Why Is It So Hard to Become a Teacher?

Here’s a great opinion piece by Ellie Herman, a television writer of 20 years who is trying to become an English teacher at an L.A. public high school.

Testing my patience
California needs teachers, so why is it so hard to get a credential?
By Ellie Herman

After nearly 20 years of working as a television writer, I made a radical life decision: to teach English at an L.A. public high school. I felt it was time for me to make a difference, to share my passion for language and literature with the next generation. Sure, I knew that the pay would be abysmal and that the teaching conditions in gang-infested, impoverished communities might be tough. But I really wanted to try, so I braced myself to keep going even if there were times of struggle, of heartbreak, of feeling inadequate and humiliated, even if there were times when I wanted to weep from frustration, even if I sweated through dark nights of the soul overwhelmed by the futility of it all.

And indeed, I have experienced all that. But what’s crazy is that I haven’t even set foot in a classroom yet.

By state law, I cannot teach in a California public school without a credential from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. On the face of it, this requirement makes sense. Schools can’t go around hiring any slob who professes a love of children and a burning desire to make $39,788 a year (the LAUSD starting pay scale for interns).

But just applying to a teaching-credential program has taken me months of pointless, numbing, bewildering toil. I’ve submitted stacks of applications, online and on paper, along with college transcripts and letters of recommendation. I’ve written a five-page letter of “self-reflection,” completed 45 hours of early field experience, endured a TB test and had my fingerprints taken to prove that I’m not a convicted felon. And that was just to start the actual work: proving I am “highly qualified.”

As mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act and interpreted by the Legislature, all teachers in public schools must be deemed “highly qualified.” Again, fair enough. One of the notorious disgraces of our public school system is the way the best teachers are funneled into schools serving high-income students, while children from low-income families are often stuck with far less-qualified teachers.

I have a bachelor of arts degree in English from Bryn Mawr and have spent my entire adult life as a working writer — and all I want is to sign up to take the education classes I need before I walk into a classroom. Won’t my degree and my life’s work qualify me at least to sign up for those classes? Not even close. First, I had to take the CBEST, a four-hour exam on reading, writing and math.

After taking the CBEST, I still had not proved “subject matter competence.” For that, I would have to fill the apparent gaps in my transcript with five courses in linguistics, expository writing, adolescent literature and American literature — or pass something called the CSET, an Orwellian, five-hour sequence of four exams with some questions so obscure I would defy most PhDs to answer them. What is a modal verb? What’s an embedded appositional phrase? A grapheme? Can you pick the meaning of a poem from a list of answers a, b, c and d, none of which in any way capture the ineffable beauty of the poem itself?

By studying for weeks, I managed to pass the CSET. And by a miracle, I found a job teaching at a charter school in South L.A. as an emergency hire, or intern, through a program that gives a temporary credential to teachers willing to work in schools that would otherwise be hard to staff, while taking education classes at night.

To enroll in the intern program, I had to fill out more applications and then complete 40 hours of pre-service training in teaching English language learners, a course that in theory would have been very useful but in fact only entailed reading a stack of paperwork and writing essays I suspected would be stuck in my file unread. I also had to summarize what I’d learned in a page of sentences that began with “I used to think,” and ended with “but now I know … .” Whatever the actual purpose of this exercise, writing about my former state of ignorance felt deeply sinister, like some kind of forced confession by a totalitarian state.

And I had to pass an 80-question, unbelievably arcane and ambiguously worded test on the U.S. Constitution. I have wracked my highly qualified brain, and I cannot imagine any possible rationale for this test. Because if I hadn’t memorized the Bill of Rights I might march into the classroom and try my students twice for the same crime? Or force them to quarter soldiers in their homes? What is being tested here? My patriotism? My sanity? My level of desperation? What’s next … eating centipedes?

Remember: This is not to finish my teacher education. This is to be allowed to enroll in it.

Meanwhile, a new study shows that 33% of California high school students drop out before graduating; Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has speculated that in particularly underserved Los Angeles communities, the dropout rate might be as high as 70%.

I understand the idea of “standards-based” education. I embrace the need to hold teachers in low-income schools to the same standards as teachers who work with more privileged children.

But the standards to which I’m being held here are not high standards; they are just a high pile of standards, a mountain of detritus generated by various acts of legislation whenever new statistics come out showing that California schools are failing, that teachers are fleeing the state, that high school students can barely read. In a system so broken, a system that already deters most applicants with its near-poverty-level wages and difficult working conditions, why are they trying so hard to weed out anyone who, in spite of everything, still wants to come in and change a child’s life?

Ellie Herman has been a television writer since 1989. This fall, she will be an intern teacher at a charter school in South L.A.

