Increasing Teacher Diversity in the Edmonds School District

Diana White Edmonds School Board - League of Education VotersBy Diana White, Edmonds School Board, Guest Blogger

Many industries, companies, and systems have placed a growing emphasis on diversity in hiring, and the education arena is no different. Most of these organizations have found difficulty finding ways to increase their numbers of ethnically diverse employees. It is a difficult proposition.

The Edmonds School District, in coordination with several partners, believes we have found a way to move the needle to hire and retain more diverse candidates entering the teaching workforce.

Historically, the Edmonds School District teaching staff has been largely white, with nearly 92% representation in 2016.* However, the ethnic makeup of the district’s student population is over 50% non-white. Students of color now comprise the majority of our population, and they have been increasingly vocal about teachers, educators, administrators, and curriculum that reflect their diverse community.

The Edmonds School District’s early initiatives were similar to many districts – attending diversity recruitment fairs, specific publications, word of mouth, etc. As a result, the number of new teachers of color would slowly move in the positive direction, only to be thwarted by our inability to retain qualified teachers of color.

The Edmonds District and its team realized that a ‘grow your own’ model would be needed to provide the best success at recruiting, retaining and training teachers of color. Over the course of 18 months, the District, along with the school board, post-secondary educational institutions, a local philanthropic foundation, and a nonprofit, formed the Teachers of Color Program.

Here’s how it works:

Current classified employees who work in the Edmonds School District are eligible to apply for a Teachers of Color Scholarship. Many of these employees already work with our students as para-educators, coaches, and behavior specialists, and they are passionate about our students. The classified staff is more ethnically diverse, they live locally, and many are parents of children who have graduated from or attend our schools. Some have post-secondary education, but all have a desire to earn a teaching certificate.

A designated district employee is another integral part of the process. The Teacher Education Advancement Coordinator promotes and assists all employees who wish to enter the teaching profession. Examples include assisting potential students with financial aid opportunities and grants, or identifying pathways to alternative certification programs. A great amount of work has been done to develop the application process, interview, and vet the candidates for the Teachers of Color Scholarship program. The inaugural round produced 18 candidates, of which 4 were selected as our initial cohort.  More candidates will be added as funding permits.

Our candidates are expected to undergo significant training on critical race theory, participate in mentoring programs, and advocate for other potential candidates. All are leaders in our schools, and role models for our students.

The funding model has focused primarily on a generous grant from the Hazel Miller Foundation. We also receive tuition waivers from Edmonds Community College, and hope to expand the number of tuition waivers in the future. Our research found that students historically struggle with financial barriers such as childcare costs, test and book fees, transportation to and from school, and inability to take time off for student teaching. The Hazel Miller grant allows flexibility to help students with living stipends, emergency expenses, and other costs outside of tuition that help the student succeed in attaining their teaching certification. Some of our students come to us already with a degree, but many will require assistance with the bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate. Our relationship with candidates will continue for several years, and support and assistance is tailored to each Teachers of Color recipient.

The biggest challenge to the Teachers of Color Program is I-200, Washington’s affirmative action initiative passed by voters in 1998. This law restricts hiring based on sex, age and ethnic diversity. No program monies are passed through the district, but instead are funded through a 501c3 nonprofit founded specifically to support this cause. The Teachers of Color Foundation was formed to provide a place for grants, tuition waivers, and other financial support for this program.

It took the collaboration of many to develop the Teachers of Color Program – a process that can be replicated in other districts. This program has the potential to make a visible impact on the ethnic diversity of educators in our district and mirror the diversity of our student population as we adapt to changing demographics across all our communities.

Teachers of Color Foundation - League of Education Voters

* Edmonds teacher diversity data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)

Student Voice: Why I Want to Teach

By Camile Jones, guest blogger

Teaching student Camile Jones, League of Education Voters guest bloggerOne day, I was browsing the shelves in Seattle’s Douglas Truth library when I noticed a cookbook for children with attention deficit disorder and autism. I found it very interesting and useful, being that I was diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school. As I perused the recipes, I noticed that none of them contained sugar-based products, with the exception of the naturally occurring sugars in fresh fruit. I continued to read. Eventually, I was captivated by a quote from a top nutritionist who stated that the first meal we eat in the morning shapes the rest of our day.

