CSU teacher candidates, faculty dispel negative perceptions of public education

Samantha Ye

Students training to become teachers may view public education as the bedrock of the country, but with protests across the nation, they find it harder to ignore the growing cracks in the foundation; so those future teachers are preparing to deal with them. 

What’s the problem?

From lack of funding to a nationwide teacher shortage, students and faculty in Colorado State University’s teacher licensure training program pinpointed the troubles to a general lack of respect for the field and the service.

Ad

man smiles
Junior natural sciences major Noah Newman has a concentration in biology education. “I want to be a science teacher that lets students actually do the science, not just make them learn off of slides.” (Brooke Buchan | Collegian)

“Teachers really aren’t respected, at least among the adults I’ve been around,” said Noah Newman, a natural science major with a concentration in biological education, in reference to the more affluent areas he grew up in. “They don’t really respect what you do as a career.”

Newman said he received “a lot of kickback” when he told his family he was going to become a science teacher.

“There was a lot of ‘Oh you’re not going to make money,’” Newman said. “And then, on top of the general looking down on teachers, there was a lot of ‘Oh, you’re just doing it to have summer off,’ which is not true.”

Engineering major Tanner Foreman said he received similar attempts to dissuade him from becoming a teacher, urging him toward better paying or more appreciated jobs.

“People going into the K-12 and early-childhood education have the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve ever seen, and they want to help, and it feels as though there’s a big force that’s hindering them from fulfilling that,” Foreman said. “It seems that Colorado has failed to understand the value of teachers.”

This perspective on the profession spirals into other problems. An undervalued education becomes underfunded and undersupplied, Newman said, as demonstrated by the failure of Amendment 73 in the last midterms, which would have increased taxes to fund Colorado education.

Colorado is currently in 30th place for teacher pay in the nation, with a salary below the national average, according to Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization specializing in education issues. It is also dead last for competitive wages.

While pay is not the sole factor in the state’s low teacher retention rates, it is an important one, said Ann Sebald, the co-chair of the School of Education’s Center for Educator Preparation. The other factors are a supportive principal and administration and teachers’ classroom autonomy.

“Teaching is the profession upon which all others are possible,” Sebald said. “Public education is the foundation of this country, so we need people that want to come in in order to provide that opportunity for everyone.”

At the moment, Colorado is experiencing “the perfect storm” of teacher shortage, Sebald said: fewer people want to enter the field, not as many stay and the current teachers are retiring.

Ad

The CEP, the CSU department which trains and eventually recommends students for state licensing, has been seeing lower enrollment numbers, though not as low as national statistics, Sebald said.

To become a teacher in Colorado, students must obtain an educator’s license. The initial license requires a bachelor’s degree in the subject you want to teach, an institutional recommendation and completion of a teacher preparation program. Colorado State University’s teacher program, run through the Center for Educator Preparation, is composed of four phases including student teaching. (Samantha Ye | Collegian)

To become a teacher in Colorado, you must have a license in a specific subject area, according to the Colorado Department of Education. You obtain the license by completing a bachelor’s degree in the subject area you want to teach, pass the state exam in the subject, complete an approved preparation program (a four-phase process at CSU) and get a licensing recommendation from an approved institution like the University.

The initial license expires after three years, after which you must complete an induction program for a new five-year license.

Venus Cariaso, a mathematics major with a concentration in education, wrote in an email to The Collegian that the requirements can be a challenge for the majority of students, including herself.

“Though learning higher level mathematics helps keep my mathematical mindset flexible for future teaching, it is difficult to stay positive and motivated when I struggle through advanced calculus of one variable proofs, and I want to teach 8th-grade Algebra,” Cariaso wrote.

While these testing barriers are instituted to ensure proficient knowledge, the actual teaching skills are taught through hands-on interaction with students, Sebald said. At CSU, education students start working with K-12 students right away and end with a full-time student teaching experience.

“As I have learned in my first three semesters of college, teachers have more responsibilities (than) I had ever realized,” wrote Tim Costello, a music education major, in an email to The Collegian. “As a future educator, I recognize and am taking on the responsibility of being a disciplinarian, educator, leader, baby-sitter and (counselor) to my future students.”

The list of responsibilities even includes protector these days.

Cariaso wrote she considers school safety a top issue in society. While she went through lockdown drills as a high schooler, she’s now shifting her mindset to being a teacher who must keep her students safe.

“It’s not about me anymore,” Cariaso wrote. “(It’s) about my students.”

Why are they here?

For all the challenges awaiting them, the current crop of teaching students remain undeterred.

The issues do not change the fact that I want to be a teacher — I have a passion for the role and love it,” Cariaso wrote.

The issues do not change the fact that I want to be a teacher—I have a passion for the role and love it.” -Venus Cariaso, mathematics major with a concentration in education

For Cariaso, math doesn’t come easily, and that’s why she wants to teach it: to show it is not necessarily a natural talent but a skill learned through practice and effort. Newman chose his career based on a string of bad science teachers which led him to want to be a better teacher for others. Foreman and Costello were inspired by excellent teachers of their own.

Being a teacher should not be about the pay or be treated as a fallback career, Cariaso wrote, and her fellow classmates agreed. It should be about the students. That’s it.  

Each future teacher spoke of the significant impact an instructor can leave on their students and their desire to make that positive change.

“If you’re just looking at the pay or some of those external factors, it very quickly becomes not worth it,” Foreman said. “But if you look at those teaching experiences, those times when I can help a student understand and their eyes light up and they finally get something that they’ve been struggling with for years — those moments are worth more than gold to me.”

What can be done?

CEP, along with other university programs in Colorado, is trying to change the narrative around public education, said Ben Bongers, the educator preparation coordinator in the School of Education. 

With the recent strikes breaking out across the country, it seems less and less likely a solution can be put off any longer.

Newman noted “there’s a lot for teachers to be up in arms about,” and if he had to, he would be ready to join those protests. But, like the other students, he still recognizes the nuanced barriers to a clean solution due to public education’s reliance on tax dollars.

“I 100 (percent) respect our teachers’ rights to protest for higher pay and more funding for our programs; however, my hope is that these protests do not come at the expense of the students,” Costello wrote, referring to the Denver teacher strikes“As (Amendment 73) was fairly voted on, I feel as though our teachers should be focusing more on winning over the public’s view for more public education funds — rather than protest in the system.”

And that’s exactly what CEP is turning their efforts to, Bongers said.

“If we can provide more positive media presence, more positive increases in funding for education, positive opportunities for community members to interact with educators, that’s going to go a long way in terms of increasing the public image of education,” Bongers said.

At the state level, Bongers hopes fostering better relations with policymakers and their constituents will erase “the perception that teaching is not a professional career.”

Events like the CEP’s new annual Future Teacher Expo exhibit a more forward approach to recruitment and building awareness for the University’s teaching program.

And of course, Bongers said, the CEP trains their teachers to be stewards of public education.

“Continuing to advocate for the profession, continuing to love the profession, continuing to keep our students first because that’s who we’re fighting for,” Bongers said. “That’s what these teacher candidates should be prepared for.”

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.