40 Comments on “Why Is It So Hard to Become a Teacher?”

  1. Mary says:

    I admire you for wanting to become a teacher! I do not know what our political leaders were thinking when they passed the No Child Left Behind Act. You made the comment “As mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act and interpreted by Legislature . . .” I believe our leaders thought the Act itself was plausible. The problem occurred as each state developed regulations based on the vague wording in the Act. I have read the grade level “standards” for students in our state (Kansas) and for other states as well. There is a huge difference. I am sure there are differences in what each state requires of their teaching staff as well. In my opinion, the Act is making the separation between schools even greater.

    Our school recently lost a wonderful special education teacher who couldn’t get her credentials transferred from Colorado to Kansas without an act of congress. She was a truly gifted individual who knew how to relate to and bring out the best in our students. After much trial and tribulation, she decided to give up teaching and is helping her new husband on the family farm.

    I wish you luck in your teaching endeavor. Our schools need more people like you who want to share their passion (not just their knowledge) with students. Hang in there!

    September 22nd, 2008 at 11:20 pm
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  2. Call me old-fashioned says:

    I can relate to your experience. It makes no sense.

    And contrary to what we’ve all been conditioned to believe, I suspect that if there was less minutae (sp?) involved in the process perhaps we’d find ourselves with a world of compassionate, competent, and highly trainable new teachers. And wow, students learning and enjoying themselves!

    Clearly you are a phenomenal writer, and would make an exceptional “teacher”. Further, you are a voice of reason and clarity in this educational quagmire. My hope is that you will continue to write on the subject, and perhaps create a special more visible blog on the subject — maybe NPR will publish you and have a running blog on education!?

    September 30th, 2008 at 1:40 am
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  3. Anonymous says:

    I love this post! I have been jumping through the same stupid hoops as well. I am from out of state, have a BS in Education, have been teaching for 6 years (3 in California under an emergency credential, and 3 overseas) and just finished my Masters in Education while teaching overseas. And guess what? Since I left the States and came back they enacted NCLB and all of the sudden I am not qualified to teach. I am trying to meet all of the requirements to become an intern. An intern! I am so mad. I have to take the US Constitution test because they won’t accept my US History class, which covered the constitution but not enough I suppose. I have taken ALL the required courses needed for a credential, but some have “expired” -by a year. So I have to take them AGAIN. My passion in life is teaching students with special needs but California is doing one hell of a job in encouraging me to find a new career. Congrats on your new endeavor. I am sure you are an amazing teacher!

    November 1st, 2008 at 2:12 am
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  4. Daisy says:

    It’s really hard to become a teacher because you will handle different students coming from different places. Students have different personality that a teacher should know how to deal with. Aside from that, as a teacher you must have the ability to discipline your student’s wrong behavior. You must be good and brave enough to handle unexpected situations in the classroom. Most importantly to pass all the challenges that you might encounter in the class you must have the brain and skills so that your students would respect and follow you.

    November 15th, 2008 at 12:43 am
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  5. Mike says:

    Daisy, you’re missing the point — go look at the sample CSET tests on the CTC website, then you will just begin to get an understanding of the ridiculousness of this whole certification process!

    December 14th, 2008 at 8:23 pm
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  6. Stacey says:

    One other point… to pass the CSET examinations, as well as the RICA test, one must only correctly answer 65% of the questions. So apparently, in California, our idea of “highly qualified” means scoring a D. Wonderful. Don’t you just love the hoops?

    January 1st, 2009 at 11:11 pm
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  7. Sherry says:

    It is hard to become a teacher because the California Commission For Teacher Credentials (CCC) and the Colleges that meet the CCC’s requirements for a credential have created a monopoly. “Concepts” are continuously created and used to accurately interpret meaning on one end and is misinterpreted on the other.
    For example an old test might be called TTT and the same new test is called DDD and you have to take the DDD to be a teacher. So now you have to go to collage and spend 1500. for a class and the pay the CCC to take the exam in order to keep your credential. In the future it will no longer be called a credential. They will call it something else like a “license”. If you don’t have a license then you can’t be a teacher.

