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03 Jul 2013

Teaching How to Teach: A CSUSB-Palm Desert Program Gives Knowledgeable Professionals the Proper Credentials

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Retirement here in the Coachella Valley is generally a time when you expect to kick back and just enjoy life.

But when my husband died about three years ago, I couldn’t retire. I needed to go back to work.

In spite of a J.D. law degree, several years of experience teaching seminar classes, and having set up and run a training department within a corporation, I did not meet the standards to teach in California. Whatever you may think about our education system, California’s teacher-qualification rules are strict and specific.

It was purely by chance that I saw a small notice announcing a meeting for a program that allows individuals to capitalize on their previous experience to qualify to stand in front of a classroom. It was being offered by the California State University at San Bernardino, at their Palm Desert campus.

It was at that meeting that I met Dennis Larney.

If you saw Dennis Larney on the street, he would seem like all of those other guys you see in the retirement areas of the valley: He’s of a certain age, maybe a former businessman, in pretty good shape. You might assume he plays golf or tennis, likes movies, maybe enjoys classical music or standards, is probably married, and is relatively comfortable. Yet Larney is not what you would expect at all—and he is representative of a whole group of locals who are not content to “just enjoy life,” but instead feel compelled to share what they have learned.

Larney had a successful career in finance, including 16 years at General Electric and a stint heading up commercial lending at Chase. He spent time in Eastern Europe training emerging capitalists, and in spite of degrees including an MBA, Larney found himself lacking the legal credentials teach. That spurred him to enroll in the teaching credential program sponsored by CSUSB.

Now 78, Larney, a Palm Desert resident, is coordinator of the Career and Technical Education program on the CSUSB-PD campus.

“We all know our own subjects, but we don’t know how to teach,” he says. “A program like this really helps you define yourself so you can give back to help a new generation.”

Thanks to Larney’s affable enthusiasm for the program, I was sold. And the kicker was that CSUSB waives tuition for students older than the age of 60!

I expected my fellow students to be mostly like Larney and me: of a certain age, retired, experienced in the “real world” and wanting to share their knowledge. However, I found real diversity in the program—from the classically trained actress to the community organizer to the retired judge to the psychologist to the former U.S. Navy admiral, with a mixture of ages, races and backgrounds.

Among my classmates:

• John, 54, La Quinta, began working at 13, Air Force Russian translator, management background, completing his bachelor’s degree in psychology, volunteers with a local nonprofit support services agency: “My passion is helping others. I’m thinking about the future and retirement, and hope to do something I can carry on with in later years, perhaps as either a teacher or counselor to those coming behind me.”

• Rupert, 66, Rancho Mirage, documentary film producer, previously with NBC: “I think teaching is one of the most constructive things that talented folks with a lot of experience have left to do.”

• Mel, 91, aerospace engineer, worked on the Saturn moon missions and space shuttle, former contractor to the armed forces, forensic engineer and expert witness: “I would like to finish my working life as a teacher in designing space-mission boosters and vehicles.”

• Marilyn, 62, Palm Desert, recently divorced, running her own business-consulting company, experienced in sales and marketing presentations around the country: “I’m not sure I’ll actually teach, but the credential gives me options as I move forward with a new focus on my life.”

• Arnie, 76, Indio, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who studied culinary arts at College of the Desert and does comedy acting when he can get cast: “I needed to learn how to do a lesson plan and present my package of up-selling skills in a professional way.”

• Tom, 63, Rancho Mirage, a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly, post-grad studies in real-estate development, an urban planner: “I realized how little I really knew and how much there was to learn to be a better teacher. Over the past several decades, I’ve come to realize the importance of the role of higher education in economic development. This credential has given me a foundation to build upon and a focus on future mentoring. My instructors and fellow students are both interesting and inspiring.”

I agree with Tom: The people with whom I’ve shared this program are interesting, inspiring, motivated and committed to doing more than just relaxing and “enjoying life.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) They’ve gone on to teach reading and math in lower grades; teach business, marketing or law to adult students; private tutoring; volunteering; and consulting with local businesses and school districts. They remind me that we don’t always know our neighbors.

I figure if we’re still here, there’s still something we are supposed to do—if we can just figure out what it is. Regardless of one’s age, or perhaps because of it, Dennis Larney and CSUSB are offering the opportunity to help people figure things out.

What are you doing the rest of YOUR life?

For more information, visit pdc.csusb.edu/majorsprograms/careerTechnicalEducation.html. Anita Rufus is also known as "The Lovable Liberal," and her radio show airs every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM.

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