White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers
My name is Aramina Ferrer. For the past 17 years, I have served as the principal of P.S. 46 the Edgar Allen Poe Literacy Development School in the Bronx in New York City, the country's largest school system with 1.1 million school children. I am here today to talk about five of my new teachers, first-year practitioners who came to my school through a new program launched two years ago by the New York City Board of Education and The New Teacher Project.
I have a total faculty of 100 teachers in my school. Our student population is roughly 75% Hispanic, with the next largest group being African-American and a small number of Asian students. Over the years, hiring qualified staff has rarely been easy, and on more than one occasion, I've been forced to look outside the consistently insufficient pool of education graduates and certified teachers to fill my classrooms. Under emergency certification regulations, I have had the latitude to hire these "non-traditional" teachers, but the full weight of finding and supporting them has fallen on the school, which is incredibly time and resource intensive. My school is not alone in this issue—the New York City Board of Education employs 80,000 teachers, 18% of whom are not certified. Last year the system hired 8,000 teachers and only half of these were certified. Clearly this is neither a minor nor an isolated problem.
Two years ago, the Chancellor of the New York City Board of Education, Harold Levy made a decisive step to think differently about this problem. He had an idea, and brought in The New Teacher Project, a not-for-profit educational consulting firm with experience recruiting, selecting and preparing nontraditional teacher candidates. The Chancellor capitalized on new state regulations allowing for an alternate route into classroom, and engaged The New Teacher Project to create and wage a campaign to find outstanding mid-career professionals and recent graduates who were highly successful in their own endeavors and willing to commit not just to teach in schools in New York City, but to teach in the schools in New York City that needed them most. The Chancellor was convinced there was an untapped pool of prospective candidates in and around New York City, and The New Teacher Project helped the Board to articulate a message that reached and mobilized these people. Several of the candidates that I interviewed for my school told me specifically that it was the voice of the Chancellor in one of these radio ads, calling for "motivated, talented professionals—like you—to teach in one of the city's most challenging classrooms," that compelled them to apply.
I was not involved in the first year of the program, but as I understand it, The New Teacher Project and the Board encountered skepticism in the first year of the program. People were not convinced that mid-careers would take the risk, not convinced that the summer training program could prepare them to step into their own classrooms, not convinced that universities would participate in such a differentiated program, not convinced that the schools would accept them. It is now less than two years later, and here are some facts about the program:
- There have been over 15,000 applications to date.
- The program has maintained rigorous selection standards—the ratio of applications to positions through this program is 7:1.
- The average GPA is 3.2.
- The average age is 32, with a range from 21 to 66 years of age.
- 50% of program participants are people of color.
- 1,500 Teaching Fellows have been placed in hard-to-staff schools
- 13 colleges and universities have partnered to deliver on-going instruction and support.
As a result of this program, I had the rare experience of walking into a hiring hall last fall with more than enough qualified candidates to fill my positions. I turned down candidates with advanced degrees. I had the luxury of selecting between graduates of some of the best universities in the country. I had choice.
Let me give you a brief overview of the process through which the Fellows arrived in my school. In the spring of last year, candidates underwent a day-long group and individual interview; my five Fellows, and 1,100 others, were selected from a pool of almost 8,000 applications. The Fellows then interviewed with school principals like myself or district personnel to find a match within the hard-to-staff schools in the system, meaning I was able to interview and choose from among the Fellows those I believed most likely to succeed in my school. Once they were placed in my school, the Fellows spent long days in the summer preparing for their classrooms—their mornings in my summer school program, working hand in hand with full-time, experienced district faculty; their afternoons in coursework with university faculty; and their evenings with advisors who themselves came into teaching through alternative routes.
Once the school year began, the new Teaching Fellows were not alone. I assigned mentors from among my seasoned faculty to model instruction for the new teachers, to observe them, to counsel them, and to listen to them. I also paired the new teachers with other teachers as informal buddies—an informal ear or shoulder for them to seek out as needed. As part of their fellowship, the new teachers are continuing to take rigorous Master's level courses together at Adelphi University and are regularly observed by a university consultant. Finally, and this is incredibly powerful, they support one another. Because of their initial experiences together and the time they spend together through the summer training program and their Master's courses, these teachers have created a powerful professional and personal network among themselves and with others like them throughout the district.
Janet, a former media planner, now plans the days and activities of a class full of 2nd graders. Michell, previously a microbiologist, teaches math to 5th graders. Shari, who had been using her Master's in Social work from Fordham University in a youth and elderly counseling program, now teaches Kindergarten. Her class is creating a big book right now that very cleverly begins with, "I see a principal looking at me." Geraldine, who is returning to the workforce after 20 years of raising her own children, is a 3rd grade teacher. Her class recently completed a research project on Australia and their product, a beautiful calendar, is prominently displayed in my office. In planning her project, Geraldine approached our library media specialist to enlist her help to get the children on the Internet for researching and to ensure that the project covered the requisite parts of our social studies curriculum.
Overall, my five Teaching Fellows are performing wonderfully. They have struggled as all first year teachers do, they have worked far above and beyond what looks on paper like the hours of a teacher, and above all they have improved. I can proudly tell you that this group is not only doing as well as my other first year teachers, but in most cases observers are not able to tell they are first year teachers at all. Their previous work and life experiences give them a stability and depth that you don't often find in first-year teachers, and they recognize that ten minutes spent discussing their problems with another practitioner can equal two hours of struggling alone. One of the most important things to understand about first-year teachers is that their duties and responsibility to children is exactly the same as that of a veteran. Children can't wait for the new teacher to figure it out, they have to be engaged from day one. The Fellows have risen to that challenge, have shouldered the full weight of accountability for their students, and have consistently met my expectations. Their inherent drive, their previous experiences, the training they have received, and the support we are providing them at PS 46 all conspire to make them incredibly valuable additions to PS 46, District 10 and the New York City Board of Education.