    March 30th, 2009 at 10:42 pm
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  8. Karla says:

    Until last month, I was studying to become a teacher, but now I am QUITTING!!!! I rather pay the debt for the 6 classes I took and move on, cut my losses short. I absolutely, positively and entirely agree with the author. Teaching sucks after NCLB, and it does not seem worthy to me anymore. I have found it to be an ungrateful profession, where a lot of good people get in trying to make a difference, trying to have a fulfilling career, trying to help others… but leave to other areas feeling disappointed and overwhelmed by all the things mentioned in the article. I mean, I literally know 3 teachers who are taking proactive steps to do a career change. Whether people acknowledge it or not, this is happening. Caring and talented people are steered away from teaching, and I am one of them. If on top of it all, President Obama’s idea of paying teachers according to the students’ grades, becomes a law… then good luck trying to retain any “OK teachers” ( forget about “highly qualified”) in either poor, low-achieving or inner city schools. I think there is no other profession where you require so much education, additional accreditation tests, learn how to teach English learners, additional certification, take district trainings… so much yet to be paid less than an dental hygienist with an 18 month associate’s degree?? (at least that’s the case in California). And all that effort for what? To try to “engage” students who don’t care, because they have not learned at home that having an education is the best survival tool currently available to human beings? The scenario for California’s prospective teachers is actually quite unwelcoming, daunting, deeply complicated and frustrating even for people who exceed the expected qualifications such as the author of the article. My husband with his Kinesiology degree from Michigan University and myself are leaving this summer and getting teaching jobs in another state. We already applied. Good luck with your own attempt. I hope you post something on your classroom experiences. Best of luck!.

    April 16th, 2009 at 11:41 pm
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  9. Karla says:

    I noticed I did not make the point I wanted to make about my husband: he has been a science high school teacher in CA for 11 yrs and he feels overqualified, underestimated, overburdened, overwhelmed and underpaid. He is just 32, and is already BURNT OUT by teaching grade school…. ridiculous. Please be advised that entering teaching is not nearly as difficult as staying there and dealing with a broken system.
    Thanks for writing about this :)

    April 16th, 2009 at 11:51 pm
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  10. Anonymous says:

    If you think becoming a teacher is hard, try being one. hIgh school English means that every time you assign an essay, you add another 20-25 hours to your workload for that week. If you are already wrokinh 8 hours in a day to teach and plan and communicate with parents, you get teh picture. I love it and the kids are just as inspiring as youcan imagine but be prepared for the hours. They suck up your life.

    October 11th, 2009 at 9:35 am
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  11. Anonymous says:

    If you think becoming a teacher is hard, try being one. High school English means that every time you assign an essay, you add another 20-25 hours to your workload for that week. If you are already wroking 8 hours in a day to teach and plan and communicate with parents, you get the picture. I love it and the kids are just as inspiring as you can imagine but be prepared for the hours.

    October 11th, 2009 at 9:36 am
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  12. Jen says:

    I am also a victim of the CA system. I moved here from Chicago where I hold my standard cert, NCLB qualifications, and an MA in Special Education. I got my Level I credential to teach in CA and work in an inner city district. The CTC then decided that they issued my certification with an error and that it would expire 2 years sooner than was listed. Frantically calling them, they took no responsibility for their mistake and basically I am going to end up leaving the state if I want to continue teaching. As someone who has taught for nearly 7 years and has an MA in her field, CTC still insists that I take nearly $8000 worth of courses to move to my Level II (mind you, they have Level II cred agreements with only a handful of schools, creating a nice, expensive monopoly for you, the teacher). They also refuse to recognize the 3 years of full time public school teaching that I have in IL, even though I have submitted the form to them several times. My Level II program requirements would have been waived if they would just recognize this piece of verification, however they refuse to and still want to hold me to 8000 dollars worth of courses. CA is a ridiculous place to try and be a teacher and it scores 44/50 in how well the salary of a teacher translates to the cost of living. I would look elsewhere if you are considering being a teacher in the US.

    October 25th, 2009 at 9:42 pm
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  13. Anonymous says:

    Try teaching Secondary History and coaching in a Texas Public School. 85% of the kids are disrespectful and could care less about how and why our founding fathers decided to write the US Constitution. All they seem to care about is the IPOD thats apparently glued to their hands. Parenting, does that still exist today? I truly believe that most parents think its okay to buy expensive cell phones and MP3 players but not any school supplies for their kids. I really hate when kids ask me everyday for pen and paper but they have on a different pair of Jordan’s (shoes that cost $150 a pair) day in and day out!! Do I even need to mention the failure rate of our youth these days. So many school are academically unacceptable, but whose to blame????

    March 21st, 2010 at 9:52 pm
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  14. FedUpMom says:

    Anonymous, if this is how you feel about the kids and their parents, it’s time for a career change.

    March 22nd, 2010 at 6:54 am
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  15. HomeworkBlues says:

    Anonymous, I’m sorry about your dire situation and yes, you do seem pretty burned out.

    But you’re preaching to the wrong choir here. That’s not us. We’re not slackers. You ask if parenting still exists today. Hang around here long enough and in this corner, yes, very much so. We’re very involved here. That’s why we’re here. Because we love our children, we love learning, we instill in them love of books and values and don’t want our children ground down, uninspired and disengaged. That’s why we’re here.

