Thursday, November 13, 2014

Could this be a way for me to start teaching?

In my previous post, I fretted over the difficulty of earning a German teaching credential.

I may have found a solution, thanks to a very nice woman named Jessica at the admissions office at CSU East Bay. She had an interesting suggestion:

I could earn a Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential through the CalState TEACH program (for the low, low price of $10,000, which is a $25,00 "savings" versus private school), then apply for an additional Single Subject credential, which would require an additional methodology class (how or where I would take this is TBD) and more student teaching.

This magical Multiple Subject credential would get me into classrooms earlier -- I could continue substitute teaching, I could take up homeschool teaching (with other families, through charter schools) and I would have an actual teaching credential in my pocket for the rest of my life, whenever or wherever I wanted to continue teaching. Then I could pile a second credential on top of it to pursue German teaching.

Where have you been all my life, CalState TEACH? Or, have I become so beaten down from my other options that a $10,000 online course that only gets me halfway there looks like a dream come true?

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Is it actually this difficult to become a teacher, or am I missing something?

After homeschooling Chebbles, leading her Girl Scout troop for three years and kicking off a Wordmasters Team for the girls' elementary school, I find that I gain so much from teaching kids. At the end of every day in which I get to lead a group of children, I go to sleep with a big smile on my face, filled with joy.

So I'm thinking of embarking on a teaching career. To that end, I've passed the CBEST (a basic competency exam necessary for all prospective teachers in California), been fingerprinted, and applied for a temporary substitute teaching permit from the state so I can help out at the girls' school.

Specifically, I would love to become a high school German teacher. I had a very inspiring German teacher throughout my high school years, I have a B.A. in German Languages and Literature, and feel I am in a position to impart so much, not only about the language, but about German history culture, based on my extensive experience there. Besides, it's a very useful language for young people!

My first hurdle has been finding a program that issues single-subject teaching credentials for high school German teachers. In the state of California there is one public school that issues these credentials: CSU Long Beach, 400 miles away from me.

(I've emailed CSU Long Beach regarding "remote learning" options, but I think that's a long shot.)

The second hurdle, and it's a honker, is the extraordinary price tag of becoming a teacher. Since my only option seems to be earning my single-subject teaching credential through a private college, this will cost me between $20,000 to $35,000. (The state school option is $10,000.)

These classes would not include any specific German-teaching skills, but basic teaching skills (which I do need to learn). I would need to learn all of the German skills to pass the CSET by myself, then I would student teach German under a college's supervision.

I first investigated St. Mary's College. It is very close to my house, and the administration there is very helpful and communicative. In an ideal world, I would sign up with them in a heartbeat. You can imagine my sadness, though, when I learned that the program costs $35,000 or more (if I go part-time, tuition rates will likely rise while I am there).

Private colleges are (very) quick to point out all of the options for financial aid for teaching credential students. But I won't fall for that trick again. I earned an MFA in Creative Writing from a private college, Emerson, back in 1997.

When I was 21, I merrily signed all of those Sallie Mae forms, then I worked my buns off full-time at Houghton Mifflin while I simultaneously earned my degree full-time. After those stressful years, I was saddled with $30,000 in student debt, and an essentially impractical master's degree. It took me many years to pay off that debt, and I felt foolish, having amassed so much of it.

As I sat in the St. Mary's presentation, with many earnest young people just graduating from college, all of whom planned to sign on with Sallie Mae to finance the $35,000 teaching credential, I wanted to stand up and flip the table over to get their attention: "How in the world will any of you pay off this loan! Teaching doesn't pay near enough for you to pay off this debt!" How will any of them will buy homes, get married and support a family with this albatross of debt lurking over them?

I looked into alternatives to St. Mary's: Phoenix University will teach me online (I would prefer on-site classes, but at this point I'll do anything) for $20,000. National University issues the most teaching credentials in California. It's also primarily online, and it's $35,000. On-site local schools such as Holy Names carry similar price tags, and no one knows a whit about teaching German specifically, but for the basic teaching classes.

My great hope seemed to be with the public schools of California, but all I have is CSU Long Beach if I want to teach German.

As I told the recruiter from Phoenix University, I could see paying this much for a degree if it resulted in a lucrative profession, but it's a terrible investment from a purely financial standpoint. If you pay $20,000 to $35,000 for a teaching certificate that results in a $50,000-$60,000 annual salary, you'll be paying that thing off for the rest of your life. In addition to that tuition, getting a teaching certificate takes you out of the job market for a year, so you're also making up for that deficit, in addition to paying off the loan.

California is experiencing an impending teacher shortage -- not many people go into teaching in the first place, and many of them leave the profession within seven years. To that end, there are some $4,000 grants (TEACH) available to those teachers who take special training and work with low-income children.

