Tiniest Violin

More than one blogger has linked to this LA Times piece by Elle Herman, a TV writer, about her trials and tribulations in getting certified to teach in the public schools. Its woe-as-me style is funny—she must have been a sitcom writer—but it’s also, quite frankly, a bit whiny. Must she really “endure” a TB test and a criminal background check? Um, yeah. Does she really have to take a test to show content mastery? Uh, yes, I think so. Look, I’m not saying that she doesn’t have a legitimate beef with some of California’s certification requirements, and it is true that alternative certification programs should be more streamlined than they currently are, but really, are all the requirements just a “mountain of detritus”? Here’s the world’s tiniest violin . . .

Update: Alexander Russo gets all teary-eyed about the blog dialogue on this post (requires reading the comments).

–Guestblogger Michele McLaughlin

7 Replies to “Tiniest Violin”

  1. I came into teaching through alternative certification, as did my orginial teaching mentor. During his first year as an oil field geologist in the 1940s he made more money than in his rookie year in teaching in the 70s. His first oil field job was participating in the negotiations that lured “Wahoo McDaniel” to sign with Oklahoma, topping the Texas offer of drilling rigs. (when those sorts of things happen today, there has too be paperwork that shows that the arrangement that is obviously happening, is not actually happing.)

    Research has since showed that verbal dexterity is crucial to being an effective teacher, and alternatively certified teachers often have an abundanace of that. I have always been impressed by a another factor that older career-changers can bring to the classroom – experiences with the outer world. In my experience, teachers tend to be socialized in a particularly disrespectful way. They tend to be isolated in their own classrooms, and it is hard for teachers to organize themselves. Of course, the most common set of humilations come from the lack of disciplinary backing, and being socialized into accepting the behavior that is allowed in schools. But that is just the tip of the iceburg. Often, newcomers with professional experience are unwilling to submit to those normative humilations, and we challenge the system.

    Before my mentor, our district had unwritten rules that the outgoing president of the PTA could step up to a secretarial position, and after being union president, you were entitled to an assistant principal position. My mentor not only became president of the NEA affliliate, and breathed fire into the organization, but he persuaded me to run for school board. I came close and the next year he engineered first ever defeat of an incumbent.

    But before I digress too much, Michelle I think you missed the point of the article. The point is that she encountered a culture of compliance that pervades education. The point is not whether any individual requirement makes sense, but that a mountain of detritus was produced by this educational subculture. If it is not this silly test that comes out of a “culture of accountability” then it will probably be an equally silly effort to document “high standards.” In any professional culture, some of the benchmarks will make sense and others won’t. That dynamic is as universal as Catch 22.

    NCLB would not had been so destructive if it hadn’t been for a culture of compliance that predates NCLB. The relative newcomers (with no teaching experience) that pushed for NCLB should not bear too much of the blame for not knowing how the educational subculture would react to test-driven accountablity. But now they know. And we should listen to Richard Rothstein’s documentation that we featherless bipeds typically respond to unfair and irrational accountability in predictably counter-productive ways.

    I welcome TFAers, Kippsters, the full range of career changers, and even the idealists who want to build kibutz-like teacher-run schools. In my experience, the people in schools who are most effective are people with a talent for communicating with teenagers. We tend to be iconoclasts. In my experience, there is no relationship whether those adults have phd’s or high school diplommas, what their certification is, or their age. It helps though if the new teacher has fought their fair share of battles in the real world, and have come back after losing their share.

  2. ….Did someone say that CA alternative certification programs should be more streamlined than they currently are?

    The Early Completion Option (ECO) program, made possible by SB 57, can reduce the required course work to the point where a prospective CA teacher can get a teaching credential in 9 months! All a person has to do is pass one additional exam, called the Teaching Foundations Exam (TFE). The TFE is a very reasonable exam that anyone who belongs in a classroom should be able to pass.

