Forty-six-year-old Josefina Matus, a behavioral therapist and mother of 11 children, had always wanted to be a teacher. So when she was accepted to San Francisco Unified School District’s Pathway To Teaching program, she was overcome. She couldn’t believe that she — a Latina — could get the job. “I always had teachers of other cultures,” and it was rare to encounter teachers who looked like me, she said.
Matus joined the Pathway program in 2019 and has been teaching and managing a classroom ever since.
The Pathway program — started in the 2017-18 academic year — is now in its fifth iteration, averaging about 59 interns every year. The program fast-tracks teachers into classrooms. Interns begin their coursework in the spring, get six weeks of intensive training over the summer, and begin teaching at the start of the academic year while concurrently completing their credentialing requirements.
The program is designed to attract those who would not have been able to pursue their teaching credentials, “like an after-school provider or a parent, who can’t go to school full-time,” and needs to draw a salary, said Kristina Alvarez, who supervises the program.
Once interns begin teaching, they manage one of three areas: special education, Spanish bilingual or multiple subjects. Matus chose the special education track and supports children who need help in reading, mathematics and behavior. “I teach, I’m a case manager and I observe students in classrooms,” she explained.
Matus loves her job and finds it fulfilling, especially in moments when she sees a student gaining confidence in his own abilities. She related the story of a fourth-grader who struggles with reading. He is often frustrated and feels like the rest of the class is making fun of him. Matus finally made headway with the boy when he found a marble and walked over to show it to her. Instead of making him anxious by removing the marble from him, Matus offered to play a game. She enclosed the marble in her fist and asked him to pick the hand it was held in. He kept picking the wrong hand since Matus had deftly hidden the marble in her sleeve. When the boy started giggling, “a natural, sincere giggle, I knew at that moment that I touched his soul. That was the moment I connected with him,” Matus said, adding that there are many such moments in her job.
The program was started for the “anticipated teacher shortage” and “to diversify the teaching force in San Francisco, to ensure that the teachers in San Francisco are more representative of the students,” Alvarez outlined.
The teacher shortage is still a problem in the school district. Laura Dudnick, public relations manager at SFUSD, wrote in an email that there were 42 classroom teaching positions available at the moment. And that “special education positions have been our hardest to recruit and hire for this year.”
Retention, too, is a consideration, and Alvarez emphasized that they look for applicants from San Francisco who have connections to The City’s communities and schools. Matus is a San Francisco native, having grown up in the Portola Valley area and has previous ties to SFUSD, having worked as a paraeducator in the late 1990s.
As for the program’s second goal of diversity, 77% of the current cohort are teachers of color.
Current cohort race/ ethnicity data sent by PTT staff:
American Indian or Alaska Native 2%
Black or African American 11%
Middle Eastern/Arab 2%
Prefer not to disclose 4%
The Pathways program, according to Matus, is a “Plan B,” meant for candidates who want to teach while getting their teaching credentials, as opposed to spending time and money getting a master’s in education. “But Plan B doesn’t make you less professional or less intelligent,” she argued.
While it is a matter of concern that teachers without completing their credentials are managing children, the other option is far more dismal: classrooms without teachers. Schools across the state are struggling to fill positions, especially in special education, mathematics and science, and grappling with high turnovers because of low salaries and high student loans. A 2018 report from the Learning Policy Institute found that “California districts report dealing with shortages by hiring long-term substitutes or teachers with substandard credentials, leaving positions vacant, increasing class sizes, or canceling courses.”
But uncredentialed teachers are not an anomaly. Consider the Teach for America program, which recruits college graduates to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools that serve disadvantaged students after a mere five-week training program. A World Bank blog called it the “the best known alternative pathway into teaching.” Pathway To Teaching is not much different. A bachelor’s degree is required to apply to the program and, additionally, the program ensures that interns pursue their teaching requirements for a lifelong career in education.
Pathway To Teaching has received funding from Salesforce and from the district. Each intern also pays $5,000 toward tuition. However, to offset the fees, interns get a salary as soon as they start teaching. “We keep the price point affordable to make sure we decrease the barriers to becoming a teacher in San Francisco,” Alvarez commented. The starting salary for intern teachers is $54,289.
However, Matus admitted that the pay is not enough to live in San Francisco. “Because I’m married and my husband has a good-paying job, I’m able to have a career as a teacher,” she said. Even two years into her teaching position, and with two salaries, she and her husband cannot afford to live in San Francisco. They in live in Patterson (Stanislaus County), 90 miles away.
One of the questions Matus was asked during the interview process was how she relates to students. She remembers responding that since she was shy herself, she could identify the student being left behind. “The one who doesn’t answer, the shy student. The overlooked student.”
While not perfect, the Pathway To Teaching program puts teachers like Matus in classrooms that are most at risk and bridges gaps in our schools for the benefit of our children.
For more information about Pathways To Teaching, visit:https://www.sfusd.edu/pathway-teaching/about-pathway-teaching.
Jaya Padmanabhan is a journalist and author and is the director of programs at Ethnic Media Services. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan.