The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the second largest school district in the nation. According to the California Department of Education, the district serves one of the largest student populations in the country; in the 2004-2005 school year, 741,000 students were enrolled. Geographically, it is the largest school district in the nation and serves not only the children of Los Angeles, but also students in 27 other neighboring cities. Not surprisingly, one of the greatest staffing priorities for LAUSD is to have access to a constant pipeline of highly qualified, credentialed teachers.
LAUSD continues to return each year to recruit at GSEP. Over the past five years, an average of 45 students have been hired by the district. Connie Jackson, a recruiter at LAUSD and former special education teacher, says, “The students at GSEP are always very well prepared and a pleasure to interview.” Deborah Ignagni, director of certificated recruitment and selection at LAUSD, and alumna of both the master of arts in education and teaching credential and the master of science in administration and preliminary administrative services credential programs, notes an even more attractive quality about GSEP students. She too agrees that students come out of the program well versed in theory and practice, but more importantly, she also says that GSEP students “possess the qualities that are necessary to be successful in our neediest schools.” Even as the landscape of teaching jobs has changed over the years, LAUSD has continued to hire GSEP students.
Stacy Rivas is a recent graduate of the master of arts in education and teaching credential program. Her goal of finding a teaching position began with Career Services in March 2005. When her University field supervisor suggested she open a placement file, she searched the Pepperdine GSEP Career Services Web site for information and found what she needed. She recalls, “All I had to do was compile a collection of copies of my student teaching evaluations, letters of recommendations, test scores, and transcripts. But the best part was that once I gave these documents to Career Services, they would make as many copies as I needed and send them out to any school or district I requested.” As an employer, Jackson appreciates that the placement file gives her enough information to assess candidates in a 40-minute interview. She emphasizes that the evaluation of a candidate’s student teaching experience is one of the most heavily weighted factors in the hiring process. As a result, students are advised to work backwards: to start from topics they may be asked about during their interview and then strategize to get the experience during their student teaching.
To stay ahead of the curve, students are encouraged to begin the job search as soon as they start the program. By doing research on their districts of interest, students get a head start in mapping out their career plans and can target important recruiting events. As the competition for elementary positions increases, multiple-subject students must now take the initiative to market themselves. This means finding creative ways to appeal to employers who are narrowing down their recruiting focus to single-subject and special education teachers. Multiple-subject candidates are encouraged to revisit their transcripts to check for additional subject authorizations and to highlight additional skills that might present more value to the district. LAUSD also offers a paid two-year internship program that encourages candidates to consider special education as an alternative route to employment.
Throughout the summer of 2005, Rivas worked with Career Services to revise her first teaching resume. She notes, “While I had a strong resume from my previous field of work, I needed one that would speak to my strengths as a teacher. After submitting an initial draft, I was contacted with ideas on how to further enhance my resume. I was given smart suggestions to highlight my skills as a developing educator. The end result was an outstanding resume that I could proudly present to elementary school principals.”
The home stretch for a job seeker is sometimes the most nerve-racking part of the search process. In addition to keeping up with the various recruiting events and information sessions, students must master the art of the interview. Employers manage to baffle candidates with simple questions, such as, “Tell me about yourself.” Therefore, Career Services gives students the tools and the practice they need to be successful through the use of mock interviews. In March, Pepperdine students and alumni put these skills into action when they met with employers at the GSEP career fair. They were given an opportunity to deliver a “ten-second blurb” about themselves and learn more about employment opportunities.
Rivas states, “Career Services coordinated on-campus interviews with LAUSD, enabling me and my classmates to interview from the comfort of our own campus. In addition, I was given one-on-one consultation to help me prepare through mock interviews and with a list of questions I could expect to encounter.”
In March, Rivas started teaching at West Hollywood Elementary school, a Title 1 school in District 4 of LAUSD. Although she faces enormous challenges after accepting a midyear position as a sixth-grade teacher, she believes the experience will enrich her skills as an educator. “I feel a tremendous sense of community at this school,” she says. “My fellow teachers have generously offered me suggestions and words of encouragement throughout my first few weeks. I feel fortunate to be at a school with such a diverse student body and supportive staff.
“Teaching in a classroom filled with a diverse group of students has challenged me because I must find ways to provide each and every student with an equal opportunity to learn. To accommodate my many English-language learners, I incorporate a variety of Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE) techniques into my lessons, such as utilizing visual aids, giving my students opportunities to work with partners, and introducing vocabulary before reading new selections. Introducing these techniques into my daily instruction to address the varied needs of my students forces me to extend my skills as an educator. I also use my students’ different cultures to help build a community within the classroom. For example, two students expressed interest in teaching me Spanish, so I invited them to do just that. Everyday, they teach me a new phrase, and I recite it back to them the following day. Such activities allow my students to proudly share their culture with me, plus I benefit from acquiring phrases in a new language. By encouraging my students to bring their culture into the classroom, I foster a stronger relationship with them.”
Now as an alumna of GSEP, she acknowledges the many contributions of her professors and staff at Pepperdine in preparing her to become a teacher. She believes that the outstanding program and varied student-teaching placements clearly set her apart from other candidates. As she strives to serve her students with the best possible educational experiences, she is grateful to those who helped her realize her dream to become a teacher. She fondly remarks, “And to think, if my district field supervisor had never encouraged me to open a placement file, I might not have discovered the fantastic people and resources available to me at Pepperdine.”