When facing such a massive bill, $4,000 isn't a very impressive reduction, and you would have to return the $4,000 if you do not teach four years in a low-income school in the first eight years of your teaching career. Besides, on a Venn diagram of "Low-Income Schools" and "High Schools with a German Program" the circles do not touch.

I have spoken with multiple German teachers about my ambitions, and it's clear that the need is there. Very few people become credentialed in German in California (Was für eine Überraschung!) and finding credentialed German teachers can be quite challenging for districts.

Other than starting a Kickstarter campaign to pay for a private school German teaching certificate, I could potentially start to teach without a credential at a private school. The drawbacks to this are that I do need those basic teaching classes -- I've never taught, or put together a curriculum for anyone other than Scouts and Wordmasters -- and the job security without a certificate can be very minimal. A Spanish teaching friend of mine regrets not getting her certificate, so that she might find jobs anyplace but her current, troubled school.

Another option may be to sign on as an "Intern" with a participating school district, and learn how to teach German while doing so. This seems difficult to arrange, and focused on specialties such as ESL, but it may be worth it to ask around.

Even if I decided to teach something more common, such as English, the hurdles are similar. My public school options expand, but the local CSU and UC schools are jam-packed and it can be difficult to register for the classes you need. In addition, the state's credential programs seem to require that all of the coursework be completed within one year, which would render me an absentee mother for that entire year. I'd rather avoid that and find a part-time solution if I can.

As I consider my few, gnarly options, I will substitute teach and assistant teach for a local German teacher. Perhaps I'll discover that this is not something I want to do after all. But if I don't go forward with a teaching career, I will always wonder: was I just not meant to be a teacher, or was I simply discouraged by the prohibitively expensive certification programs available to me?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why making Baby Boomer friends is the best thing a mom can do

At my first rehearsal with the Berkeley Broadway Singers I was taken aback: For the first time in a very long time, I was one of the youngest people in the room.

After eight years of motherhood, I was beginning to believe that everyone in the Bay Area was either under the age of 10 or between 35-45 years old. I simply didn't meet anyone else.

Now, after spending a few years rubbing elbows with the more than 70 Baby Boomers in this showtunes choir, I have discovered that I had been missing something important about life, and I have been so grateful to learn it from them.

Specifically, getting older is just something that you do, and it's not all bad. It's not something that you can possibly Botox away or surgically remove. It hurts sometimes, and your hair changes color, and conversations may turn toward health care more often than they did before, but in general, these folks are ultimately so darn relaxed about themselves, it's a balm to my soul.

More times than I can count, I have brought up some "distressing" situation of mine with the older people in my choir and their responses seem initially dismissive: "What can you do? (Shrug)" This is usually followed by some sort of sassy pronouncement such as, "Some people are assholes," or "That's life!" And you know what? They're absolutely right.

The majority of my fellow choristers have survived life longer than I have, and they've earned the right to dismiss "the small stuff" I fret about. They drive slower than I do, their cars are (much) cleaner, their conversations are less frenzied than those of my peers and me, and they almost never check their iPhones in the middle of a conversation. (This may also be related to the fact that many of them need their "cheaters" to see the iPhone, but nevertheless, it's nice.)

I have gained so much unexpected perspective since I began socializing with this choir that I miss them now when I'm stuck out among the 35-45-year old jittery parents of suburbia (of which I am most certainly one). I find myself wondering what they would say when I'm faced with a dilemma (piano lessons? or chess?). Most likely it would just be a laugh and a shrug. And that's exactly what I need.

My next great frontier will be teenagers. Other than babysitters, I haven't had a real conversation with a teenager since I was one. Next week I will start working in a classroom with a bunch of teenage German students, and the culture shock may be even bigger than it was with the Baby Boomers. I can't wait.

Confessions of a dogfree couple

It seemed from the get-go that we couldn't be seen as "complete" as a couple until we had the pitter-patter of dog paws in our house. Our friends started getting dogs, immersing themselves in doggy day care and training classes ("Ours is the cutest one in there!") and putting their dog's faces on their Christmas cards. We gradually became one of the only dogless couples we know.

When people ask us, pulling back a dog on a leash, holding a newspaper bag of poop in the other hand, when we are going to FINALLY get a dog, they should know to be more sensitive about this topic.

The truth is, I'm allergic to dogs. When I confess this to pushy dog-owning acquaintances, they won't let it lie. "But what about medical interventions!? You could always adopt."

Even better, they will try to butter me up: "But you're so good with dogs, Erica. You could make some dog very happy."

