For a long time I did not know exactly what job I wanted, but I knew I had a passion for helping the voiceless.
I worked as a faculty research assistant for the Oregon Water Resources Research Center, led professional workshops for Dell Computer Corporation, became a mentor for young people through the the Austin Writers’ League’s writing and poetry workshops and was a part‐time teaching artist with the Theatre Action Project.
I finally settled on being a creative writer at Compass Learning, where I worked with a team of teachers, subject-matter experts and programmers to produce innovative educational software designed to support challenged learners in the area of mathematics.
Yet I wasn’t satisfied. After designing curriculum and learning activities for students with learning difficulties, I realized that I actually wanted to work with the students rather than simply design the lessons. I realized that I wanted to become a teacher.
I became a teacher through the education specialist intern credential program at the University of San Francisco, where its alternative certification program fit my needs perfectly.
I was already working as a teaching assistant at the Phillips Academy in Alameda – a private school that provides services to public school students in special education – so I wanted a program that allowed me to continue in that position.
While earning my credential through USF, I was a full-time assistant teacher at the Phillips Academy, earning a salary and benefits. Instead of stepping out of the workforce for two years to earn my credential through a regular teacher preparation program, I was able to take night classes in person at USF for four to eight hours a week, while still getting a paycheck. My personalized credential courses taught concrete skills that I got to use in my classroom the very next day. The extra supervision and mentoring I received as part of the program further honed my teaching skills, making me a confident and successful fully credentialed teacher.
Unfortunately, for every story like mine there are stories of people like me who cannot afford to become teachers – at the very time that California has a need for more of them.
I am convinced that my experience in different fields has made me a better teacher, and made me more able to understand the backgrounds and needs of my students from diverse backgrounds. But too many mid-career professionals cannot afford to stop working and attend school full-time to become a teacher.
That is why alternative certification programs like the one I attended at USF are so important.
In particular, we need more special education teachers to work with the kinds of students I work with every day. The U.S. Department of Education has found that 46 out of 50 states, including California, face a teaching shortage in special education.
For many people the path to becoming a teacher is too expensive, too removed from the actual practice of teaching, or not conveniently situated to where they live.
Alternative certification gives would-be teachers the opportunity to remain in their community and learn their craft while in a classroom. Intern
teachers, as we are known, study teaching techniques and put them into practice as we assist experienced teachers. The number of intern credentials issued in California is up more than 30 percent since 2009-10, comprising a small but growing percentage of California teachers.
Imagine if these programs were expanded. We could help ease the shortage and make sure that more of our children – especially in cities and remote rural areas – are working with an attentive, prepared teacher.
Without the availability of an alternative certification program, where I could earn a salary while working in a classroom, I might never have had the chance to teach. I now work at the Phillips Academy in Alameda teaching English Language Arts and Social Studies to students with special needs.
Schools need teachers from a variety of backgrounds and skill sets. Alternative certification programs are not for everyone. But they have worked for thousands of California teachers: teachers with varied experience in business, nonprofits and the arts; teachers living in rural communities who want to stay and teach the next generation of community leaders; teachers who are entering the classroom and staying when so many leave.
I hope that school districts and colleges will train more teachers through alternative programs. Opening up that path to teaching will benefit our children and communities for many years.
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