    I agree with FedUp. Time to get out.

    March 22nd, 2010 at 10:32 am
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  16. Pengwin says:

    All these comments are frightening me. I’m currently halfway through a MAT program and getting ready to take the CSET Social Science exams. What a lot of hoop jumping; even more than law school required! Exactly how many of the tests need to be correct before you “pass”?

    May 6th, 2010 at 3:52 pm
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  17. HomeworkBlues says:

    Pengwin, what a shame. I hope these battery of tests are not driving away some really awesome candidates. Which clearly they are.

    May 6th, 2010 at 3:57 pm
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  18. Peter says:

    This truly is a wacky system. I’ve been working on changing my career from engineering to teaching for about 5 years now. The tests are not hard if you prepare, but they won’t let you even start training until you’ve taken them. Unfortunately the CSET tests expire after 5 years. It’s hard to take a 40% pay cut to change careers. I’ve been struggling with financial matters to make this all happen. My biggest hurdle is so called “student teaching” that means for most people working for the good part of a year with no pay. I got 90% of my classwork done all the time hoping that a door would open so I could make it over this hurdle. I’m nearly there (100% debt free in one more year!), so I have tried to return to classes for the past year. First I can’t register because of the Cal budget crisis put a freeze on enrollment. So I wait until the next semester. Now they won’t let me back in because my CSET tests expire a month after classes start. Now I’ve got to take those ridiculous tests again. More money, more time, but nothing gained from it. One thing I have discovered that may help some people is that you don’t necessarily need a credential to teach in a private school. They usually pay less however. But, it can be possible to fulfill the student teaching requirement by actually teaching this way. Someone from industry that loves to teach children and wants to move to education sould not be finding so much difficulty.

    June 26th, 2010 at 12:39 pm
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  19. Polk Salad Annie says:

    Teaching in CA, particularly LAUSD, will drive you to the crack pipe. I taught for a long time as an emergency teacher as well as a substitute. I finally decided that I needed to be “highly qualified.” I knuckled down and took the CBEST, RICA & the CSET. It took a year or two, and after a few bumpy roads I was able to pass all 3 and get my clear credential. Luckily, I landed a gig as a 5th grade teacher. Ironically, I got laid off shortly after. I know teachers who screech at students and who are alcoholics as well as pill poppers. One is bi-polar. One hit a 5th grade boy. They still teach. They still hide behind their tenure. None of them give a rat’s poot about the students. This is the only career I know of where a college degree and a teaching credential are as useless as breasts on a boar. All that money. All that time. All that effort. It was all for naught. To those aspiring teachers whose hearts are in the right place: forget about it. Find another career. It isn’t worth it. Trust me. My heart has broken into a million pieces since I’ve been laid off a year ago. I poured all of my love, time and care into my elementary babies. I bent over backwards for my students but the LAUSD system, which is run by professional, card-carrying idiots, eventually bent me over forwards…and no, they didn’t even have the decency to use Vaseline or offer a cigarette and a glass of chablis afterwards…

    June 29th, 2010 at 5:04 am
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  20. Stressed Out says:

    Teaching in California, the broken education system. Was a recent grad, got my teaching credential about a year ago, took so many tests just to prove that I was worthy of teaching in California’s down the drain education system. The requirements to become a teacher in CA is overwhelming, with not enough pay for the requirements to be a teacher. I’m still not able to find a teaching job due to the awful state budget mess that created layoffs and unemployment. How do you even get a shot at being hire when there’s so much employment freezing going on and teachers are being shuffled or laid off? I felt that I just wasted my college career and a big chunk of my hard work $$$$ and owe student loan debt for nothing. School districts do not want to hire fresh teachers, they perfer to hire experienced teachers….what a waste for me and pretty much everyone else who is in the same boat as me. I guess it’s time to start a new career path.

    August 18th, 2010 at 4:30 am
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  21. PsychMom says:

    Or move?

    August 18th, 2010 at 7:16 am
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  22. William says:

    I am getting so burnt working to get my credentials I am going to have nothing left by the time I start teaching. Last year I volunteered and for a short time worked officially at an elementary school and that was great. I finally had the chance to teach students and make a difference. Meanwhile I have been working on my Masters in Elementary Education and getting my teaching credentials.

    I found the CBEST very easy and breezed through it with no problem. I also had no problem with the math/science portion of my CSET.

    I have now taken the English/History portion of the CSET 3 times (the last time earlier this morning). I am so frustrated!!!

    The first time I missed passing by 3 points (1 question I believe) and had felt pretty confident that I would pass. The second time I felt like I only knew 50% of the answers and failed by 3-4 questions.