But the truth is that we've carved out a dog-free existence for ourselves. Over the years we have added cats and children to our household, trying to fill the void, and we may just have been successful.

When we are at a party, and other guests have to leave because their dog is waiting to go out, we look at them quizzically. What is this existence by which you are beholden to an animal's "potty schedule?"

When we leave town for the weekend, there is no dragging Fido to the kennel or hiring a house sitter. We just chuck the children in the car and pull out of the driveway while four angry cat faces follow us with their eyes.

When our doorbell rings, we look at each other in excitement. "Who is it?" we wonder quietly. Then we walk to the door to find out, without a siege of harsh barking greeting our visitor.

And the lack of interaction with poop is a luxury I am not ready to surrender. I changed diapers for nine straight years, and kitty litter for more than that. But now the cats go outside to secret hidey-holes, and hey, so do the kids for the most part, so I am never seen bending at the waist with a bag over my hand, praising an animal while scraping the bag around to get it all.

Plus, I've had my share of playground politics, why add dog park politics to the mix? Someone is always mad at the person whose dog may or may not have bitten someone else's dog, and were they playing or fighting? Geez. Like some dogs, the judgments are fast, furious and ruthless at the dog park. No thanks.

It may seem like a huge waste, when I go on a run by myself, with no one to help me sniff things along the way. But the truth is that I'm content being a dog aunt. Occasionally. I will pet your dog, or, more often, make my children do it so that they might experience a "normal" relationship with dogs. Because who knows, perhaps a dog will insert his wet nose and smelly ears into our lives someday.

But in the meantime, we do hope that others can understand, if not embrace, our alternative dog-free lifestyle.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Missing the bus -- how parenting stripped me of my ability to judge myself and others

Looking back now, more than nine years after my first daughter's birth, I see that I was just jagged and pointy with judgmental tendencies before she was born. And that made me unhappy.

I was harsh on others, but even more so on myself. When breastfeeding turned out to be terrible, I was mad at myself for not adhering to my original vision.

When the baby went out with a dirty face or hung out in a dirty diaper -- I was the only one who was beating myself up about it. I had invested so much energy being annoyed with other people's parenting, I now found that I was judging myself even more harshly ("Yes, but is she in enough stimulating toddler classes?") and it became an unsustainable way of life.

I tried to cut her fingernails and clipped off the end of her thumb. I put her in cute outfits that sent her into fits of grief (turns out she has tactile sensitivity issues, I didn't know!). Despite my best attempts, I installed every carseat wrong for the first two years, and she would tip and lurch in the backseat when I took a tight turn.

Two years after my first girl was born came another, and she, with her itsy-bitsy fists, sheared off almost every remaining point of pride I had. Her birth was cataclysmic, she never slept (still doesn't), she feels everything more acutely than other humans and defies all forms of discipline. Basically, the only thing that kind of, sort of, works to discipline her is cash. Once she starts screaming there is no end to it, and you might be in for an eight or nine hour scream fest.

Then one year later another, a completely different girl popped out of my body, with a wholly separate agenda. This is a quiet girl who will go along with the tides of the family until she DOESN'T and then when she DOESN'T there is no possible way to change her mind. Her opinion has been established, and your plans shall change. After things have finally gone her way (the only possible outcome), she will reestablish her regularly scheduled program of lying on the floor singing a ballad about Anna and Elsa from "Frozen."

With the arrival of this #3 came another precipitous lowering of standards. And I had to face all of the judgment I had heaped upon other parents and realize that it was all bullshit, basically. Every judgmental thought I'd ever had came back to kick me in the butt, without exception.

My third child never went to a Gymboree class. Her clothes have been twice handed down and her rear end hangs out of every pair of pants she owns. It's a miracle if one girl leaves the house with her hair brushed each day, let alone three.

See, I find that the more I am a parent, the less I have advice for anyone, but rather I have much more sympathy. "What should I do about this behavior?" a parent may ask me, and "Hell if I know" is the only honest answer I have.

Today I was served another giant slice of humble pie. I miscalculated the school bus pick-up time, and, not allowed to get off the bus without me waiting for her, my kindergartner was sent back to school, basically with a "Parent Fail" sign on her forehead. When she arrived back in the school yard, the principal found her on the bus, then her teacher called the office and both of the secretaries in the office called the after school care helpers.

Walking onto campus to retrieve my child should have been the biggest parade of shame ever. Everyone knew that I had carelessly left my upset five-year-old on the bus, and I'd had to chase her down in my car. I passed school employees who clucked and said, "Erica! What happened?" but the funniest thing happened.

I didn't feel embarrassed at all. Because after all these years caring for my kids, my Pride-in-Parenting mechanism simply doesn't function anymore -- I had no hill to fall down, I had already resigned myself to a happy, grubby survival mode.