    Alliant University offers the Early Completion Option program throughout California. Teach For America makes use of the Early Completion Option for its corp members in Oakland, as does other leading charter school operators throughout the state. The program is available to all secondary English, Math, and Science candidates, as well as Multiple-Subjects credential seekers.

    To look at the official state information on the ECO program, go to: http://www.ctc.ca.gov/credentials/leaflets/cl840.html

    and click on the user friendly “Leaflet CL-840.”

    I, along with Teach For America alum Eric DeSobe, run the Los Angeles ECO program, and I can be reached at rclifford@alliant.edu for more information. It’s too bad we didn’t come across the sitcom writer-turned teacher; we could have saved her a lot of time and frustration! Spread the word Eduwonkers- now you know!

  3. You realize that what the article was complaining about was what they had to go though to sign up to take teacher training right? Not to actually teach but to start the training program.

    Personally I doubt I’d teach in a public school. I do have 9 years of actual classroom teaching experience, a masters in my field, several textbooks published and have provided teacher training around the country. I’ve even graded the AP exam in my subject. But I am not certified so as near as I can figure it would take me a year or more of extra schooling and thousands of dollars of my own funds to teach in California. Why would I bother when private schools can and would (and have) hire me as I am?

  4. Thanks Robert for your comment. I was actually saying that alternative certification programs in general need to be more streamlined, not California’s specifically. Perhaps Elle Herman did not know about the Early Completion Option?

  5. On the topic of alternative certification, why the lack of a Teaching Fellowship implemented by The New Teacher Project in Los Angeles? I know Oakland has one, and a quick google showed that L.A.’s program was shut down in 2003 after only a year.

    Robert, how many people complete the ECO each year?

  6. In response to some of the previous comments:

    1) To Alfred Thompson and other experienced private school teachers- Did you know that in CA you can waive out of teacher credentialing coursework based on 6 or more years of private school experience?
    See http://www.ctc.ca.gov/credentials/leaflets/cl834.html

    If you really wanted to make a switch to public schools, it would cost you a few hundred dollars to take the CBEST and CSET tests, and to apply for directly to the state for a credential. Not as bad as you might have thought!

    2) Michele- I agree! I suspect Elle Herman didn’t know about the Early Completion Option, and it is something that you and other Eduwonkers can help us with- getting the word out! SB 57 actually asked all universities with credential programs to provide an Early Completion Option, but universities have not obliged, and Alliant is actually the only university in CA that I’m aware of that offers the Early Completion Option. Look here for a comparison:

    3) Alex- Why doesn’t TNTP lack a Teaching Fellowship in Los Angeles?

    TNTP has partnered in Maryland, TX, and Louisiana to create teacher training programs that also include certification. Why such a partnership hasn’t been created in Los Angeles, I can only speculate. TNTP does provide recruitment services in CA in the form of the Teach California Charters organization, and Alliant works with their recruits, but ultimately it is up to the candidate to choose a credential program. TNTP is also involved in recruiting for the LA Mayor’s schools.

    The bulk of the Alliant Early Completion Option’s enrollment comes from TFA members in Oakland, but I would venture to say that between 300-400 teachers will go through the Early Completion Option this year.

  7. I don’t buy the update, or really the violin. Having tried to get certified in MA outside the traditional ed-school track….the point isn’t the hoops you have to jump through, necessarily. The point is how hard it is to *find out* about them. Several relatively straightforward approaches to CA certification are pointed out on this thread, but they’re not useful to the article writer if she doesn’t know about them. In MA, I found the Department of Education’s web site confusing and disorganized, but it was universally acknowledged that there was no other way to do things, as they would neither meet with you or return your phone calls. I probably could have found the information I needed more easily had I had connections with a college ed department, but I didn’t. I suspect a public school district would have helped me navigate it, but first they would have had to hire me — which required a lengthy waiver process since I wasn’t yet certified — and I was hired by a private school long before the publics could get their act together.

    I was left with the overwhelming impression that the system is set up to exclude anyone who hasn’t come through the traditional undergrad ed route. Bleah.

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