In the Suburbs / Certified to the teaching dream... at last
In the summer of 2015, I decided to pursue a dream that I have had since 2008, when I began substitute teaching in the Fairfield high school and middle school system. I had been a middle school language arts teacher in Chicago, but I needed Connecticut’s certification. And this week my dream came true, just not in the way I’d imagined.
I left Fairfield schools in 2013 to become a teaching assistant in a Bridgeport charter school and had even spent the last quarter of the 2014-15 school year teaching social studies to freshmen and juniors. That little taste of the classroom environment convinced me I wanted to pursue certification here.
As my zeal and enthusiasm to teach full-time again grew, friends and relatives told me I should have my head examined, because I was simply too old and should be thinking about retirement. My older daughter, on the other hand, said I was an idiot for not having pursued certification sooner and encouraged me to get right on it. I politely told naysayers I was never going to retire and I had to try for the certificate.
I knew I was facing an uphill climb. After all, the last time I had been a certified teacher anywhere was in 1966, in Illinois. There were few, if any, computerized records back then and my Illinois certificate was probably a piece of paper that I may have long since recycled.
While I dreaded the core Praxis 1 exam, I learned the state of Connecticut would only consider a test waiver if I showed certification from Illinois, a state which has a reciprocal agreement; or if I had received passing scores on the SATs or ACTs. I took the latter.
So I embarked on a journey that took me through the archives of the Illinois’ certification system and the American College Testing service. Those journeys lasted nearly the entire summer of 2015 and yielded nothing.
I contacted the American College Testing service, hoping my scores were on microfiche. Dead end. Then I called Northern Illinois University, my alma mater, to ask whether there was a copy of my Illinois certification on file. While the English department had my file and confirmed I had student-taught and received a degree, there was simply no record of an Illinois certificate.
In real desperation, because I needed some proof of certification to finish my Connecticut application, I finally reached a very helpful lady in the Northern Illinois University education certification department. She checked a few files and, voila, found a duplicate postcard that had been given to me in May 1966, authorizing my certificate. I asked if she could send it right away. I knew the first district where I taught would have had to verify certification.
All the transcripts came in along with the Northern Illinois certification post card. I had to take the dreaded Praxis 1 that summer and passed all areas but math, despite being tutored by a close friend, with flying colors.
After a lot of discussion with the certification folks, who didn’t want to accept the postcard, I was shocked when Connecticut sent me a provisional certificate with the requirement to pass Praxis 2 by the following September. I was half way there.
And now, here is the rub: I finally took Praxis 2, the English exam, in July 2016 and when the scores arrived, mine showed I had fallen short of the state requirement by five points. Hearing nothing from the state about my anticipated rejection for more than a year, I decided to register for a re-test on Praxis 2 this week.
When I had trouble registering, I spoke with a gentleman from Educational Testing Service, who suggested I call the state Bureau of Records and Certification just for peace of mind, because Connecticut had lowered its passing level to 168 in September 2016 and my scores had arrived that August and were higher than 168. “Maybe you’ll be lucky,” he told me.
I almost fell off my chair when a Bureau of Certification representative told me, “Oh, we certified you in August 2016. You passed Praxis 2. You mean you didn’t know?”
There was a long pause. “Oh my!” she said apologetically. “We forgot to tell you. Our bad. I am so sorry. We’ll mail your certificate immediately.”
For the past 14 months, I have been a certified teacher and never knew it. But now my long-awaited teaching certificate is on its way, I have the satisfaction that my efforts paid off and this anxious, albeit doddering candidate, may finally have a shot at teaching. I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com.