Upon reading this, I reflected on my childhood and thought about all of the processed foods that both my mom and school gave me in the mornings, and how I might not have been labeled as a child with ADHD had I received the proper diet. I disagree with society’s popular notion that children who have trouble sitting still and/or paying attention in class are inclined to have ADHD, ADD, or any other mental disorder. In fact, I believe that these children are simply reacting to the copious amounts of sugar that they have been fed in their diets. The thought of this intrigued me so much that I did some diagnostic calculations of my own.

What I came up with me made my jaw drop. One cup of syrup has 214 grams of sugar. One waffle has 11 grams of sugar, and a cup of orange juice has 21 grams. That amounts to a grand total of 246 grams of sugar in one-half of an average elementary school meal, which is 221 extra grams of sugar than a growing boy or girl is supposed to consume per day, according to FDA guidelines. This is unacceptable, but before we start pointing fingers at the parents for such glaring nutritional mistakes, we need to look at the reasons why there is such a widespread lack of nutritional knowledge in general. While I do believe there should be mandatory classes to educate the parents, I also believe that the entire American school food system needs to be reformed. As it stands now, unhealthy, sugary meals devoid of nutrients are being dished out to the children who will grow to be the future of America.

After acquiring knowledge about the impact breakfast had on me as a child, I feel that I have a better understanding of myself, and the children that we as adults have the privilege of interacting with. As I continue my studies to become a teacher, I cannot wait to share my thoughts with not only my colleagues, but also with the parents who grant me the opportunity to educate their young: the future parents of the world.

This is why I want to teach.

 

“The more you know, the more you owe.” – Luis J. Rodriguez

 

Great Teachers Need Great Preparation

By the LEV Policy Team

K-12 Education - League of Education VotersOur conversation around redefining basic education continues with an examination of an often overlooked part of the education system, educator preparation.

Research consistently shows that teachers have the strongest school-based impact on student performance. The impacts of a highly effective teacher or low-performing teacher can affect students for years to come and influence a student’s likelihood of college attendance and persistence. Our educational system must equip teachers with the skill sets required to meet the needs of a student body that is more diverse each year.

Our understanding of how to better support, engage, and teach students grows each year, yet many preparation programs have not used this growing body of research to change how they prepare teachers. This knowledge can be a valuable asset as we prepare future educators to meet the challenges they will face in the classroom. Unfortunately, most teachers feel that their teacher preparation program left them unprepared for the challenges of teaching.

Improving preparation programs is an important starting point to ensure every student has access to effective teachers. One way to improve these programs is to include longer, more intentional student teaching experiences. Some programs only require one-semester of student teaching which doesn’t always provide aspiring teachers with enough time to experience the range of challenges of running their own classrooms.

In contrast some teacher preparation programs, like Heritage University, have developed longer, more intentional approaches to student teacher placements. Aspiring teachers will work in a classroom for more than a year as they build the knowledge and understanding that they will need to succeed when they become a teacher. It is new approaches to teacher preparation like this that will help to provide the necessary foundation for aspiring teachers.

Another means to ensure new teachers develop the appropriate skills to be successful in increasingly diverse classrooms is providing a curriculum in preparation programs that is reflective of the skills and understanding needed to positively impact student learning, like trauma informed instruction and culturally responsive instruction. This type of training should also be provided to current and veteran teachers.

Trauma informed instruction/care

  • “In this approach, the adults in the school building understand the prevalence and impact of adverse childhood experiences, the role trauma plays in people’s lives, and the complex and varied paths for healing and recovery.”
  • “A trauma-informed approach asks: ‘What happened to you?’ instead of ‘What’s wrong with you?’ It is designed to avoid re-traumatizing already traumatized people, with a focus on ‘safety first’ (including emotional safety), and a commitment to do no harm.”

