Teacher pipeline

High schoolers say they don’t want to be teachers. Inside one school that’s working to turn the tide

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Dianne Esposito teaches a methodology class in New Dorp High School's Future Teachers Academy.

One day early in the school year, the pre-K students at P.S. 50 on Staten Island were learning how to write their names.

Jeanette Tenantitla Serrano leaned over the tot-sized table to help a little boy navigate the loops and curves of each letter, but the best he could do was fill the page with illegible lines. He had a learning disability and lagged behind his peers.

“I felt bad because he wasn’t understanding as quickly as the other students,” Tenantitla remembered. “I felt like I didn’t understand what I was doing.”

Later into the school year, Tenantitla would be overcome with a much different feeling — pride — when the same boy called out to her as she left the classroom for the day. For him, it was a sign of progress.

“He had never said bye to anyone,” Tenantitla said. But he had made the connection. “He was like, ‘Oh, she’s leaving. You say bye when someone’s leaving.’”

Tenantitla is only a senior in high school at New Dorp on Staten Island. But little moments like these, all pulled from an internship experience, have helped confirm what she always knew: She wants to become a teacher.

Tenantitla is one of 350 students in the Future Teachers Academy, a hands-on program designed to give high school students a taste of what the job entails. The principal there says the academy is in high demand among students.

But across the country, the story is very different. With the economy humming and teachers often at the center of heated political debates, one recent survey found that only four percent of high school graduates want to be teachers. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs plummeted by 40 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to a report by the New York State School Boards Association.

That’s why initiatives like the Future Teachers Academy are so important to schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. She thinks middle and high schools can help turn the tide, and is encouraging them to start clubs and offer electives to get students thinking about teaching.

This year, the city launched nine “Educators Rising” clubs in Brooklyn schools, with students meeting weekly to learn more about what it means to work in a classroom. In addition, every borough has a “teaching” high school like New Dorp. There, students who select the teaching track (as opposed to other offerings like forensic science or culinary arts) take a sequence of electives on topics like classroom management, building a lesson plan and early childhood development.

“This is my pet interest right now,” Fariña recently told Education Dive. “If we don’t expose kids to what the beauty is of working and teaching someone something, we’re going to miss [out] on this opportunity.”

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Getting students excited about teaching is more than a lofty goal — it’s essential. Across the country, school districts are struggling to find teachers, with some throwing millions of dollars into recruitment efforts and others scrambling to waive certification standards.

There is general agreement that New York City, the country’s largest school district, has not suffered the shortages seen elsewhere in the country — but that depends on how you define a shortage.

The city employs more than 76,000 teachers across the five boroughs, with about 6,000 hired annually. In one year alone, the Department of Education received almost 17,000 applications, according to figures provided at a recent City Council education committee hearing on teacher retention and recruitment.

Yet, despite the crush of applicants, not every classroom vacancy is filled. New York City faces a hiring crunch in 13 different subjects or certification areas this school year, including bilingual and special education, as well as middle- and high-school science. That’s according to a listing of teacher shortages by location and discipline published by the U.S. Department of Education.

Meanwhile the number of New York City teachers who resigned in 2015 was 38 percent higher than the number who resigned in 2010, according to the United Federation of Teachers. And Teach for America recruitment in New York City is at its lowest point in more than a decade.

The city and state, along with local colleges and universities, have dedicated considerable effort to preparing, hiring and retaining more teachers. NYC Men Teach recruits male teachers of color, who currently make up only 8.5 percent of the teaching force. Through NYC Teaching Fellows, the city trains recent grads and career-changers to become educators.

State and city initiatives, such as “Teachers of Tomorrow” or the “Master Teacher” program, aim to keep educators in the classroom by boosting paychecks — by $20,000 per year in some cases — for working in high-needs schools or becoming a coach to fellow teachers.

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At New Dorp High School on Staten Island, there’s a different tactic at work: Getting young people excited early so they’ll one day enter the field. Principal Deirdre DeAngelis said the Teachers Academy, which incoming students can request to join, is almost always full.

“I hear from seventh-graders, ‘Please, please, please save me a seat. There’s nothing more I want to do in my life other than be a teacher,’” she said. “This cycle of cultivating our own teachers is really remarkable, because you get to mold really solid, confident, prepared teachers.”

