Transitional kindergarten teachers get a boost from Brandman
Extended Education certificate program helps teachers meet new state regulations for teaching early learners.
Walk into a transitional kindergarten classroom and you’re likely to have a flashback to your own first days in school. The walls are a riot of festive drawings. Bins of toys, shelves full of construction paper, boxes of crayons, easels, a colorful rug – it’s all there.
What might not be obvious (particularly if you haven’t been in a kindergarten room in the last 20 years or so) is how this classroom differs from any other kindergartens. The answer is in what’s taught and what’s expected of the children said Dr. Faith Polk, who designed Brandman University’s Extended EducationTransitional Kindergarten (TK) Certificate.
A little history
In 2010, the state of California began shifting the cutoff for kindergarten from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, a date used by most other states for the minimum age. That created a gap for people expecting to send their older 4-year-olds to school. . Most districsts created transitional kindergartens, for students born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 of each year. Just as with regular kindergarten, districts receive average daily attendance (ADA) funds from the state to help pay for the programs.
Implementation of the new grade level is local, and initially there was little guidance about what to include. That changed when the state clarified that California Preschool Learning Foundations should be used for TK and created additional requirements for those who teach the new grade level, said Polk.
In 2014, the state added a requirement that TK teachers hired after July 1, 2015, would, in addition to their Multiple Subject Credential, need 24 units in early childhood education, a child development teacher permit or the equivalent experience as determined by the district.
With that in mind, Brandman’s School of Education and School of Extended Education created a Transitional Kindergarten Certificate program that meets the criteria required by the state and earns students the Child Development Master Teacher Permit, recognized across the state.
“Because I sit in the School of Education, which is highly unusual (for early childhood education faculty members at other universities), we were able to understand what multiple subject holders know and can do and what additional coursework would best prepare them to teach young children. We could be creative and use our ECE courses that focus on characteristics of younger children and the California Preschool Learning Foundations. Many already have master’s degrees and they’re not going to want to go back and take a lower division course that is basic. A fieldwork requirement can be completed at a teacher’s current school,” said Polk.
Polk’s work with local planning councils, particularly in Orange County, gave her a good understanding of what school districts would want. “I talked to our advisory board and the council and I worked with Extended Education and the School of Education curriculum team to really help shape what was needed,” she said.
A financial incentive
Even though Tara Holmes had enough experience teaching kindergarten and pre-kindergarten (called Preppy Kindergarten in her Huntington Beach School District) to continue working without additional education, she opted for the Brandman certificate because of stipends offered through the Orange County Local Planning Council and because additional education improves her salary.
“It’s also good to have somebody in our district as a TK master teacher,” she said.
The Huntington Beach School District began offering pre-kindergarten/transitional kindergarten as an option 11 years ago, and Holmes is “a huge proponent” of the programs.
But even with her years of experience and after having her own son complete transitional kindergarten last year, Holmes says she’s learned some new strategies and gained a greater understanding about the children in her classroom through her Extended Ed classes. The flexibility of online classes – even if she did feel like a guinea pig at times as one of the first people in the program –also worked well with her schedule as a teacher and parent.
Wendy Appleby, also among the first to begin coursework, has been teaching since the ‘90s, when first grade looked more like kindergarten does now.
“This is my first year with transitional kindergarten. It’s a new program at our school,” said Appleby, who teaches a combined transitional kindergarten and kindergarten class at Georgetown Elementary School in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
As a Chapman College alumna, she said, “I always look to my school to see what they’re offering. I like the eight-week sessions … the state reimbursement, so I just jumped right in. Also, being new to TK, I wanted the early childhood education that I need to help those kids.”
Her first class on social and emotional development provided the foundation she was seeking. “I truly believe social and emotional development is the key to teaching in general, but especially with young children. If they don’t feel that sense of belonging, of being loved and noticed and cared for, you’re not going to be able to teach them much else.”
Appleby said she hadn’t worked with 4-year-olds before this year so really appreciated the additional resources and the emphasis on strategies for working with younger children.
“It depends on the child, but for more developmentally young children, they’re a little needier. You’re kind of replacing mom. They’re looking for more from you in terms of social-emotional needs than 5- or 6-year-olds. Some of my students haven’t been to preschool, so I’m their first teacher,” said Appleby.
“I get to sing and dance and play, and they all love you. It’s pretty awesome,” she said.
Not without challenges
“There’s still a lot of controversy on a statewide level about transitional kindergarten and about it taking the place of preschool,” said Lorraine Weatherspoon who has taught early childhood education courses and is now teaching courses in the transitional kindergarten program through Extended Education.
Although a recent study from American Institutes for Research details the benefits of the program, transitional kindergarten and even kindergarten are optional for California students, who aren’t required to start school until age 6. Some parents opt for preschool with its fewer students-to-teacher ratio. Others need extended daycare without switching sites during the day. Transitional kindergartens also tend to be centered in a single school in a district rather than offered at each school, so a preschool closer to home may be a better choice.
Polk says transitional kindergarten and pre-K programs offered for free by public schools have had a negative impact on enrollment in preschools, including public programs such as Head Start.
No matter what program parents choose for the children, Polk said, young children need classrooms geared to their physical, cognitive, social and emotional development.
“My goal in teaching these (TK certificate) classes is to really give these teachers tools to help students learn how to regulate their emotions and learn the vocabulary they need to express their feelings. The teachers in the course have embraced the information. It’s almost as if they are exhaling a deep breath and saying ‘this is where my focus should be.’ They’re glad to learn this content so they can better support younger children,” said Weatherspoon, whose most recent class included students teaching special education, fourth and other grades.
“The goal is to teach children how to belong as part of a group and how to interact with others, to develop friendships. It’s a basis for later life,” said Weatherspoon.
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