Liberal Studies: CSUN’s Teacher Incubator

CSUN over the past decade has educated more of the state’s teachers than all 10 University of California campuses combined, according to Michael Spagna, dean of CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education. In addition, CSUN helps student-teachers prepare for their careers in K-6 and 7-12 classrooms, through the Integrated Teacher Education Program.

The keystone of that bridge to classroom teaching is CSUN’s Liberal Studies Program in the College of Humanities. The interdisciplinary program graduates 500 to 700 students per year. This year, the department boasted 900 liberal studies majors. In the state of California, the Ryan Act of 1970 established liberal studies as a teacher preparation program, said Ranita Chatterjee, director of CSUN’s Liberal Studies Program. “The program is fabulous because it’s the closest you can get to being prepared to go get that job,” Chatterjee said. “Students are really getting a focused degree from the very beginning. They know what they want, and we have the program for them. We are giving them all the knowledge, skills and tools needed.” The program includes a number of components designed to educate and prepare teacher candidates to improve literacy in elementary-aged children, and involve their families in the process, in response to California’s impending teacher shortage. The major teacher shortage on the horizon is the result of several factors, including a large number of teacher retirements, and incoming teachers not being trained and fully prepared due to the recent recession. Liberal Studies has five programs aimed at helping prepare student teachers.

The two key pieces are the Integrated Teacher Education Program (ITEP) and the Literary Scholars for the Future of Los Angeles (LSLA). Within ITEP, students may choose to focus on elementary education or special education. Freshmen participants join a CSUN cohort of approximately 25 to 30 undergraduates each year. Each cohort spends the next four years learning and working together, including two summers. “The ITEP program prepares undergraduate students who have chosen the teaching profession at the beginning of their college years,” said Joyce Burstein, professor and chair of the Department of Elementary Education. “These teacher candidates take subject matter courses that connect with education practices their first semester at CSUN. “This marriage of subject matter and field work in classrooms makes teaching a reality to these students,” Burstein said. “They get to observe and practice how teachers work with children in K-5 classrooms, while making sense of why they need to understand how math and other subjects are applied. It is exciting to see these teacher candidates’ development of their skills and confidence over four years.” From day one, student-teachers are required to dedicate at least 15 hours per semester to participating and conducting in-classroom observations at elementary schools. They also take units of specialization in areas of concentration such as art or sciences.

The Literary Scholars for the Future of Los Angeles scholarship program is a nine-unit certificate literacy concentration within both ITEP options. This program includes three required courses: linguistics, special education and Chicano and Chicana studies. The linguistics class focuses on how young children acquire language, and the special education class covers how teachers must handle stratified learning in the classroom. The Chicana and Chicano studies course explores children’s literature and discusses strategies for increasing the joy of learning and literacy among Latino children and English-language learners. CSUN’s Liberal Studies Program has partnered with schools in the Valley that have a large English-language learner population, giving the undergraduates the opportunity to create lesson plans for families and students, and implement those plans within the elementary classrooms. CSUN, particularly the Eisner College, provides teacher training for the majority of the Valley and has the highest retention rate of teachers in local districts, Burstein noted. “We are the largest producer of Los Angeles Unified School District teachers from the CSU system,” she said. “Our departments work closely with local school districts to provide the initial credentialing, and many of our students come back for a master’s degree.” —Vanessa Saenz and Olivia Herstein