Transition to Teaching: College of Education Program Trains Teachers for Hard-to-Staff Schools
Kamal Hamdan, director of the Transition to Teaching (TTT) program in the College of Education, is on a mission to recruit teachers for hard-to-staff schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). His prospects range from incoming freshmen to returning students at California State University, Dominguez Hills, all of whom have the skills and passion to teach math, science or English in inner city schools. Another quality that is common among these students is that they would be teaching in the very schools they came from.
“They know what it’s like to walk to school and walk back home and feel unsafe at times,” Hamdan points out. “They know what it’s like to go to school and go all day long, maybe hungry. They know what it’s like to go home and not have someone to help you with your homework, or have to babysit, or have a part time job to contribute to the family’s income -- and have your own chores and responsibilities.
“They will tell their students, ‘This is how I was able to cope with it. This is how I went to college. I didn’t have parental support in terms of finances, I had to work. But look, I was able to overcome these challenges. I got a degree, I got a credential, and look where I am right now.”
TTT is supported by a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The program gives recent graduates and mid-career professionals from fields as diverse as engineering, real estate, journalism and business the opportunity to become teachers. CSU Dominguez Hills has partnered with LAUSD and the Lynwood Unified School District (LUSD). In less than a year, participants earn a preliminary credential while teaching as paid interns in middle or high schools.
Hamdan, the principal investigator on the TTT grant, created the program at CSUDH with the help of Xiomara Benitez, program coordinator, whom he recruited after she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from USC. He says that their combined experience, his as a math teacher at Washington Preparatory High School for 16 years and hers as one of his students there, prepared them to prepare teachers for diverse populations. While the program provides financial support, academic coaching and job placement, Benitez and Hamdan tailor their program as much as possible to accommodate the teacher interns, going so far as to hold class meetings at the schools where students will end up working.
“We would sit down and think of what would be the ideal program for somebody who wants to transition to teaching,” Hamdan says. “We wanted to kind of eliminate some of the barriers and most of the barriers are financial. We’d look at it and say, ‘What else can we do to make it easier for them to transition?’
“We’re real. When we say we recruit from the community, we do. When we say we’ll bring the university to you, we’re not just saying that, we really do. We meet wherever it’s convenient for our teachers. We know it is challenging to teach full time and complete the credential program two nights per week. Only the most passionate people are able to do it.”
Benitez and Hamdan also oversee two other programs for future teachers, the Math and Science Teacher Initiative (MSTI) and the recently acquired Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship grant from the National Science Foundation. Hamdan, a former mechanical engineer, emphasizes the urgent need for math and science teachers in the LAUSD and LUSD.
“We respond to the community’s need,” he says. “If they say they need English teachers, we recruit them. Recently, the push has been for math and science, there is a desperate need for those teachers. [LUSD} hired almost 30 of our teachers this year, from one cohort.”
Hamdan says that the districts appreciate the commitment of CSUDH’s students to serving the schools that they once attended themselves and have favored TTT over other programs that bring interns from other parts of the United States, who may not immediately connect with the students.
“No other program can match our numbers when it comes to diversity,” he says. “An issue in the field of education has been that there is no match between the student's background and who is teaching them. There is that gap. The students are on one side, you’re on one side, but there is no common values, goals, background. That has to be a disadvantage.
“Eighty percent of our teachers are African American or Latino because that is the population of the schools we serve,” he says. “Ours don’t struggle with these issues because they are from the community.”
For more information on Transition to Teaching at Cal State Dominguez Hills,
click here or call (310) 243-2668.
- Joanie Harmon