Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Licensing and the Mobile, Workin' MilSpouse

I've had blog topic request from Noelle, one of my super followers and BFFs in real life!  Noelle spotted this hot topic on DoD Live, entitled Military Spouses: State Licensing Process and Your Career and wanted me to weigh in on the subject.  Eager to oblige, I thought I'd share my thoughts with you and my own experience with licensing.

Background Info
I was born, raised, and educated in California public schools.  When DH and I met, I was a special ed paraeducator (teacher's aide) and I was completing my teaching credential in special education (mild to moderate disabilities).  When you get credentialed in California, you have a prelimary credential, which is only a temporary license.  If you don't "clear" it, you lose your license.  Clearing your credential takes two years of experience (as a fully credentialed teacher, not an intern) and the successful completion of an induction program during that time (a two year program based out of your school).  After that point, you can apply for your clear credential.

As you can see from the blurb above, the process required to get your initial license doesn't jive with the military's habit of moving people around.  Ideally, you will remain employed at your initial school during this entire two year period.  If you move around, you run the risk of messing up your induction program, although you'd get your experience in.  Induction is a huge pain in the ass, as any California trained teacher will tell you.  I haven't even thrown in the fact that your program itself is probably a year and a half long, bringing you up to 3.5 years to solidify everything and ensure that your credential is cleared.  You feel me yet?  Hope the military keeps you stable for 3.5 years, or else it's going to get complicated.

Requisite Characteristics
If you're going to have your own career while your spouse is in the military, you can't go about it casually.  You're either in and committed 100% or you're not.  If you're not, you're not going to be successful.  Sacrifice is always the name of the game, and there's no less required here.  When I cleared my credential, I did a combo program with my Master's degree.  It made sense for my career.  With just a couple more classes and a comprehensive exam, I could wrap up my credential and get my Master's degree in the same shot.  The trade off meant being physically separated from DH.  We spent a good 21 months apart while he was in Korea, North Carolina, and I stayed behind in California finishing my program.  We sacrificed our time together and had to financially maintain two households when he was in North Carolina.  Luckily, California's high cost of living meant a higher salary for me, so it all worked out.  We visited each other as much as possible, spending at least $600 each time I flew to NC (I went four times), and a $1000 plane ticket to Korea when he was unaccompanied.  But, I digress...

The Cost of Licensure
The costs associated with our mobile careers go beyond just an application fee here and there.  I can only begin to describe to you the hurdles I've had to jump over in order to get where I'm at.  I'll try to do so now, in bullet form!
  • North Carolina - NC required that I take two tests to verify that I was Highly Qualified by their standards, despite the fact that I had three years of experience at this point.  The tests themselves were $210, but because California doesn't require them, one of the tests wasn't even available to take at a CA testing center.  Yes, I had to travel five hours away to Las Vegas (no, not a party trip) so that I could take a test and turn around and come back the next day.  Factor in the gas money, lodging, food, etc.  I got off easy because I had a PGR friend who had a home there, so I hitched a ride and stayed with him.  Passing the tests wasn't an issue, but consider the fact that later that year the state of NC decided those tests weren't valid for determining Highly Qualified status - for anyone in the state - I would've had to either go back to school for more classes or take yet another test if I would've stayed in NC.
  • Colorado - Again, more tests were required!  I'd been teaching math for a total of four years now, but I wasn't Highly Qualified by their standards (are you seeing a theme yet?).  Despite the fact that I taught lower level math to students with mild to moderate disabilities, I was required to take the regular education math test, complete with calculus, matrices, you name it.  It was daunting, to say the least.  The first test I took was $130 and I failed it because it was so beyond the scope of my knowledge.  I then took the CO-specific math test (once I got out to Colorado) for $95 and passed it.  Don't forget that $140 calculator that I was (fortunately) able to borrow in order to take the test!
  • Transcripts - Everyone wants them!  Departments of Education, employers, etc.  My UCLA ones are $5 a pop and the CSULB ones run $2 each after the $4 first one.  I've purchased tons of them over the years, especially when I started applying to multiple school districts.
  • Licensure Applications - From fingerprinting fees, background check fees, to application fees, I've had to pay them all.
I don't want to add it all up, and you get the point.  I think I've only ever griped about the testing fees, but  I know it's all a nice chunk of change.  To me, it's all just part of the process if I'm going to continue in the career I love.  Can the government help make this process easier?  You bet.  Do I think it'll happen anytime soon?  Not likely.  It's a systems change that will take years to accomplish.  I can't speak for any other professions other than education, but it'll require all of the states to get on the same page about Highly Qualified status.  What is Highly Qualified?  What exams are going to be required to prove that competency?  The testing company selected will be pulling in more cash than ever before, and those folks already gouge us to death.  All of this is even more complicated when you throw in the special ed factor, as many states still don't know what to do about special ed teachers.  A special ed teacher with a self-contained class may teach all core subject areas.  Are these folks supposed to take (and pay for) standardized tests in all of those content areas?  Is that fair?  Many states haven't even answered this question for themselves, let alone thought about finding consensus amongst other states.

