Finding a Pathway to Teaching Feature Story

May 04, 2021

Orange County’s community college teacher education programs are molding heroes.

Steve Bautista is among those at the helm, having served as a professor, counselor and program coordinator at the Santa Ana College’s Center for Teacher Education for the past 21 years. At the Center for Teacher Education, Bautista oversees the daily operation of a multifaceted academic and student services program aimed at preparing the next generation of educators – educators recognized as heroes during National Teacher Day on May 4 and Teacher Appreciation week throughout the first week of May.

“Teachers and other educators provide food, resources, counseling, a safe space, a quiet place for children young and old to study,” Bautista said. “All that was gone when schools shut down during the pandemic, yet every teacher I know worked above and beyond to make the remote experience as positive as it could be.”

Serena Vasquez is among them. The former Santa Ana College student went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in child and adolescent studies from Cal State Fullerton and is now teaching at Orange County Head Start.

“It feels rewarding to work here with the little ones, to get them started on their education, to help mold them to be good kids, to teach them about proper behavior and manners and to introduce them to letters and numbers and prepare them for kindergarten,” said Vasquez. 

Vasquez had been contemplating a teaching career when she first enrolled at Santa Ana College, but her mind was made up after learning about the Center for Teacher Education. “It was nothing but support,” she said. “Conferences were offered, workshops were available, guidance was in place. It was all critical in setting me on a path to where I am now and it encouraged me to become a teacher.”

Funding from the LA/OC Regional Consortium Strong Workforce Program has played a major role, Bautista said, by supporting teacher preparation initiatives, outreach, pre-professional development, and connecting students with jobs. 

“All of our colleges in Orange County were at different levels when we started this and the Strong Workforce Dollars have helped us work together, coordinate our efforts, build capacity, and really strengthen curriculum.”

Included is the Orange County Careers in Education Pathway Collaborative, a Strong Workforce Program-funded partnership that includes seven of the region’s nine community colleges – Santiago Canyon, Santa Ana, Fullerton, Irvine Valley, Golden West, Saddleback, and Coastline – to create streamlined high school-to-career pathways. The Pathway Collaborative addresses the growing demand for teachers by developing early work-based learning opportunities, improving diversity, creating certificates and degrees that lead to employment, and bolstering transfer pathways to bachelor’s degree and state credentialing programs.

Some 55% of students who earn a credential through the California State University system started their journey to becoming a teacher at a California community college.

“Good teachers change lives,” said Janis Perry, project director of the Orange County Careers in Education Pathway Collaborative and chair of Santiago Canyon College’s Education Department. They believe that all students can learn and they’re committed to making a difference in society. Those are the people we’re looking for. Those are the ones our programs are here to support.”

Santiago Canyon College’s Pathways to Teaching Program is one such initiative; it offers counseling services for future teachers, opportunities for volunteer and fieldwork experience, workshops, and more.

Bautista found his path to education while studying as a graduate student studying psychology at Cal State Fullerton and working as a graduate assistant at the Santa Ana College Transfer Center. He ended up pivoting to a focus on counseling and teaching. He’s been working at community colleges for more than two decades since.

His responsibilities are focused on identifying people who want to become teachers and building partnerships with colleges and universities. “I have had the opportunity to work with students who progress to become teachers, counselors, high school principals, professors, and even the president of a community college. It’s very rewarding,” he said.

“One of the things we do at a community college is help our students determine the best setting for them to work in. Is it preschool, elementary, special education, high school, college? Maybe it’s not even teaching. Maybe it’s counseling. As they enter the pipeline, we help them discern the kind of setting they would be most comfortable working in,” shared Bautista.

“I like helping students figure it all out and get them on a path toward their passion.”