by David Serbin
photography by Michael P. Bailey
I was in deep depression, burnt out as a corporate executive. I needed to make a career change, but what could I pursue? Then I remembered what my high school history teacher wrote in my yearbook: “Good luck in your coaching career.”
I have always wanted to be a teacher and coach. I have some experience as a Sunday school teacher and little league coach; and I could do this, I thought. But I was skeptical.
Would a school district take a gamble on someone my age as an inexperienced teacher? I sought advice from teacher-friends, and was told, “Go for it!” With classroom size populations reduced to 20 students per instructor, school districts are begging for teachers, I was told. But I was still not convinced, so I asked fellow CAPA (Continuing Accelerated Program for Adults) students at the University of La Verne — those setting the same goal as my own — about becoming a teacher.
Donna DiLaura has been a CAPA student for three years. Prior to returning to ULV, DiLaura had been in office management for almost 13 years, and now hopes to graduate this May with a diversified bachelor’s degree. “I have always wanted to teach, and I felt La Verne was a nice cozy place to learn,” says DiLaura, who plans to return to the midwest to teach.
It was by sheer luck that Heidi Tanklage was introduced to teaching. Her mother graduated from the University of La Verne in 1997 and became an instructional aide in special education. After spending several years as an employee in the banking and clerical fields, Heidi decided it was time to switch careers.
“I literally took my mother’s job,” she laughs. “I love what I am doing. Special education students need a lot of nurturing. That makes me feel good.”
Talking to these individuals helped convince me that the opportunity was there. I had been taking a class here and there since 1982, but was now committed to fulfilling the remainder of my requirements to complete my degree.
After spending time in the United States Navy, I obtained an associate in science degree in journalism at Mt. San Antonio College. Eventually, I decided to get a bachelor’s degree in something I enjoyed and thought interesting. So I met with the chair of ULV’s Journalism Department, Dr. George Keeler.
He mapped out the classes I needed to graduate, and, last year, I began my quest to attain my B.A. But the road to my credential had some potholes.
I needed to take the CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test) exam, which Dr. Keeler said was nothing to worry about, especially for a journalism major. But I was convinced that a four-hour exam could not be easy. He also advised me to meet with Dr. Peggy Redman, director of teacher education at ULV, to discover how to find a job after receiving my new credential.
“Right now, there is such a demand for teachers. Most who enroll in our Teacher Education Program already have jobs,” Dr. Redman relates. “Our curriculum is such that students can teach or sub during the day and attend class at night. All of our teacher education classes begin either at 4 p.m. or 7 p.m.”
Her words heartened me, but I did not know at what grade level I wanted to start my career. Dr. Redman said the choice would be my own decision.
I also wanted to know what kind of personality was best suited for a successful instructor. Without hesitation, Dr. Redman gave me a sheet listing these personal characteristics. She said teaching requires patience and the ability to make decisions under stress. Of course, the biggest skill was liking children.
But I thought: Why would somebody want to teach if he or she does not like children?
Dr. Redman also suggested that I take precautions in choosing the district for which I wanted to work. She gave me tips on the questions I should ask prospective schools. “Ask, ‘What kind of support do you give new teachers?'” she says. “Does the school district have seminars to provide on-going instruction on critical matters such as classroom management? Does the district provide a mentor who can help you in on-the-spot situations?”
The answers seemed logical, but I needed to find out more. Therefore, I visited Roynon Elementary School to meet with some veteran teachers. I sought advice on finding a teaching job, and on the skills necessary to be a good teacher.
Larry Bailey, a fifth grade teacher, has been at Roynon for 34 years. He says, “Teaching children is very rewarding. I have taught the children of those whom I taught long ago. As far as staying at Roynon, it has a lot more equipment than other schools. It has the biggest library, and I love the parental support.”
Bailey was literally forced into teaching. “My mother was a teacher. One day, when I was a freshman in college, Mom told me that I had to substitute for her,” he says. “So, I went in and spoke about everything I knew in 45 minutes. I had to struggle to finish the day!” He advises teachers to pace themselves and to assure that they have fun with the children.
Tony Armandan is a 32-year veteran at Roynon. He originally dreamed of being a high school sports coach, but instead took a job at the elementary level while waiting for a position to open.
“When I first started out, it was important to have male role models at the elementary level,” says Armandan. “I liked what I was doing, and I still like it.” He adds that it is vital that a successful teacher possess the characteristics of “patience, understanding, compassion, dedication and diversity — and, of course, you have to like children.”
The information was great, but I wanted to know more. Thus, I spoke with a first-year teacher, someone just starting the career.
For Anne Castagnaro, it seems her fate was predestined. As a fifth-generation teacher in her family, she currently teaches at Roynon Elementary School and admits to choosing the school because she “really, really, really liked the principal,” Susan Brown.
Now I know what is essential in becoming a successful teacher, and I am ready to pursue my credential at ULV. At last, my dream looks like more of a reality.
I look forward to the day when I will walk into my first classroom, and say, “Good morning, children. I am Mr. Serbin; but you can call me Coach!”
Personal Characteristics Necessary for Teaching
1. Demonstrate formal thinking capacity; think critically, collect and analyze data, anticipate multiple consequences and make sound decisions.
2. Respond appropriately to communication from others, including hearing feedback and responding constructively to criticism. Be reflective and willing to wrestle with ideas outside of his or her cognitive framework.
3. Demonstrate awareness of personal style, strengths and weaknesses. Monitor personal performance and plan appropriate self-improvement.
4. Be able to give students positive attention and reinforcement. Demonstrate good attending behavior; be respectful of differences in values, styles and cultures.
5. Demonstrate patience, flexibility and compassion in working with students. Be normally relaxed around adults and children.
6. Take responsible action to resolve problems and conflicts. Communicate directly and willingly accept responsibility for errors or negative impact on others.
7. Enjoy learning about, with and from children. Have a sense of humor and relate happily with students.
— Dr. Peggy Redman