    This time I buckled down and studied like crazy, especially for the last 2 weeks. I went in bursting with tons of facts and dates and even studied up on different types of poetry etc.

    So many of the questions made little to no sense at all or had multiple answers that could be correct. Many of the history questions were extremely obscure to the point where I had JUST read about the time in question (the night before) and still didn’t know the correct answer.

    I believe there was 3-4 questions about poems on my test this time (most so far) and at least one asking me to describe the meaning of a line of text relating to racism.

    A bit of back history really quick.

    I am a 4.0 student who graduated early (on my 16th birthday which was actually 4 years early (lived in Vermont as a child and my birthday is in November).

    I never had to take an English class in college as I tested out of English 101.

    I have read at least 2 books a week my entire life and when younger would read about a book every other day.

    I have never received a grade below 90% on a test until I took the CSETs.

    They do not test knowledge. Many of the questions are just plain confusing or way to obscure. I highly doubt I will pass the test this time either as I still feel like I did better the first time I took it.

    I found the math/science test to be cake. The answers for the most part were right or wrong and you either knew how to solve the problem or you didn’t.

    The English/History portion is insane and I’m not the only one who thinks so. At the test today a few people where chatting and I heard one girl mention she has taken the English/History portion 4 times already.

    I have had a chance to teach students from 2nd to 5th grade. I have seen the history texts for each grade and the assignments they will have throughout the year. The CSET test has NOTHING to do with what we will be teaching our students. In fact, the CSET test does not seem to test your knowledge of history, writing skills or even teaching skills.

    I went in today sure that all my studying would make a big difference and that I would be able to at least come up with a good guess on questions I didn’t know due to having so much background information. It did make a difference in a few places but for the most part I felt like my knowledge was wasted. The questions still seemed to almost require you to guess because more then one answer could be correct or because the answer was so obscure that nobody (not even a teacher currently teaching the subject) would know the answer without looking it up first.

    I may have to move out of California to teach, but that isn’t really a solution for me either. I’ll be able to teach if I leave California but my Masters degree in Elementary Education requires me to get my teaching credentials. So my 4.0 GPA will be wasted if I don’t get my credentials in this state. I’ll keep taking the silly, pointless, test over again until I pass it but I agree with the original poster. The system is broken, unfair and is certainly scaring away good teachers. As much as I love teaching and think I can make a big difference in students lives I would not have started down this road if I knew what I do now. I would have just planned on moving to another state later on and getting my teaching credentials later and never tried to teach in CA at all.

    Sadly with such a huge surplus of teachers in this state there is little chance that any positive changes will happen in the near future. It makes me sad and the only real solution I see is to move away:(

    November 6th, 2010 at 12:56 pm
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  23. Troy says:

    I’m in your boat man. I’ve graduated with a math degree in 2008, was hired as an emergency (intern) hire and have worked tirelessly to be fully licensed by doing graduate classes for three years while teaching. Now that I am five months from graduating with a fully accredited masters in curriculum and instruction, passing my three Praxis tests, having 3 years of teaching experience (becoming the department chair and placed on the book adoption committee during that time), I have been told that I still have not fulfilled the requirements for licensure…how much more can I do?

    January 9th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
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  24. ex-teacher says:

    NCLB is a joke because no money left behind. I became an emergency teacher (math and science) for five years. I love teaching and my students. I want so bad to get fully certified but my time was all devoted to the school and students. The system didn’t provide any help or support for teacher who want to stay in the career. I was forced to resign after five years because i no longer “highly qualified” after my emergencey certification expired. At this point of career, I am working in Target as a truck unloader. There is such a shame this country is come to this. I fee

    May 3rd, 2011 at 5:01 am
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  25. ex-teacher says:

    I wish all the luck to people who want to become teacher. It is not a job but a mission. People don’t realize how hard as a teacher until you become one. God bless America and our children.

    May 3rd, 2011 at 5:05 am
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  26. Paul Fretheim says:

    I have a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Communications Technology from the University of Washington. I also trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a non-degree post graduate program at the Artificial Intelligence Lab there under Seymour Papert, a protege of Jean Piaget, the legendary Swiss cognitive development psychologist. I have 18 years of teaching experience, including working at a small private school which was one of the original laboratory schools associated with MIT and Apple, pioneering the integration of computer technology as intelligent object to further cognitive development in children and 15 years working in the Horizon program for gifted children (top 5 centile) for the Seattle Public Schools where I was also a Lead Technology Teacher which meant I was responsible for the curriculum planning and implementation for our group of 8 elementary schools. In 1994 I was honored as “Teacher of the Year” in the Seattle Public Schools out of over 4,400 teachers on the Seattle staff.

