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Teacher Hopefuls Set Sights on Pupils

Education: More than 100 prospects turn out for a Santa Ana recruiting session.

April 14, 2002|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tanya Ramos, a single mother of a 6-year-old girl, has wanted to be a teacher "since I can remember." On Saturday, she donned a suit and a smile and took a step toward her dream.

Ramos, 26, was among more than 100 people seeking teaching jobs with the Santa Ana Unified School District during a recruiting session at the district's headquarters. This school year, district officials have hired about 235 teachers. They don't know yet how many positions will need to be filled for 2002-03.

Santa Ana officials scout potential candidates at job fairs and then invite the best prospects for interviews with administrators and school principals. Saturday was the first of three recruiting sessions this spring.

For Ramos, it was another step in a long journey that began when, as a student, she was inspired by her own teachers.

"There were certain teachers who just made you feel good about yourself," said Ramos, an Orange native who attended Placentia and La Habra schools.

Ramos recalled one pivotal moment at La Habra's Sonora High School when her junior-year English teacher urged her to enroll in an honors English course.

"I didn't want to," she said. "I felt intimidated, you know. Also, I didn't want to be the nerd in my group. But about three weeks later, when she found out I had not signed up for it, she just transferred me."

Ramos recently finished courses to become a state credentialed teacher and is working on her master's degree in education at National University in Orange.

Candidates like Ramos are in short supply across the state, said Kris Marubayashi, co-director of CalTeach, a teacher referral and recruitment program run by the chancellor's office of the California State University system.

California public schools will need 260,000 to 300,000 new teachers in the next decade, Marubayashi said, but only about 18,000 are credentialed every year. To make up for the shortage, districts often issue emergency licenses to candidates with little background in education.

Officials hope programs like CalTeach will lure people to the profession. But overcrowded and underfunded schools, and a starting salary of about $35,000, make it difficult to attract new teachers.

"The prestige of being a teacher has really declined," Marubayashi said.

But that didn't seem to daunt Ramos or the other candidates waiting their turns Saturday.

Diane Rountree, 47, is a nurse, but her real passion is teaching. She moved from Lafayette, La., to Westminster a year ago to pursue her new career because, she said, this is where the jobs are.

"And also for the weather," she said. "I got tired of the mosquitoes and the heat."

Rountree has been a substitute teacher in Huntington Beach and Garden Grove while studying for her credentials.

"Seeing the students so proud for what they've accomplished--I get a real kick out of that," she said. Ramos echoed the sentiment.

"What could be more important than keeping children interested and going to school so they can succeed?" she said.

Ramos credited her own teachers for keeping her on the straight and narrow.

"They kept pushing and pushing me," said Ramos, who put herself through college by working as a waitress and a bilingual assistant at Magnolia School District. She is a substitute teacher in that district.

After her interview, Ramos felt good about her chances of getting her first full-time teaching job.

When she was a Placentia third-grader, Ramos said, a teacher devised a project to preserve the students' dreams for their futures. Contained in a time capsule still buried near a flagpole at Ruby Drive Elementary School are a series of drawings detailing what each child wanted to be when they grew up.

"Mine," she said, "is a teacher."

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