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Report: More credentialed teachers this year

By David Scharfenberg, Special to the Daily Planet
Monday December 03, 2001

Fifty-seven of Berkeley’s public school teachers, or 9.5 percent of the 599 on staff, are not fully credentialed, according to preliminary school district figures obtained by the Daily Planet. 

The highest concentrations of teachers without full credentials are at Berkeley High School, Longfellow Arts & Technology Magnet Middle School and King Middle School. 

However, the figures for the school district as a whole have improved since the 2000-2001 school year, when 79 of the system’s 582 teachers, or 13.5 percent, were not fully credentialed. 

Particularly striking is the decline in the number of emergency credentialed teachers — those who, in many cases, have the least training and experience — from 8.8 percent of the public school faculty last year to 4.2 percent this year. 

School administrators said that even the 4.2 percent figure is misleading, because several teachers officially operating under an “emergency credential” are veteran instructors with out-of-state credentials. 

Administrators said that enhanced teacher recruitment, better support systems for new teachers, and the pull of Berkeley, as a community and a school district, allowed the system to attract and retain more certified teachers this year. 

“We’re a high demand district,” said David Gomez, assistant superintendent for administrative services. “People want to work here.” 

Berkeley’s numbers compare favorably to those of neighboring, comparable districts for which statistics are available. In the San Lorenzo district, 10.5 percent of teachers do not have full credentials. In the Newark district, the number is higher at 18.8 percent.  

Berkeley parents had mixed reactions to the news. Several responded positively, saying they were pleased with the increased number of fully credentialed teachers in the system. They also argued that even young and relatively inexperienced instructors can be talented. 

“It turns out that it’s more about the quality of the individual than the credentialing,” said Sarah Cowan, mother of two children at Washington School, noting that a third-year teacher at Washington, Shawna Suzuki, who only just received her full credentials, is one of the best instructors her children have ever had.  

“In fact, our [childrens’] worst teacher was fully credentialed,” she said.But other parents, like Joanne Groce, mother of an eighth-grader at Longfellow, said they are concerned about new teachers’ lack of experience and inability to maintain order in the classroom. 

Teachers throughout the system said that parents’ concerns about classroom discipline are often justified. Matthew Fishencord, a kindergarten teacher at Washington School, said many new teachers have difficulty walking the line between friend and authority figure, leading to a lack of control in the classroom. 

“You can see parents cringe when they find out they’re getting a first-year teacher,” Fishencord said. “Parents have a right to be concerned.” 

Other parents focused on the issue of retention. They argued that young teachers in Berkeley are overworked, do not receive proper support and are forced to leave the profession. That creates high turnover and requires the recruitment of less qualified teachers. 

“At Longfellow, new teachers have not gotten the administrative support, and they’ve left after a semester,” said Kathy Burroughs, mother of a student at Longfellow Middle School. 

But school administrators — and several teachers — said that retention has improved in recent years. Rosalind Sarah, New Teacher Programs supervisor for the Berkeley schools, said that recently developed, system-wide support programs for new teachers have led to a decline of roughly 25 percent in the number of first- and second-year teachers leaving the profession. 

One recent innovation is the four year-old Beginning Teachers Support and Assessment (BTSA) program, which provides new teachers with professional development and an opportunity to meet regularly and support each other. 

“I think, psychologically, BTSA was fantastic,” said Scott Willson, a second-year math teacher at BHS who taught at a small school in Alaska before coming to Berkeley. “I’d just come from a school where that didn’t happen. There was a lot of in-fighting and backbiting. I felt like I’d gotten thrown to the wolves.” 

Young teachers said that veteran instructors, serving as mentors, or “support providers” have been even more helpful — providing important, timely pointers. 

Still, several teachers, including Willson, argued that even the best support system cannot keep every teacher on board. 

“Everybody has a tough first year,” Willson said. “All the support in the world doesn’t prevent that from happening.” 

Part of the problem, new teachers say, is the difficulty of balancing classroom responsibilities with the ongoing professional development required of teachers without full credentials. 

Patricia Sanders, 43, who transitioned from real estate to teaching four years ago on an emergency credential, is now an “intern,” taking night courses at a state university as she seeks a full credential. 

“It’s very, very stressful,” Sanders said. 

Sanders has a schedule that includes two nights a week at the university, one night a week in a staff meeting, another night of professional development and three nights staying up as late as 4 a.m. to grade papers. 

“It means having to be very good with time management,” she said. “And it means I don’t have a personal life right now,” she added, with a chuckle. 

Teachers say this type of schedule is simply too much for many new instructors, leading some to leave the profession early and creating a vacuum to be filled by new, inexperienced teachers. 

The Berkeley figures on the credentialed status of teachers, now preliminary, should become official shortly when the district sends them, electronically, to the California Department of Education, school officials said. Administrators do not expect any changes in the figures before then.