The thought popped into my mind today of how I got my teaching credential , finally , from that shall- be- for- the- present unnamed university on the hill . Why such thoughts suddenly revisit my awareness after , in this case , more than thirty-five years , I have no idea . Sometimes they sneak up on me in my sleep , after hiding for years , decades lying low . Sometimes I welcome them , wonder where the hell they’ve been all this time . And sometimes they just arrive , unannounced , like unwanted visitors showing up right at dinner time . I wonder , sometimes , what to do with them . But , there they are .
I was teaching in a small Catholic elementary school in Venice , CA , having a good time , getting paid next-to-nothing , being respected , working among a talented group of teachers , trying to catch on to the nuances of the teaching profession . Well , more accurately , I was simply trying to survive day to day , not to be found out and fired for not having a clue what teaching was all about . In those days I was still intimidated by principals . The principal would , after all , be the one to fire me . Then where would I be ? One day , during my first weeks at the school , the class was noisy and getting noisier . Two of the boys decided, suddenly, that it would be a good idea to run across the classroom and fall to their knees and slide . It was an impromptu knee-sliding contest , I guess . They slid toward the door to the corridor. Just as the door opened . Everything instantly froze . There stood Principal O’Donnell . The boys slid smoothly up to the principal’s shins and knelt there quietly and meekly as if paying homage . He looked , not at them , but directly at me . He didn’t say anything , nothing , but much was communicated in his pained expression . What is there to say in such a situation ? I didn’t have a teaching credential yet . During those years I have to admit that I’d always felt like an amateur . Those public school teachers , I firmly believed , were the true pros . When I eventually got to the public schools , however , those naive fantasies of mine soon evaporated , split , cut out , boogied , bounced , vaporized , steamed away in the first few weeks . But , that’s a story for another time .
I worked on getting a credential while I was learning to teach at Saint Clement Elementary School . It was on-the-job training , so to speak . All teachers have to learn , I think , on the job , despite other training and preparation . Well , most do . Some rare individuals may have emerged from the womb already skilled teachers . I have run into one or two of those over the years . I did a year of part-time credential work at the University of California at Northridge . Now called CSUN , it was known as the best school in the area for preparation for teachers .
At some point , though , I quit . I decided to take a break . Three years I broke for . I was having a good time teaching at St. Clement without a credential . I was , eventually , doing a good job as a teacher . I was proud of myself . A credential seemed , I guess , superfluous , like frosting on the cake . I had lots of time to work on my credential . Eventually I went back to CSUN , intending to finish my course work . I needed a health course and to do student teaching . That’s all. That’s what I thought . That’s what they had told me three years before .
” But , you haven’t been here for three years , ” the CSUN advisor said to me .
” That’s right ,” I said .
” Three years is the cut-off , ” she said . The cut-off ? She explained that , in effect , after three years , a student’s program accomplishments go up in smoke , vanish . Poof ! ” You’ll have to start over , ” she said . Like hell I was going to start over !
I went over to Pepperdine University in Malibu . I had wised up a little . ” What do I need for a teacher credential ? ” I asked . Played dumb ; I’m good at that . The counselor outlined the Pepperdine credential requirements . ” I have all of that except the health course and the student teaching , ” I said . The counselor frowned . Deep frown . I guess I had thrown her a curve ball and she was readjusting her stance for the swing . She was ready .
” We’d have to get to know you first , ” she said , ” So you’d have to be here at least a semester before you could do the student teaching or take the health course . ” Really ? You really want to know me ? $$$$$$$$$$$$
So I went over to the university on the hill . Sea breezes . An aura of academia wafting around the place . The advisor said , ” It’s three hundred fifty dollars a unit . ” It was a question . I nodded . We shook hands on it . I have one of the last of what was called the Ryan Credential . Mine is for life . Soon after I earned mine the life credential became a thing of the past . Afterward , teachers in California needed to renew every few years . Renew and then renew and then renew . Or it would expire .
I never did student teaching , by the way . I had been teaching students for five years by then . My professor visited the school , had tea with the principal , said hello to me on my morning break , and signed off : student teaching done . How many units was that again , four ? , eight ? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
Maybe when I’m ninety I’ll go back to teaching . ” Life credential , man ! ” I’ll tell the hiring administrator .
” I remember you , ” s/he might well say . ” You taught my great grand kids .” S/he might give me one of those double -edged compliments , the kind I got once from a mother whose daughter was in my eighth grade class . It was two years after her less-gifted son , Sean , had been in my class. . ” I want to compliment you on what a fine job you’ve done teaching Janice , ” she had said . While she expanded upon the kind words for a minute or so I was waiting for the other shoe to drop . “A really fine job , ” she said . ” Not like you did with Sean . “