Culturally Responsive Instruction

  • Culturally responsive instruction is “recognizing the differences among students and families from different cultural groups, responding to those differences positively, and being able to interact effectively in a range of cultural environments.”

If teachers are the most significant school-based factor on student achievement, appropriately preparing teachers is a common sense route to improving student outcomes. What can Washington state do to better prepare and support teachers?

#BeyondBasic

 

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Every Student Needs an Effective Teacher

By the LEV Policy Team

Teacher Helping Student - League of Education VotersAs discussed in our previous blog post on teacher compensation, investing in our teachers is critical to closing the opportunity gap in Washington state. Research has found that effective teachers* are inequitably distributed between districts and between schools within districts according to student poverty**. (Adamson and Darling-Hammond, IES brief, IES study, WA Equity report). This means that some of the students with the highest needs don’t have access to the teachers that can meet those needs. Research also indicates that improving the distribution of effective teachers can lessen the achievement gap between low-income and non-low-income students. So, how can we make sure that every student has access to effective and well-supported educators?

There are a number of reasons for the inequitable distribution of effective educators. In Washington, differences in salaries between districts because of local levy dollars and teacher shortages in particular endorsement areas have been found to contribute to the issue. Working conditions, school leadership, and available supports are also factors in teacher’s decisions of where to teach. In order to address these factors and ensure every student has access to effective teachers, we should pursue strategies to attract and better prepare new teachers as well as encourage and better support existing teachers to teach in high needs schools. Below are some of the strategies that could help us accomplish that.

Attracting and Preparing:

  • Increase starting teacher salary to attract more individuals to become teachers.
  • Create alternative pathways to certification to enable paraeducators and other career changers to pursue teaching. This will not only help give more effective individuals the opportunity to pursue teaching, but could also increase the number of teachers from historically underserved communities and diversify the teaching force.
  • Increase teacher preparation standards to make sure that teachers have received the training they need before they enter the classroom. This includes raising expectations for content and pedagogical knowledge, standardizing those expectations across preparation programs in Washington, and increasing preparation program quality.
  • Include more student teaching and practicum in teacher preparation programs. This will help future teachers gain more hands-on experience before entering their own classrooms. This can include partnership with districts, such as the Seattle Teacher Residency Program or Heritage University’s Residency program, and mentoring programs once teachers are placed in schools.

Supporting and Encouraging:

  • Provide state-funded professional development for all teachers. By supporting all teachers in their professional growth, we can increase the effectiveness of all educators.
  • Provide targeted professional development for teachers and principals in high needs schools. This will support teachers in meeting the specific needs of their students, and principals in meeting the needs of their teachers. The professional development could also be designed as an incentive to encourage teachers to move to high needs school, by providing additional opportunities for professional growth.
  • Institute mentoring programs in high needs schools. This would provide a leadership opportunity for veteran teachers and additional support for new teachers, improving the working conditions and growth opportunities for both.
  • Allow more flexibility for principals in high needs schools. Flexibility in staffing and programming could attract effective principals and allow them to set the culture and working conditions that will attract effective teachers.
  • Provide student loan forgiveness for teachers and principals who work in high needs schools for a sustained period of time.

Additional Strategies:

  • In order to really have a sense of whether students have access to effective educators, we must improve data collection and indicators of teacher effectiveness. Our current indicators of certification, education level, and years of experience do not provide information about actual teacher performance and impact on student learning. The Washington Equity report outlines some potential options for using the teacher evaluation system to enhance our effectiveness data.
  • Move bargaining of teacher salaries to the state level. This would eliminate the differences between districts in salary levels, thus decreasing the recruiting advantages one district may have over another.

How else can we make sure that every student has access to effective and well-supported educators?

#BeyondBasic

*Effective educator is defined differently in various studies. Some use value-added measures that incorporate student growth and others use definitions based on credentials and years of experience.