    I scored in the 99th centile on all batteries of my GRE exams, and was fast tracked into the graduate school at the University of Washington when I applied late because I could only get a half time contract the first year I was in Seattle that September, so didn’t apply to the Graduate program until a few days before the quarter was starting. I was given an assistantship as a computer consultant to two members of the faculty to offset my tuition costs.

    In 1996 I left teaching because I could never quite afford to put a down payment on a home and see a means of making mortgage payments on a teacher’s salary. A buisness partner and I opened up a web design business which evovled into the business I have been making a living with since, which is creating interpretive DVDs which feature virtual reality photography, topographic maps and collections of my writing and classic literature on the given area which are sold at visitors centers at the National Parks throughout the Southwest. I now own a small but comfortable home in a small village in the Eastern Seirra.

    A few years ago I was asked to serve as the director of our local communities after school youth center. I agreed, and, when the non-profit which sponsored it went broke and closed the centers throughout our valley I realized that I like nothing more than spending my days in a room full of kids trying to keep them on the right track and become the best they can be. And they make me laugh every day and feel young. Tired, but young, atleast at heart.

    So I decided to try and get back into the classroom. After several months of delay that grew into an entire school year, I was granted a temporary “30 Day Substitute” teaching credential. That credential is not considered adequate to allow you to even register for the CTEL (California Teachers of English Learners) test. You have to have either a Multi-Subject credential or a Single Subject credential before you are allowed to even register for the test. The test is only offered a few times a year, and you have to register months in advance and pay the $300 fee, in advance for the three batteries of the test. When an opening came up at our local elementary school last summer I could not even apply because I did not have “CTEL certification.” I had 15 years experience in teaching in Seattle, a city which is very muliticultural with any number of different ethnic Asian groups arriving all the time. I have worked with any number of kids who only spoke Cambodian or Laotian or Hmong or Vietnamese when they arrived. I have a minor in Spanish, and can speak Spanish. I have looked at the brief sample CTEL test at the CTEL web site. The questions are obscure and worded confusingly. As an experienced educator, published author and qualified curriculum specialist, I would not approve many of the questions were I in a position of authority at the monopoly company which produces the test and is permitted to have a monopoly on the training materials to study for the test. It costs $300 for the online study and another $300 for the test. Multiply that times the number of teachers in California and you can see that it is a quite lucrative monopoly for the former teacher who I suspect must have friends in the legislature who sells the training materials and the testing.

    When I was teaching in Seattle I also developed a classroom management system around fake money and a classroom banking program for the classroom computer which allows the children to keep track of the money so the teacher can use the money as a reward/punishment system and be completely relieved of the management tasks of keeping track of it. The student bankers do all that work. It is useable down to the 1st grade level and was in use of hundreds of schools all over the country from 1st-12th grade when I left teaching in 1996. I have been substitute teaching this year and I understand clearly now from working in classrooms without my discipline system just how essential it can be.

    Well, last week an opening for a calculus teacher was advertised in the area. I have my Math endorsement in the State of Washington, which is the equivalent of the Single Subject Math credential here in Californa. I had never heard of the CSET test before. When that calculus opening was announced, the job description stated that before your application could be considered, you had to have the CSET and the CTEL. The practice materials for the CSET are $495 each for each of the three batteries. Again the test are only offered a few times a year and I will have to travel 200+ miles, each way, to get to the nearest testing center where I could take the test.

    As an experienced master teacher I can assure you that being able to succeed in scoring well on a standardized test regarding subject competence bears little relevance to being able to teach that same subject. No one retains in memory the depth of knowledge required to teach each particular lesson in a subject field like mathematics. You have to go over each day’s lessons in advance the day before so you have a fresh and complete depth of knowledge of the particuar skill you are going to be working with your students on the next day. Being able to jump through a hoop on an expensive, time consuming standardized test has nothing to do with that.

    I would compare the process of obtaining a credential to teach in California more to Kafka than Orwell.

    To the legislators and other “leaders” I would say, regarding these issues, “Come off it. The way to get talented, dedicated people to go into teaching is to raise the salary level to one that competes for the best people. You get what you pay for and putting people through “The Trial” isn’t even a poor substitute.” And it is the children and their future which will suffer the most in the end for bad leadership today.

    March 31st, 2012 at 9:44 am
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  27. Sara Bennett says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write. So well said!

    March 31st, 2012 at 11:09 am
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  28. HomeworkBlues says:

    Paul, what I find so sad is that the system needs teachers exactly like you. How on earth do we make such talent jump through impossible hoops yet certify others who should never set foot into a classroom? Our children are, of course, the real losers.

    Paul, I hope you find an amazing position in a private school. It is a crime to let you disappear.

