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.


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  3. I have mostly read bad things about Teach for America program with a few exceptions. I am glad that this was helpful to you. American Board is a govt approved program which seems to be a good option but it is not available in California.