Testing aside, we still have licensure to contend with.  Will military spouses be required to put in new applications for every state they move to, or will there be some magical national credential?  Again, it requires everyone to be on the same page, and I just don't see that happening overnight, or even in the remaining portion of Obama's presidency.  National Board Certification is an option, but not a realistic one for a military spouse as it requires you to have three years of experience and participate in a three year certification program/process.  It also costs $2565 for application and assessment, and while some states (like NC) offer financial aid, it is dependent on you continuing to teaching in that state.

My Recommendations
If you intend to stay active in your career field while your spouse is active duty, you have to be proactive.  I can't stress that enough.  The second you hear about your next possible duty station, start looking at the websites for licensure in your field.  Find out what will be required that you don't already have underneath your belt - any tests?  Fingerprinting?  Fill out that application for licensure as soon as possible, as most employers won't even consider you if you don't have your certification/licensure in their state yet.  Keep transcripts for all of your colleges on hand, keep your resume up to date, and keep a list of supervisors that you can call on for letters of recommendation.  Don't wait around until you move to your new duty station.  My goal is to have a job ready to go by the time I hit my new state.  Yes, it can be done, and yes, I'm two for two.  :)  Experience and confidence go a long way, as well as your communication/interpersonal skills.  Once you have racked up a few licenses, make sure to renew them, especially if you're on active duty.  You never know when you'll be back in that state or if you'll decide to retire there.  I wasn't in NC long enough to clear their credential, but I plan to keep my California one current, just in case.

If you made it through this entire post, I applaud you!  I hope that you have found success in your career, in spite of and as a result of the military!


Noelle said...

friggity frack. I totally made a comment, and then b/c I hadn't logged in with Google Accounts, it vanished *poof* dang.
At any rate, I was saying - You make a very valid point that you have to stay active. Go big or go home, eh? :) I'm totally impressed that you're 2 for 2, as well. You're just awesome like that. No big deal

Erin said...

I hate it when that happens! You really do have to pour 100% of your efforts into the process. If you're wishy washy and not proactive/a go-getter, it just makes it all that more difficult. Thanks on the two for two! I think it really helped that I got three years (and my Master's) in one location before I moved on. That really helped when it came time to interview, since I had that much experience and education to back up my sparkling personality with. :)

Molly Danger said...

Totally going to interrupt... if you end up going to North Dakota, you can't EVEN teach here without a ND teaching license. If you managed to get the license, you'd literally have to kill off one of the teachers to take their spot. To get a ND teaching license you have to submit your transcripts pay 30 bucks, then pay 175 bucks then have them look at your transcripts and then turn you down and make you take more classes. No one outside of North Dakota has taken a History of North Dakota course, therefore, not qualified. Everyone I know that has the degree and experience, gave up. No one is teaching here, they're waiting to leave. It's too much of a hassle, too expensive, and not enough openings.

Erin said...

@Molly - Not an interruption at all! In none of the states I've been to have I *not* been able to have their credential, which is why I have three right now. How difficult is it for special ed teachers up there? I know it typically tends to be easier for us. I don't ever see us ending up in North Carolina, fortunately! ;)