If you ask Bryan Wake he’ll admit it: he was never supposed to be a teacher, he came to LA to get into film. Bryan had been a theatre major and never thought he could be passionate about anything but theater and acting. Like most people interested in the industry, he had to start somewhere else, and so he took a job as a bank teller and began working for small production companies to get a foot in door. After a while, Bryan’s sister, a teacher, suggested substitute teaching as a “back-up plan.” Sure, he had always been involved with teaching in some way; he had taught Saturday theatre workshops for kids in Hawaii, teaching literacy through drama. He had worked with students at the YMCA or through Honolulu Theatre for Youth. He had been a youth group counselor at church. Bryan felt that LAUSD took good care of its subs in terms of pay and offering benefits after the first year, so he went ahead with the CBEST. He was still sure it wouldn’t become a career. He worked in the district as a sub for seven years before he got the assignment that would change his professional course, at a high school for students with multiple severe disabilities. It was only supposed to last two days.
Bryan describes the classroom as full of adults “with physical and cognitive disabilities; diapered, drooling, self-injurious.” And, he says, it was his perfect match. He was a new father. They needed a permanent teacher, he needed a permanent job. Even as they offered him the position, though, he had reservations. He called an old theatre friend who pointed out, “you need a degree to teach, not to do theater,” pushing him further in the direction that now seems like it was inevitable. And so that two-day job turned into five years in the same classroom and counting.
Of course, becoming a credentialed teacher didn’t happen overnight. Because he knew he wanted to stay in his classroom, Bryan turned to the intern program at California State University, Los Angeles. He had heard about it from a friend at his jobsite who was a student in the program. His principal told him he had to obtain an intern credential to keep his job, since he had been an emergency hire substitute. As a student at CSULA, Bryan says one of the best aspects of the program was having the opportunity to meet with other interns to “cry on each other’s shoulders.” Bryan also cites the intern group meetings a source of resources and support, naming topics he has enjoyed from learning how to work with support staff to finding teaching resources, websites and programs. Bryan stated that he appreciated the support of the program administrators who, he says, “were extremely encouraging, making you think about things you wouldn’t have thought about.” He adds that this “positive energy” makes the university and charter college feel like a smaller community; “you feel connected to people.”
Being a teacher, student, husband, and father has not been "easy", Bryan says, but he adds that the intern program has given him resources, allowed him to meet with other teachers, and provided on-site support. “It should be this way for any new teacher,” Bryan says, “whether you have your [intern] credential or not.” He identifies his support provider as someone who really kept him connected to the community, someone who knew the school site and how to deal with people there. It takes a while to fit in to a school when you get there, Bryan admits, and he felt that his support provider helped to get him to organize better, helped him to solve any problems with his classroom, administrators, and parents.
Today, Bryan is thankful for the experiences he has had at CSULA through the intern program. It has changed how he looks at all students, recalling working with a child who had learning disabilities and amazing art skills. “You see their strengths,” Bryan says, “more than just their disability.” Due to his professors, his classes, and the support of the intern program, Bryan says he has a strong foundation. He considers himself a highly qualified teacher, one who can walk into a classroom of this population and help these students. He adds that he hopes the program always continues because it has been extremely helpful to him. We, as teachers, he says, “are not an expenditure, we are an investment.”