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Serious About Teaching, Grads Stuck for Work

Those from a special Cal State Fullerton program find a glut of applicants, few jobs.

June 02, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

Aspiring teacher Erica Marston started college four years ago, certain her future was set.

Enrolled in Cal State Fullerton's program for students who wanted to earn a teaching credential and bachelor's degree in four years, she figured she'd have her pick of positions, that school districts would be pursuing her.

But Marston and 25 others in the Blended Teacher Education Program graduated Sunday into a bleak world for would-be educators.

The state budget crisis has chilled teacher hiring throughout California. Although some districts are seeking qualified teachers, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, a glut of thousands of educators who've either been laid off or are graduating from other credentialing programs is making the job search more difficult than the Fullerton graduates ever expected.

Marston and most of the others in her program haven't had even a nibble. Still, they hope that come September, after budgets have been completed, they'll be standing in front of a roomful of students.

Marston, raised in Laguna Niguel, has wanted to be a teacher since "forever, like first grade or kindergarten."

"I'm even more sure now," she said a few days before her graduation. "I can't imagine ever wanting to do anything else."

Marston has applied to nine districts but has had no response. She's even considering working as a substitute teacher or moving from the area if she has to. Several in her program said they'd do the same.

"I hadn't been too worried about it, but honestly, yeah, I was freaking out this weekend," Marston said. "At this point, with applications out everywhere but nothing coming in, the reality of the situation is hitting me."

Despite the difficulties, she and her classmates are confident that the accelerated credentialing program has prepared them better than many other applicants and proves their dedication to the field. California teachers typically take a year after completing their bachelor's degrees to earn their teaching credential and don't start observing in classrooms until their senior year.

Most of the other 20 Cal State campuses with blended teacher credentialing and bachelor's degree programs also will graduate their first classes this year. The majority started in fall 1999 after the system's chancellor encouraged the development of such programs with the help of a state grant.

Cal State Fullerton program organizers are expanding with a separate track for transfer students or those who decide to start the credential process during their junior year.

Graduating seniors say the advantages of the program have justified the sacrifices involved, such as putting no more than 10 hours a week into their jobs and forgoing all electives. Since their freshman year, they have been observing or teaching in local classrooms, each amassing at least 700 hours of classroom experience, including the 13 weeks they were student teachers during their senior year.

So much time in the classroom meant they were able to immediately apply what they learned in their classes and figure out what was practical.

"A textbook can talk all day about classroom management," said Marston, 21. "But it's not until you're in the classroom that you'll be able to figure out what works for that particular set of kids."

To be accepted into the program, students must be graduating high school seniors ready for college-level math and English classes, have above-average grades and experience working with children.

"The students that come into this program are the go-getters, the dynamos," said Claire Palmerino, director of Cal State Fullerton's Center for Careers in Teaching. "They seem to be called to the profession."

Melissa Hooper's mother is a second-grade teacher in Santa Ana, and the thought of teaching has always been in her head. After all of her classroom experiences, the graduating senior is sure of her goals.

Hooper, 21, who grew up in Brea and lives in a university dorm, has sent 12 applications without results. It's "completely frustrating," she said, considering that when she and her classmates were in high school they were told teachers were needed everywhere. Now, they're supposed to be grateful for whatever position they can get.

"We're all excited that we're graduating," Hooper said. "But the world out there isn't very promising. We're all searching, we're all trying."

Nearly half of the 48 students who started the program four years ago dropped out, some because they didn't like the program's pace or rigidity, others because they realized they didn't want to be teachers.

To find that out sooner so they could move on with their lives and earn different degrees, rather than waiting four years and find out once they're installed in a classroom, is invaluable, some graduating seniors said. "Being in this program lets me show recruiters how much I really want to be a teacher," said Jeniece Ewald of Brea, once an aspiring architect. "The field needs more teachers who really want to be there."

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