**Two of the studies also found similar inequitable distribution based on student race and ethnicity.

 

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

A Teacher’s Perspective on Contracts and Collective Bargaining

By Cate Simmers, LEV Board Member

Teacher Helping Student - League of Education VotersAs conversations around the McCleary decision continue to spur discussion around the state, I’ve been prompted to think about my teaching career over the past 15 years and the changes that I have seen during this time. Yes, there have been significant changes (the implementation and implications of the Common Core State Standards being one of the biggest), but many programs and structures remain the same. As our society changes and as our students’ needs change, I wonder if it’s time to consider policy changes that affect these structures? Following are some thoughts around two education issues that I believe should be viewed through a new lens.

The Teacher’s Contract

Currently, teachers are paid by the state for 180 days of work, the 180 days of contact time with students. Different districts around the state use creative ways to add days to this contract or to use regular early release or late arrival schedules to allow time for teachers to participate in collaborative work or professional development opportunities. These different approaches create an inequity between districts and the supports that are offered to their teaching staff. What if, instead, the contract changed to a year-round contract?

A year- round contract is not to be confused with a year-round school year. In this proposal, the school year would remain the same for students, but teachers would be asked to extend the number of contracted work days. Extending the contract an extra week or two after the school year ends and/or before the school year begins would give the opportunity for teachers to receive professional development and to work with their colleagues to plan high-quality, rigorous instruction as demanded by Common Core.

Currently, teachers often take time off from work or take classes once the workday is done when receiving professional development. Additionally, it is a teacher’s tradition to work late into the evening and on weekends and breaks when collaborating with their colleagues and planning for their instruction. Instead, having dedicated time in the summer to complete these activities would allow for fresh, energetic participation. It would also give the opportunity for teachers around the state to gather together to learn from and work with one another. Lastly, it would bring more equity to our profession and compensate teachers for the work that is required outside of the classroom.

Salary Bargaining at the State Level

Teacher salaries in Washington state are provided by two funding sources. The majority of a teacher’s salary comes from the state and is then supplemented at the district level. This is called TRI (time, responsibility and incentive) pay and the amount of compensation varies from district to district. Teachers receive different amounts in TRI compensation based on what is bargained at the district level and districts are increasingly using their levy dollars to fund teacher salaries. In my district, over 25% of teacher salary comes from TRI pay. There are two relevant issues at play in this scenario.

First, teachers receive inequitable compensation depending on the district in which they work. Many of my colleagues have left one district for another simply because the pay was better. Higher paying districts tend to attract higher quality teachers, which can lead to an inequity in teaching staff from district to district.

Second, if salary bargaining was completed at the state level, individual districts would be able to spend their bargaining time working on issues that affect their population’s individual needs. Instead of designating a large percentage of their budget toward teacher salaries, districts could use this money in other ways. I think of my current district and the lack of staff and resources that we are able to fund. Examples include counselors, librarians, and intervention specialists as well as curriculum resources. District bargaining could potentially focus on needs such as these instead of teacher compensation.

As Washington state grapples with the definition of basic education and how to allot funds to pay for it, we are beginning to look at education policy through new eyes. As a teacher, I welcome this timely opportunity for us to examine traditional education structures as well.

#BeyondBasic

Teachers: The Most Important Part of Our Education System

By the LEV Policy Team

Teacher Compensation - League of Education VotersWe begin our discussion of redefining basic education with the most important part of our education system: our teachers. Research consistently shows that teachers have the strongest school-based impact on student performance, but that is not reflected in their current pay. The Washington State Supreme Court is requiring the Legislature to increase the state contribution to teacher salary as part of its duty to fully fund education. As the state grapples with how to meet its McCleary obligations, we must continue to advocate for meaningful investments in education—which starts with investing in teachers.

