By Malissa Ramos
While other little girls played “house,” young Jodie Podeszwik and Markaley Smith played “school,” imagining themselves as teachers standing in front of a room full of students.
Today, Podeszwik and Smith no longer have to pretend or imagine. After many years of hard work and education, they both have become teachers. Without the SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union’s five-year, $500,000 grant to Cal State Long Beach’s Urban Teacher Academy in a Clinical Home (UTEACH) program, the journey for Podeszwik and Smith would have been more difficult.
Each year, in addition to the substantial amounts of funds allocated to program support, the SchoolsFirst FCU UTEACH grant awards five $5,000 competitive scholarships and provides $1,500 to $3,000 stipends for all program participants. Podeszwik and Smith were the first to be awarded the competitive scholarships in 2015.
Winning the SchoolsFirst FCU competitive scholarship brought Smith a sense of relief. Before receiving the scholarship, Smith was worried how she would pay for rent and tuition while teaching full time without compensation.
“The scholarship allowed me to completely focus on planning and preparing myself to be the best teacher possible,” said Smith. “Having a full year of focusing all my energy on teaching led to great strides in my teaching capabilities.”
Smith’s inspiration to becoming a teacher came from her mother, a high school math teacher for more than 20 years. “She was the first person to show me how much of a difference a teacher could make in a child’s life,” said Smith. “I knew that I wanted to do exactly that when I was ‘all grown up’.”
After completing the UTEACH program last year, Smith moved to San Jose and now teaches sixth grade at Santee Elementary. She teaches in a neighborhood where the majority of her students are impoverished, so she feels it is imperative to know the other factors that might be affecting their behavior and emotions.
“I love to get to know my students personally because it allows me to better teach them. I can really differentiate my instruction and personalize the way that I teach my students,” she said.
Smith’s future goal is to continue working in low-income schools that need motivated teachers and grow as a professional educator by attending workshops and conferences.
Podeszwik knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was in kindergarten. “So the fact that I am one now is nothing short of a dream come true,” said Podeszwik. “I had amazing teachers growing up and so they inspired me and showed me what a positive difference teachers can make in student lives.”
After graduating from the UTEACH program in 2015, Podeszwik moved back to her hometown of San Diego and worked as a substitute teacher in the Poway Unified School District for a year. This past July, Podeszwik’s lifelong dream came true and she was hired as a first-grade teacher at Turtleback Elementary.
Podeszwik teaches 26 students — 25 general education students and one student who is mainstreamed from a Special Education class. She loves seeing her students have “light bulb” moments when they understand something she teaches them.
“I love seeing my students smile and light up when I do something special for them or plan something that I know they will enjoy. I love seeing the growth in my students in just 11 short weeks. And I love the connection I have made with each of my students,” she said.
Podeszwik acknowledged that the SchoolsFirst FCU scholarship helped tremendously in progressing her teaching career. She said the scholarship helped fund her fifth year in college when she was student teaching and allowed her to put everything she had learned into practice.
“I grew so much in that year and learned more than I ever thought I could,” said Podeszwik. “That last year of college I went from being a ‘teacher-in-training’ to being a real teacher in a classroom every day.”
Felipe Golez, CSULB professor of teacher education, said Podeszwik stood out from other student teachers because she seemed tireless.
“I remember [Podeszwik] because I was her university supervisor for a year. She was a super, super hardworking, take charge kind of student teacher,” said Golez.
“A lot of student teachers are super dedicated, but she in particular had very special leadership skills. She was one of those people that were always on time, always volunteering, always taking charge.”
Podeszwik is currently in the process of clearing her teaching credential and hopes to teach for a few years before she pursues her master’s degree. “I would like to get my master’s in Educational Leadership so I can be a principal one day, but I would love to teach for a very long time and be one of those teachers who sees their old students become teachers,” said Podeszwik.
Paul Boyd-Batstone, CSULB professor and Department Chair of Teacher Education, said the SchoolsFirst FCU gift has not only benefitted teacher candidates, but several teaching programs and the Long Beach community as a whole.
The UTEACH clinical practice model has been so successful that, in November, SchoolsFirst FCU extended the scope of its support to include the College of Education’s new Urban Dual Credential Program (UDCP), which allows students to concurrently earn both a Multiple Subject and Special Education credential. UDCP student teachers learn to teach in a high-need urban school setting alongside master teachers in this two-year clinical placement model.
“I love seeing my students smile and light up when I do something special for them or plan something that I know they will enjoy. I love seeing the growth in my students in just 11 short weeks. And I love the connection I have made with each of my students.”
Besides scholarships and stipends for teacher students, the SchoolsFirst FCU UTEACH grant also supports innovative programs for the community through special family nights organized by UTEACH students. Instead of STEM nights, the grant has allowed the students to expand the programs to STEAM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics—and these STEAM nights have provided parents the opportunity to engage with their children in the learning experiences. The SchoolsFirst FCU grant covered the costs of the community STEAM nights.
Boyd-Batstone explained the SchoolsFirst FCU UTEACH program has provided a strong pipeline of well-prepared teachers to the school district itself.
“Our superintendent, Christopher Steinhauser, from Long Beach School District, has been so impressed with the quality of the candidates coming up,” said Boyd-Batstone. “He looks first to hire them.”
Most importantly, the UTEACH program prepares teachers who are dedicated and engage with their students. “They’ve had an intense experience where they understand that teaching is not something you learn in one year, you continue to do it,” said Golez.
By Malissa Ramos