    March 31st, 2012 at 4:13 pm
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  29. karen says:

    I hear your frustration. I believe that more pay will not really improve teaching in the classroom. I do believe that less cronyism, political posturing and weedling needs to be abolished. I also think tenure needs to go. I live in Colorado and I have seen so much political favoritism and cronyism that I have left the teaching profession. I was the only teacher in our school to show increases in test scores that at the beinning of the year reflected a 26% of proficientcy and at the end of the year I had helped get them to 47% proficiency. Do you think that when the time to cut staff anyone cared? I was laid-off. I do believe public education is rotten to its foundation and it does not put children first. Well, sadly niether does the US or State goverrnments either.

    April 16th, 2012 at 10:06 pm
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  30. Anonymous says:

    I am a native born Californian . I took all the exams , passed the CSET, worked in private schools and substitute taught. I started the 18,000 dollar program and got as far as I could. My student loans were maxed out and I paid as I went until the 6 month student teaching requirement . I support myself substitute teaching and waiting tables at night. I cannot support myself and pay rent in California while working as a student teacher and essentially working for ” free” for 6 months. So I quit the program , I’d have to live in my car or on the streets to finish the ridiculous program. So I packed up, left my friends and family and moved to Florida , I’m in my mid thirties starting over. The only requirement in Florida is a BA degree and passing a test! And you can teach, not to mention prettier beaches and a lower cost of living down here. That’s how bad I want to teach. I can afford it here, working on an online teacher program for lifetime certification for only 2,000. Which I have 3 years to finish while teaching in Florida.

    November 29th, 2012 at 6:00 am
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  31. Anonymous says:

    I just failed my P.E. Csets and Im really bummed out. I’m currently substitute teaching in California and have been approached by staff about permanent positions in a couple different schools. Through substituting I often take long term positions and end up developing relationships with students to the point where they don’t want me to leave, and neither do I. This process is taking to long and putting me in dept. I’m second guessing my decision .

    April 9th, 2013 at 2:00 am
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  32. Anonymous says:

    Just took the CSET Multiple Subject.

    Absolutely ridiculous questions that are just far too specific and deep into certain fields. It’s fact-based rote-memorization stuff, not realistic for the average teacher to retain even a few years removed from the test. I just would really like to meet the folks who say, “Yep, this is what people teaching our kids should know.” Sure, I’d like the Jeopardy champ for Geology and Music to teach my kids too. I recently took the GRE and can tell you I found the CSET to be just as challenging, but more ludicrous in scope.

    Will update with scores when they come in. I have fairly low expectations. Outside chance I passed.

    February 27th, 2014 at 6:24 pm
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  33. Anonymous says:

    I just took the cset multisubject subset 1 today and I haven’t stopping crying about it yet. I studied my fanny off for this test by reading several books and online practice and I don’t think I passed. Questions and essays like “drawing from your specific and extensive knowledge of American, Islamic, u.s. Constitution etc. History, write in 100-200 words why this or that…blah..blah..”

    When was I supposed to become an authority of everything AND the kitchen sink? I pray I passed at least this section so far. This was supposed to be the EASIEST of sections too? Omfg! If this was easy then I am not looking forward to the other sections!

    March 9th, 2014 at 3:11 am
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  34. Donna says:

    I graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2009, then entered a district intern program. I jumped through many hoops including CBEST, CSET, fingerprinting and TB testing and passed all, some with flying colors. The program boasted that my cohort was the largest cohort to date with nearly fifty participants. Unfortunately, 2009 was also the beginning of the recession. Only four students in that program were able to obtain teaching contracts and continue on in the program. All but one of those contracts were in non-public schools.

    Forward to 2014 and my CSET will expire in three months and I’m already $200 into a new program that hasn’t officially accepted me yet. Each hoop that I must jump through has its own price tag. Yet, I know that I must teach, so I pay and jump.

    I currently am an instructional assistant working with young adults aged 18-22 who have moderate to severe disabilities. One of my students is currently being considered to illustrate a children’s book of African folk tales. As of today’s date the field has been narrowed to two candidates, my student is the more favored of the two. Last year I took a student with severe cognitive delays from homeless to working and fully independant. I started a program to teach my students to work with and care for horses. I’ve written several successful grants. and I make roughly a third of what a beginning teacher would make. No, California does not make it easy to become a credentialed teacher. Even for those of us who are passionate about teaching and inspiring our students.

    April 24th, 2014 at 7:46 pm
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  35. anonymous says:

    Why Is It So Hard to Become a Teacher?

    The single subject teaching credential program I applied to required four letters of recommendation. The program required a group interview with around six applicants and four interviewers. Immediately after I had a second interview with two other applicants and a public high school principle and a faculty member. As soon as I was done with my two interviews I was taken to a room with about 10 other applicants to write an essay. According to my credential program, there were nearly 100 applicants. Approximately 30 applicants were turned away leaving 70 others including myself who were admitted.

