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Would-Be Teachers Go to the Head of the Class

The first freshman class is learning ropes of job at L.A. Unified's new prep academy.

November 30, 2002|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

A first-time teacher fumbled with an overhead projector in front of the ninth-grade geometry class. Soon after, another inexperienced instructor became annoyed because some students had forgotten their books. The next rookie nervously lectured about longitude and latitude, her eyes locked on her pink note cards.

Then student David Lee, 14, raised his hand and said bluntly: "You all are confusing us."

The lessons ended and the would-be teachers -- all 14-year-olds -- returned to their seats looking defeated.

Then the real teacher spoke.

"This is preparation; it's training," said Cheryl Christopher, who had been observing in back of the class. "It's not going to be perfect."

The teenage instructors will have years to get it right. They are among the first freshmen at the Los Angeles Unified School District's new Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy, which experts say is one of the nation's first high schools aimed at grooming young people for possible careers in education. Located on the campus of Los Angeles Harbor College in Wilmington, the school opened last month with 80 students and is expected to grow to 400 within four years.

Of course, it is not a sure thing that every pupil will go on to become a teacher, said Los Angeles Unified school board member Mike Lansing, who pushed for the new campus as one way to ease the district's teaching shortage. Before students finish college and earn their teaching credentials, some may be lured away by higher paying jobs or changing interests.

But since the federal "No Child Left Behind" law requires that all public school teachers be fully credentialed by the end of the 2005-06 school year, Lansing said the new academy is sorely needed. "This could be a step in that direction," he said.

Kasey Martin, 14, a student from Carson, said he likes "the seriousness" in his classes so far. He feels more in touch with his classmates, because they all share a common goal and they are focused on their education.

Martin said his dream is to teach middle school. He said he wants to affect the lives of students the way his favorite eighth-grade algebra teacher Michelle Bradley at Glenn Hammond Curtiss Middle School in Carson did.

"She was really a friend to many students," he said. "That is something I want to do. I learned from her."

Students enrolled at the new academy take regular high school classes but also can simultaneously take community college courses, which count toward their high school diploma and an associate of arts degree.

They will be coached on how to conduct lessons in front of their peers, as well as in front of elementary school classes. They will grade each other's papers, learn lesson planning and classroom management techniques and take college education courses such as child psychology, said Richard Vladovic, local superintendent for District K, who oversees the school.

If they graduate with at least a 3.0 grade-point average, they will be guaranteed admittance to Cal State Dominguez Hills, along with a teaching aide position in L.A. Unified, he said. If they complete their bachelor's degree and required credentials, Vladovic is promising them a teaching position with the district.

'You Touch the Future'

"It is the greatest profession in the world because you touch the future," said Vladovic who has worked for the district for 33 years and brought the idea to Lansing nearly two years ago.

Pam Grossman, a professor of teacher education at Stanford University, applauded the district's effort to grab future teachers early.

"You can't start trying to recruit in college; it is just too late," she said. "You have to develop their interest earlier, you have to reach back to middle schools and high schools."

The idea has caught on across the nation over the last 10 years because of teacher shortages in many cities, high turnover and the need to recruit a diverse teaching force, she said.

Although L.A. Unified's high school may be among the first of its kind, many other high schools have recently instituted programs to interest youngsters in teaching, mostly in collaboration with local colleges, she said. A teacher-training charter high school is scheduled to open in Phoenix next fall.

A similar 1,300-student teacher preparation campus for Los Angeles high school students is slated to open next to Cal State Northridge in 2004, an ambitious plan that has been underway for eight years, said school board member Julie Korenstein, who is spearheading it. The program will allow students to enroll in university classes and receive mentoring from college students.

"It will be a model program, and it will catch on," Korenstein said.

Tom Carroll, executive director for the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, said teacher high schools are a good idea because they will strengthen the pool of qualified applicants, but he added that they are not a solution to the teacher shortage. Higher pay and better campus environments are the only remedy, he said.

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