takes 3 weeks or so. This, it seems, was my reward for opting to switch into the system as a certified teacher - 16 weeks more wait time and no assistance from my graduate institution in applying for certification.

New York Private School to New York Public School: A Teacher Certification Travesty

There was a time when I was a happy but angst ridden private school teacher. Teaching is teaching and kids are, ever and always, just kids. And so, guilt about the injustice of it all aside, I was quite happy meeting the daily challenge of trying to offer a genuine education. Still, the years passed, and my guilt grew, and I decided that enough was enough - I needed to become a public school teacher.

At this point, I had a BA in History from a top college, four years of successful teaching at an accredited private school, a newly acquired MA in Teaching from Teachers College, and the enthusiastic support of all of my supervisors. So it was with great disappointment that I left my first meeting with the certification specialists at the New York Board of Education, having been informed that I was deficient in several ways:

  • I needed 3 more credits in the teaching of reading
  • I needed 3 more credits in basic math
  • I needed written proof that my MA in teaching was, in fact, related to teaching
  • I ALMOST needed 3 credits in music, but I was saved by the recorder lessons I had taken on a lark during my junior year at college
I was, like I said, angst ridden in the private school world, and I had gone to the trouble of the Masters. I certainly was not going to let these last obstacles stand in my way. And, so, in addition to the nearly 30K I had shelled out for my masters, I invested in the following:

  • Approximately $500 for credits by examination in basic math
  • Approximately $500 for credits by examination in basic reading education
  • $40 for written evidence of my success, as a high school senior, in BC calculus
And so it was that, after 6 years of higher education, 4 years of successful full-time teaching, and a handful of post-graduate credits at top notch online universities, I found myself worthy, in the eyes of New York State, of a preliminary teaching credential.