Sure, I'm proud of my kids themselves. I'm proud of what individuals they are and that they continue to thrive despite my having fed them all Ramen Noodles for dinner tonight. But I noticed that in the space where I previously would have been devastated and embarrassed by missing that bus, all I had was a blank shrug, a "shit happens," and a big hug for my kindergartner. (Who, it must be said, was happily playing videogames when I got there.)

And this afternoon, by way of apology, I took all three girls and two of their friends out to Jamba Juice. The kids were wild and resembled a rugby scrum of excitement. They yelled about farts and maimed each other in my minivan. I drove down the road, listening to "Gonna Make You Sweat," pretty much oblivious to my previous parenting "standards."

My minivan was filled with dozens of fruit flies, invited by an apple core we have yet to find under the seats, and as I waved the flies, one my one, out the window, I felt really damn happy. Because I'm not holding myself or anyone else up to an impossible standard, I've got nothing left to lose.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

October is Pregnancy Loss and Infant Loss Awareness Month

I'm grateful that Seleni asked me to write an article about it for them. It is here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

One of the toughest articles I've ever written

My latest article for Seleni has gone live, and I'm very proud of finally bringing it to fruition. It's about managing anxiety when you're parenting after a loss and it was tough times in the writing.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Ten books I obsess over


Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.

Perhaps any book that so prolongs the loss of the protagonist's virginity is by nature fascinating. Oma and I obsessed together over this book: e.g., sleeping on a wooden pillow?! The question still irks me: how was this tender tome written by a man? And why hasn't he written ever again?


Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson.

Did you know you could use a stove as an incubator for a premature baby!? That is is just the tip of the iceberg of the obsessibility of this book. Sponge fishing? "I Wonder as I Wander?" Biblical lore? The relationships in this book are spectacularly realized, I consider it Katherine Patterson's master work, even though the rest of her books are terrific as well. Speaking of which...


Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson.

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? I was devastated for weeks after reading this book. I had never had an author screw me up as badly as Katherine Patterson did with this doozy. OBSESS! I named a remote section of our current property "Terabithia" but I respectfully ask that no one DIE THERE just because their friend went to an art museum without them. Thanks.


Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews.

Any woman in her 40's who doesn't include this in her list of 10 books that "stuck with her" is TOTALLY LYING. Hi, would you like a powdered donut? NO! Because I read "Flowers in the Attic," people, and I know you are trying to slowly, slowly kill me because you consider me to be devil spawn. I also think about My Sweet Audrina with some regularity, particularly when I manipulate the clocks in my daughter's rooms to suit my EVIL PURPOSES.


Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Just oh my GOD. "Beloved" was Sixth Sense-ish before it was cool. Why are the traumatizing books the ones that stick with me so much? The tombstone in this book is seared in my mind. The TOMBSTONE. Also, Toni Morrison did an incredible job creating the house in this book -- I could draw it for you now, so many years after reading this book. Rarely are novelists such good architects.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

This book contains so much disparate juiceness. Hi, Zombies! Greetings, real dirigible terminal on the top of the Empire State Building! Escape artists, comics, nerds and houses on Long Island. The wild ride of the narrative stops before the book does, but by that point you're already obsessed.


East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

I feel self-conscious including a literary classic in this list, but this book is so visceral, sweeping and sexy. The love scenes beneath the tree are exquisite, and the sibling relationship is unpredictable and kept me on the edge of my seat. Whenever we are driving down through Central California, I get obsessed all over again and start looking for little farms and whorehouses.


The Book of Genesis by R. Crumb.

WHAT?! A cartoon rendering of the first book of the bible? Tchya! It is not a satire, but a straight retelling that pulls no punches. I still think about the drawings and the expressions on the character's faces when they encountered, for example, a burning bush, or checking out their drunk dad (poor Ham!). I check and re-check R. Crumb's latest bibliographies to see if he's tackled any more bible stories.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

Road trips, parenting and mental illness: three great tastes that go great together. (Girls! If you find yourself separated from me by a glass wall, do not panic.) This book has been my only brush with philosophy, presented in a way that I mostly understood. But I can still smell the motor oil when I think of this book, which is often.


Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.

Was Barbara Kingsolver possessed when she wrote this? I think constantly about the strange reaction of American seeds to African soil, and the bugs and the crowds, and the sister jutting out her elbows to survive a stampede. Imagine my disappointment when Kingsolver returned to writing the same type of ecological/relationship stories after she released this book. I USED to love those stories, but Poisonwood Bible wrecked my enjoyment of them -- like going on a formerly-fun merry-go-round after an unexpected Congan rollercoaster ride.