Teacher salary in most districts comes from a combination of state and local levy funding. Currently, the state pays districts only $35,700 for first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree. To provide a wage that accurately reflects the job responsibilities of teachers, districts use local levies to supplement state funded salary. The ability to pay teachers additional salary and the amount of additional salary varies from district to district and is dependent on how much districts are able to raise through local levies.

The average teacher in Washington gets paid $64,867, but the state only pays for $53,767 of that. The state must contribute more towards teacher pay, but simply changing who pays for teacher salary will not change the experience of teachers or students. Improvements to our state’s compensation system are needed to better recruit, retain, and reward high-quality teaching, including increasing starting teacher salary.

Our current state salary schedule focuses on years of experience and educational attainment rather than difficulty of the teaching assignment, job performance, or teaching certifications. Aligning teacher compensation to career advancement and attaining higher certification levels, as recommended by the Compensation Technical Working Group, would better align salary increases with the knowledge and skills teachers have accumulated. Teachers who have demonstrated excellence in teaching should also be given opportunities to take on additional leadership roles, such as serving as a mentor for beginning teachers, and be compensated for these additional contributions.

Ideally, compensation reform would include an extended contract that more accurately reflects the time and work teachers dedicate to their students outside of the school day or year, like evaluating student work or meeting with students after school. Providing teachers with a competitive salary along with an extended contract can allow more time and resources for parent teacher conferences, job-aligned professional learning, and lesson planning. An extended contract allows for restructuring professional development so it limits disruptions for students and families during the school year.

Establishing a better way to compensate teachers will help to attract and retain effective teachers, but compensation isn’t the only way we should be investing in teachers. Dissatisfaction with professional support, leadership, and other working conditions are leading causes for teacher turnover. We need a thoughtful approach to more effectively retain high-quality teachers that is informed by what causes teachers to leave the classroom. If Washington wants to address teacher retention in the long-term, we must do a better job of supporting teachers and school building leaders to tap into their incredible drive and passion for their students. We’ll be exploring ways to do this in upcoming blogs.

Our teachers are our most effective resource for closing the achievement gap and improving student outcomes. How can we move beyond the status quo and rethink the way that we compensate our educators?

#BeyondBasic

Read LEV board member Cate Simmers’ view on teacher compensation, A Teacher’s Perspective on Contracts and Collective Bargaining

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Jeffrey Charbonneau named teacher of the year

In a special ceremony at the EMP, State Superintendent Randy Dorn named Zillah High School science teacher Jeffrey Charbonneau Washington’s 2013 Teacher of the Year.

Jeffrey Charbonneau is a National Board Certified Teacher and has been teaching at Zillah High School for eleven years. During his tenure at the school, Mr. Charbonneu has been an integral part of creating STEM courses, allowing students to earn college credit. He also created a Robotics Challenge and a Hiking Club and serves as an advisor to several student clubs, including yearbook.

In a statement to the press, Zillah High School Principal Mike Torres said, “I am fortunate to have Jeff as an instructor at Zillah High School. But I am even more fortunate to have him as a teacher for my own children. Both my son and daughter have taken classes from Jeff and they have expressed that he is the type of teacher every student deserves to have. He is innovative, enthusiastic, challenging and motivating. He takes a personal interest in every student. As a parent, I see how Jeff has motivated my children, not only to learn the content, but also to become advocates for learning in general. It is what makes him a standout.”

Congratulations to Mr. Charbonneau and all of the nominees!

Find out more here.

Celebrating Connected Educator Month

It’s August 2nd which means we are two days in to Connected Educator Month. Created by the Department of Education, Connected Educator Month celebrates “educators at all levels, from all disciplines, moving towards a fully connected and collaborative profession…”. The New York Times is honoring the occasion by asking 33 educators the following questions:

1. What is one important thing you’ve learned from someone in your Personal Learning Network (P.L.N.), however you define that network?
2. What one person, group or organization would you recommend every educator add to his or her P.L.N.?

