On Saturday, Bryan Moxley graduated from Washington State University Vancouver with a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education.
Two days later, he was called for his first substitute teaching job: filling in for a middle school music teacher who had a medical emergency and didn’t have time to create lesson plans to follow. Moxley’s first task was helping sixth-grade band students practice marching.
Even though he’s a new teacher, he didn’t panic. Instead, he recalled his classroom training, the music games he’d learned in his education classes at WSU Vancouver and Clark College, and dug even deeper to the six years he’d spent playing in a school marching band.
Moxley credits the university’s thorough teacher training program and a rigorous new assessment, the edTPA, for his ability to keep calm.
“If wouldn’t have had the experience or the edTPA, I would have panicked,” Moxley said. “I wouldn’t have had anything up my sleeve as to what to do with the students. I had no behavior issues. It went really well.”
Moxley and 67 other student teachers at WSU Vancouver were among the first new teachers required to pass the rigorous teacher performance assessment (the source of the “TPA” in the assessment’s name). Washington and New York are the only states that require a passing score on this test before a person can obtain a teaching license. One hundred percent of the WSU Vancouver student teachers passed on their first try.
The edTPA assessment
It takes 40 to 50 hours for a student teacher to complete the three detailed, analytical tasks for assessment. First, they create three to five lesson plans for the unit they will teach, based around the Common Core standards. Then they shoot video of themselves working with specific type of students on those lessons. Finally, they analyze what they learned from each lesson and how effectively their students learned.
Every day for a month, Moxley arrived at school 90 minutes before class to work on his portfolio. Then he spent 10 hours reviewing to ensure everything was right before he submitted it.
“It’s a huge portfolio about your teaching,” Moxley said. “You have to write a planning commentary. You write up the research you’re using, why you’re teaching the way you are, how you’ll set up your lesson plans, how you’ll assess your students. Then you videotape yourself teaching. Then you write the instruction commentary and look for evidence that you engaged students, monitored their learning.”
The Washington Professional Educators Standards Board voted to make the assessment mandatory beginning January 2014. June Canty, who teaches WSU Vancouver students how to teach, is the only higher education representative on the board.
“Washington has been the lead state in piloting the edTPA assessment, and we’ve been in that mode for three years,” said Canty, professor in the College of Education at WSU Vancouver. “Student teachers all over the state have been taking very challenging assessment this spring.”
Canty said the 100 percent pass rate of her WSU Vancouver student teachers “is an important indicator of the quality of our program and teacher candidates.”
On Wednesday, Moxley was a substitute teacher in a fifth-grade classroom at Chief Umtuch Middle School in Battle Ground. It was a sunny day and already 70 degrees by 10 a.m. The beautiful weather beckoned to the fifth-graders, who were a little squirrely. More than one student mentioned going outside.
But Moxley kept his students focused on the language lesson that included matching definitions with the week’s spelling words: champion, organization, acceleration, devotion and more. He moved from table to table, helping students individually as needed.
When three girls in the back of the class were noisy, he asked, “Ladies, why don’t you move up front?”
The girls moved to the front table and within two minutes were focused again.
Straight out of high school, Moxley went to work for Hewlett-Packard as a loss prevention specialist. He made a decent wage, but when the company was restructuring, his pay and benefits were going to be cut. He’d already been taking classes at Clark College with the goal of being a teacher, so at point, he dove into school.
Now 34, the husband and father with two elementary school children is armed with his bachelor’s degree, a teaching certificate with an elementary education endorsement plus an English Language Learners endorsement. He’s applying for teaching jobs in Clark County and hopes he’ll be working full time in September. Until then, he’s ready to substitute teach.
“WSUV did a great job of preparing us for the task. I went into it knowing how to do the job,” Moxley said. “I feel more prepared learning. They’re trying to make sure you know how to be a successful first-year teacher.”