    Once in the credential program the typical class schedule for students was taxing. Student teaching takes place during regular school hours from around 7 AM – 3 PM for about three hours. While doing student teaching, students need to complete 66 service hours. Students also need to complete additional teacher development hours as well. If you are an intern the teacher development component hours are doubled. In the program I was enrolled in, the first semester of student teaching consists of observing a teacher for three periods. The second semester consists of observing one period and teaching two periods. It has been my experience as well as many others in my cohort that the cooperating teachers often attempt to take advantage of the student teachers forcing them to teach their classes during the first semester. Keep in mind during the second semester you are responsible for all the duties that go along with teaching including writing lesson plans, creating or finding material, grading, and more. There are also several formal observations required along with paperwork during the first and second semester.

    The credential program class schedule is exhausting. Students often attend classes after teaching at their field/practicum site from around 4 PM – 10 PM four to five nights per week. Students must also complete a requirement called the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA). Despite criticism of teaching to the test, many of the faculty in the credential classes teach to that test. Keep in mind to be in the program it is required that one pass the CBEST and CSET. Some also have to take the RICO/RICA exam as well. I hear from the TPA coordinator at hour credential program that around 60% of students across the state don’t pass the test. I have not verified if this is correct but if it is, then that is a very low pass rate. The test is taken in four parts and in total can end up being equivalent to a doctoral thesis, around 120 pages easily.

    Here are a few random thoughts from my own experience teaching in the classroom on why is it so hard to remain a teacher. The content knowledge required for the CSET is unjust, with the level of comprehension you are expected to teach at. The majority of students have no concern for their education. I know many teachers from a wide variety of schools in rural, suburban, and urban settings who have confirmed to me, their students often fail or barley pass their classes, despite a great amount of opportunity to learn classroom content. Some parents may push their kids to do well in school but its not the norm, many parents are uninvolved in their son, or daughters education. Parents often place a higher value on extracurricular activities like school sports. The school system is very political and full of cronyism from administrators, faculty, and staff. Recently someone I know who was interviewing for a teaching position said, “when out in the hall waiting to be called in for the interview, I heard the three principles talking. One principle told another sitting next her, she already knows whom she is hiring; it’s a niece of her friend.” The hours teachers are expected to work are almost unbearable. I have seen many teachers who are extensively overwhelmed and sacrifice the quality their instruction just to manage the workload. The workload can cause many stressors in the personal lives of teachers as well because it puts a strain on relationships. The reasons I mentioned and many more are why it so hard to become a teacher and why turnover rate is around 40%-50% within the first five years.

    May 23rd, 2014 at 4:40 am
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  36. Samantha Lieb says:

    Wow! I admire you so much. After getting my AA in Journalism, I switched gears and decided to major in English. Now at a college I despise but i’m almost done with, i’m less than a year away from having my BA in creative writing. After talking to teachers and how to go about becoming credentialed, I for one have actually decided to go into professional writing instead. They seem to think I can’t pass the CSET, or will be broke unless I get my masters. This and that, this and that. REGAURDLESS, I think people with the passion and drive will make it. I’m not sure if i’m one of them but I will always be a support for education, especially in secondary schools. I really admire your drive and will tell you people like YOU are why students like I am pushing through college. You will make a great teacher :)

    September 17th, 2014 at 11:52 pm
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  37. Anonymous says:

    Thank goodness someone wrote about this. CA is all about $$$$. That’s why it’s so hard. The more tests the more $$$ the make, they are fee happy big time. The tests are totally rediculous…written by some highly ego driven people. It’s is deterring really highly educated people from entering the profession. It is a joke. Very broken system.

    October 21st, 2014 at 2:37 am
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  38. Anonymous says:

    I’ll just note that the post on 2014-10-21 is rife with errors; I stopped counting after the first half-dozen. Anyway,it casts into doubt whether California is suffering by weeding out this one particular “really highly educated” person.

    I’m certainly not an apologist for the state, as I’m wading midstream in the river of CBEST/CSET/TPA/RICA fees. That said, the route to better teachers is for ed schools to be more selective, for school districts to be pickier about who they hire and retain, and then for taxpayers to be willing to compensate this better pool of teachers commensurate with their professionalism and efforts. Right now, most reformers and politicians are focused like a laser on making the job less attractive to everyone (pay cuts, pension cuts, furloughs, increasing class size, ending tenure) without much thought to who will be attracted to the profession once it has been further degraded. (Hint: fewer good teachers)

    October 30th, 2014 at 5:30 pm
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