Here are a few of the responses:

Carolyn Ross | Hightstown High School

Reader Idea: Personal Inquiry Projects With The Learning Network

1. My first year as a high school English teacher, I had a colleague who encouraged me to consider daily dilemmas and stressors through a simple lens: “Is this the hill you want to die on?” I owe my propensity to pick my battles (with students, colleagues, administrators and my inner demons) to this mantra.

2. The newest addition to my Google Reader is the NCLE SmartBrief. Twice a week, NCLE compiles an education brief: news stories, resources, blog posts I would otherwise have missed and fresh teaching ideas (like using e-mail spam to teach persuasive writing).

Stephanie L. Meyer | Wisconsin Public Schools

Reflections on the Third Annual Found Poem Contest

1. One thing I’ve learned from the authors of novels that I’ve taught, including Laila Lalami (“Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits”), Sarah McCoy (“The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico”) and Brando Skyhorse (“The Madonnas of Echo Park”) is that they really do want to hear high school students’ reactions to and questions about their books. They will usually write the students back whether by snail mail or e-mail.

2. All educators should be familiar with Toondoo.com, a Web site that allows students to create comic strips. I usually assign students different scenes from a particular book, print the scenes out and have the kids try to put them in chronological order, among other things.

Heather Barikmo | LaGuardia Community College

Reader Idea | ‘One in Eight Million’ for English Language Learners

1. Tumblr, as a whole, has been invaluable to me as an educator. The platform really lends itself to visual communication, and I believe language educators in the digital age can really benefit from bringing infographics and similar multimodal texts into their teaching.

2. I get so many ideas from ReadWriteThink.

More responses can be found here.

A motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, effective teacher in every classroom

This blog post is written by Connie Gerlitz, one of LEV’s key activists and longtime education reform leader and activist, in response to the Seattle School Board meeting on Wednesday.

We cannot confuse our love and respect for good teachers with the fact that their efforts are not universally replicated in our classrooms, and our children are suffering the consequences as evidenced by their inability to pass required standardized tests, graduate from high school, or take a college-level course.

Teachers and school communities need our help and support – collaboration time, clean and safe classrooms, continued monetary incentives, mentorships, remediation plans, praise and heart-felt thanks.

But students need so much more and one of those things (please notice that I said “one of those things”) is a motivated, caring, innovative, knowledgeable, and effective teacher in every one of their classrooms. We can’t fix ineffective parents. We can’t fix severe disabilities. We can’t fix poverty. We can, however, move toward providing them with teachers that prove that they have the ability to educate them. One of the ways (please note that I said “one of the ways”) is to measure student progress and use that progress as a means (please note that I said “a means”) of determining whether a teacher is effective or not.

I for one have really had it with the rhetoric that says that unless we are in a classroom we don’t understand what good teaching is. It is like saying that unless we are the chef in a restaurant we don’t understand what good food is or that unless we can wield the scalpel ourselves that we don’t know whether our appendix was removed successfully or not. Our food is nutritious and tasty. We no longer are the owners of an infected appendix. Our kids can read.

I have also have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher can not be held accountable for results if the student is hungry or doesn’t have a pencil or has a learning disability or is unruly. Get the kid some food – there are all kinds of agencies that will help. Get the kid a pencil – there are all kinds of agencies (PTA for one) that will help. Learn how to deal with the disability or find someone who will. Find out what it takes to get the unruly one under control or find someone who will. And, please don’t tell me that I don’t understand how impossible that is.

Here is a quick story: My mother taught school for 40 years and one of her first students was a blind child (also a neighbor). Blind children were not allowed at the time to be in normal public classrooms in the Franklin Pierce School District, but the parents really wanted him to be in my mom’s classroom. First she learned how to Braille. Then she went to the school board and petitioned to allow his entry into her class. When that was allowed, she brailled all of his needed reading material for 10 years. She opened the classroom doors in that district for blind children. He is, to this day, a highly respected and productive member of our community. That was not a part of her contract, by the way. I could go for days with the countless students our daughter has mentored in and out of foster homes, out of gangs, out of drugs, out of lethargy, out of anger management problems. Her kids move along and she would not have a problem with a test that proves it. She would welcome any help she could get if the test showed she was making no progress.

