In the suburbs: Learning the challenges of a return to teaching
Published 6:43 am, Sunday, July 12, 2015
My brief, unexpected stint this spring as a long-term sub/full-time educator in a charter school whetted my appetite for becoming a full-time teacher in Connecticut. But now the real work has begun to make certification happen.
I took the first step last week — I sat for the core PRAXIS 1 exam, which consists of reading comprehension, basic mathematics and writing. Known as PRAXIS 1, it is a requirement for any candidate whose scores on the SATs or ACTs weren’t high enough to waive the exam. There are other ways to avoid the test also, but I opted to take it anyway for several reasons.
The first reason was age. At nearly 71, I honestly couldn’t remember back to the early ’60s when I took the ACT exam, which was considered the exam of choice for Midwestern pre-college students. I really tried to find my scores, but after five phone calls to American College Testing, my college and other sources, I finally learned that I would have to contact the Chicago Board of Education and hope that they had a record of my scores. I decided not to make that call and to take PRAXIS 1.
My second reason for taking PRAXIS 1 was that I was too late and too poor to sign up for a special summer program called ARC (Alternate Route to Certification). It was already March and I found out at a Bridgeport education job fair that the program admissions were closed until the next year. There is also a cost of about $3,000-plus and it would be difficult to find that kind of money quickly.
A third reason for moving forward with the exam was that I want to get my credentials organized and submitted to the state so I could have the certification board tell me what I am still missing. I haven’t even sent in that application yet, but I did arrange to have the scores sent to the certification board and I will be sending in my application next week along with the verification letter I received from my college. Ironically, even that letter only shows that I matriculated in an education program and did student teach.
Based on the number of years that have lapsed since graduation (1966), the person in charge at Northern Illinois University had no information about the teaching certificate I earned or even the school where I taught for five years. I spoke with the current principal of River Trails Junior High School, my first and only teaching position, and he agreed to search the records and verify my employment.
So I signed up online for the PRAXIS 1 exam, paid the registration fee of $135 and set the June 30 date. I decided that I would take the entire exam so I was familiar with it and retake any sections that I failed.
Preparation for the PRAXIS 1 exam is similar to what high school and college students do to study for the SAT and ACT exams, GREs (graduate school) among others — buy a book, take a class or secure a tutor. I bought the book and spent the next five weeks getting help from my daughter, who took the exam 13 times because of the math before a tutor got her through, and friends and colleagues from the bookstore and the school where I work.
What I learned and what I believe worked for the most part on June 30 was all about test-taking strategies. This is not an exam one can overthink. Scores are based on the number of correct questions. The book and my mentors encouraged me to guess away, as long as the guesses were educated.
I took more practice tests than I could count and had help with more strategies than I finally remembered on the exam, but I was determined to go into that exam prepared and relaxed. I knew this would be a trial run.
I got a good night’s sleep the night before, got up early so I could grab a quick breakfast in Westport and arrived at the test center early. And that’s where this PRAXIS tale will have to end, because the testing service demands full confidentiality about the test or I’ll risk forfeiting my scores.
All I can say is the exam was five hours long, extremely intense and left my feeble brain fried. Now I must wait for the scores and hope for the best … or not. And if I do pass, there will be PRAXIS II, the subject area exam. But that’s definitely another story.