TURLOCK — Schools putting the Great Recession and its staff-slashing cuts behind them face a new problem: They need teachers. And with jobs on the horizon, more college grads are heading to credential programs.
The annual Transition from Student to Teacher Conference at California State University, Stanislaus, last weekend drew a capacity crowd of about 200 future teachers for a day of workshops addressing everything from how to apply to the credential program to how to manage a classroom after being hired.
“We saw a radical drop-off. Now we’re on an uptick,” said Oddmund Myhre, dean of the university’s College of Education, which helped organize the conference. But more than numbers, in this era of high expectations, “we are much more focused on making sure our graduates are high-quality teachers,” he said.
Toward that end, the college partners with Turlock Unified School District and other groups, he said. “We have a common interest in making sure the education in this community is the best it can be.”
Some of those high-quality graduates came back last weekend to talk to future teachers and share their view from the field, said Jesus Verdugo of student support services. “I think it’s motivational for our speakers as well as the students,” Verdugo said.
The shift to Common Core State Standards requires teachers dig in and teach in-depth, using creativity stifled in recent years, said Tara Ribeiro, head of teacher recruitment.
“Everything about our (instructional) program is completely changed. We’re in a huge transition. Common Core is happening and it’s happening fast,” Ribeiro said. She sees it as a major step forward, leaving behind the days in which district offices laid out what every teacher would teach every day, the so-called widget approach.
Watching a Common Core lesson in action, Ribeiro said, “there wasn’t three minutes that went by that teacher wasn’t engaged with students. I know every single student absolutely knew the lesson that day, to go home and tell parents about, to use it for their lives.” The lesson: their weekly vocabulary list.
“This is the year of change,” said Stanislaus State graduate Viviana Medina, who teaches in a Stockton Unified high school. “I’ve taught for five years. The biggest changes are coming this year.”
Among those changes is a realization that technology must become part of the fabric of instruction, said Medina as she walked a room filled with future teachers trying out interactive class presentation programs. “I’ve had kids – and again, the kids are ahead of us – who’ve done amazing things with these,” Medina told the group.
She said she holds training for teachers who thought they would never use technology. “The ease of use is there – as long as they’re willing,” Medina said.
Upcoming teachers will be immersed in technology, interactive techniques and strategies for struggling learners. Workshops also covered the nonacademic side, the moments when teachers end up being counselor, confidant and even fill-in parent.
In the workshop led by Stockton eighth-grade teacher Brandy De Alba, prospective teachers heard about some of the challenges teachers face. De Alba told of a student, Kenya, who confided fears but then talked her out of making an immediate report. The girl was molested. “When they tell you something, it’s a call for help,” she told a packed room. “I had to make that call. You’re going to have to make that call. It’s really, really difficult.”
Another student, Victor, came to school every day and slept until lunch, then worked until school let out. “That was the deal. I let him sleep, he worked for me for an hour and a half,” she said. She discovered he rode four miles to school each day from a motel where his mother and her friends smoked crack most nights. A student job as a janitor led to a scholarship for junior college, a promising path cut short when he was shot to death in his neighborhood.
“You’re going to have tons of Kenyas and tons of Victors. Even if you don’t teach in south Stockton, you’ll have a few. They need you to just believe in them, not judge them, and help them on their way,” she said.
After the workshop, De Alba said she sees value in sharing these stories with incoming students at her alma mater. “They need to realize that it’s not as easy as it shows on TV shows. There’s an emotional toll. You’re counselor and parent. Teachers do it all. You have to go in with your sleeves rolled up, boots on, ready to work,” she said.