When I complained once to my mom about not liking to teach students who didn’t care about learning, she took me by the shoulders and said, “Honey, get out of teaching. They are the ones that need your help. The others will do it on their own.”

We need teachers that find a way to reach the ones that really need their help – the others will do it on their own. We don’t really need school at all for those bright, enthusiastic, healthy/wealthy, self-motivators – they will do it on their own.

And, I have had it with the rhetoric that says that a teacher’s effectiveness should not be judged on the actual educational progress of her students. What is it we don’t understand about a test that tells us what a child knows at the beginning of the year and what a child knows at the end of the year? Do teachers not give students tests to figure out if they learned a subject? Is there not a test that can tell us, in part, (please note that I said “in part””) if a teacher is successfully imparting the substance of a subject to his/her students?

I love and admire good teachers and I want to pay them and help them and honor them in every way possible and have spent almost 40 years working to improve the lot of teachers so they could properly educate our kids. The system is not working. Our kids are failing. We need change and we need it now but not the change that says that we will install an accountability system that has no teeth. Why, please tell me why, the union is not in favor of finding a way to reward effective teachers and get rid of the also-rans with a system that has some teeth – a test is just one tooth but it is one of the front ones and is noticeable and harmful when missing.

Becoming Señora Wallace

In case we haven’t met yet, my name is Katie, and I’m an aspiring teacher. I joined the League of Education Voters at the beginning of July as a stepping stone to my next challenge. Teacher quality and preparation is something that comes up in conversation daily in the LEV office. Fortunately, I am on the brink of knowing firsthand what teacher prep looks like in Washington State. Let me tell you about it…

They say nothing makes sense in your twenties. You’re young. You don’t know what you want.

But I do know what I want, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I want to teach Spanish in Seattle Public Schools, preferably at a high school in south Seattle beginning in fall 2010.

I thought I “needed” to do “other things” first. For six years I was convinced that I would be a sportswriter. A few weeks into my first quarter at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, I woke up to the reality that writing about baseball everyday was not going to be as fulfilling as it was fun to dream about.

The funny thing is that I have always wanted to teach, yet I always had an excuse as to why I should wait, why I should pursue other careers.

Then again, maybe there were reasons that I was discouraged from teaching. It is pretty daunting to waltz into a broken system. Our failure to adequately fund our schools is aggravating. It is disheartening that we don’t invest more in our youth and our teachers. When you look at teacher salaries and school funding, it appears that we don’t put a high value on education.

Why would I spend roughly $80,000 on Bachelors degrees (journalism and Spanish) and eagerly apply to graduate school for my Masters in Teaching (which means another $30,000 on top of outstanding student loans!) to go into a career where I work 10-12 hours a day, take my work home with me and start out earning less than $40,000 per year?

Because there’s nothing else I would rather do. I have never felt so compelled to commit to anything in my whole life. Despite the pessimism and harsh realities of the education system, I can’t wait to have my own classroom.

As a corps member with City Year Seattle/King County last year, I had the opportunity to tutor in a Seattle high school two days a week. Those two days a week clearly reminded me of a) why I’m up for the challenge and b) why I can’t wait any longer.

Two years from now I will be standing in front of my own classroom. However, until then, I have my work cut out for me.

First step – grad school applications. Eek… October 1 is closer than I thought… I’ve been sensing the urgency of jumping into education, but this quickly approaching application deadline adds a different kind of pressure! Thankfully, I have already passed my entrance exams – the WEST-B and the Praxis II in Spanish. We’ll dive into a discussion of these educator skills tests next week…

I invite you to join me in this adventure. I’ll update you every Friday, and if something comes up during the week that I can’t wait to post, I’ll fill you in. Oh, and by the way, starting Tuesday of next week, I’ll be volunteering in high school Spanish classes once again… stay tuned!