Before sophomore year, Toni Ann Wade wasn’t convinced that she wanted to become a teacher. Then she took a “teaching methodology” course with teacher Dianne Esposito. Esposito spends a good deal of time emphasizing the importance of building student-teacher relationships — and models that by building them with her own students, whom she calls her “children.”

After realizing the impact she could have, Wade’s mind is now set on becoming a teacher.

“It made you see the other side of teaching. It’s not paperwork. It’s relationships,” she said. “Someone could see my name on a [class] schedule and get excited … It’s cool to think you could be that person one day.”

Not every aspect of teaching is so rewarding, the New Dorp students learn. Sure, there’s summer vacations. But Frank Guglielmo, who teaches a “Foundations in Education” elective, makes sure his students get a taste of the hard work that comes with delivering an effective lesson.

Over the course of six months, Guglielmo leads students through reading a popular book, picking a chapter to teach, drafting a lesson plan and then, finally, presenting it to their classmates.

“Getting up to teach a lesson is actually quite challenging for some kids,” Guglielmo said. “Preparation is paramount, and we cover that in so many ways.”

Chamald Martin, a junior, didn’t realize how tough the job could be until he learned the planning that goes into standing in front of a class for 45 minutes and, as he puts it, saying something that makes sense.

“I thought it was overnight — you did it before you went to sleep. You gave the lesson the next day,” he said. “That’s what I thought.”

Perhaps the most valuable part of the program comes senior year, when students take on internships in local elementary schools. In college-level teacher preparation programs, aspiring teachers often wait until well into the program to spend significant time in a real classroom.

New Dorp’s approach of starting early is beneficial, said Deirdre Armitage, a director at the College of Staten Island School of Education.

“It exposes them quite early to whether or not they want to be teachers,” she said. “We have students — they have two, three years of the program, and then when it comes time for student teaching they’re like, ‘I don’t know if I really like this.’”

For New Dorp senior Tenantitla, the experience brought the opposite reaction. Working with students has provided reassurance that she’s on the right path.

“When I see them do something they didn’t think they could, it’s rewarding,” Tenantitla said. “I just like seeing them ‘get’ something.”

New role

Principal Donna Taylor retiring from Brooklyn School of Inquiry, moving to DOE

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry

Brooklyn School of Inquiry Principal Donna Taylor announced this week she is stepping down from her position next month.

Taylor, who has been with the Bensonhurst school since it opened in 2009, will take a position with the Department of Education, where she will support principals implementing progressive education and gifted and talented programs — two focuses of BSI. The school, which runs from kindergarten to eighth grade, is one of five gifted and talented schools open to children citywide.

“BSI was created by a team who believes that students need an inquiry-based, arts-infused curriculum, steeped in technology, where everyone is encouraged to think critically,” Taylor said in a statement. “We came together down here in Bensonhurst to grow our practice and build capacity. I am proud of the work I’ve done together with the school’s community to build and grow BSI.”

Her announcement comes the same week that BSI graduated its first cohort of eighth-graders. Moving forward, Taylor is working with other school staff and her superintendent, Karina Constantino, to ensure a smooth transition. A new principal has not yet been named.

BSI is the only citywide gifted school that participates in the city’s Diversity in Admissions program. The admissions pilot allows principals to set aside a percentage of seats for students who are low-income, English learners or meet other criteria. In the case of BSI, the school set aside 40 percent of its available kindergarten seats for low-income students.

While it met that target in its admissions offers this year, it had few open seats because siblings of current BSI students get priority. That meant that only 20 slots were reserved for low-income students.

It will be up to Taylor’s successor, alongside city officials, to decide where to take the pilot program next.

“We have no way of knowing what the new leadership will do or who they will be or what their position will be on the program,” said Sara Mogulescu, the parent of two children currently studying at BSI. “But I know there is a very strong core of commitment to that pilot and to continue to strengthen our community in all kinds of ways, regardless of whether Donna is the principal.”

Despite her many accomplishments, Taylor’s eight years at the helm of BSI were not without controversy. In 2014, Taylor made headlines for a comment she made at an open-house meeting at BSI. She remarked to prospective parents, “If you don’t speak Spanish, you’re going to clean your own house.” Taylor subsequently apologized.

Mogulescu said Taylor had built a solid foundation at BSI, and she and other parents were confident about the school’s future — and Taylor’s.

“As much as we are all sad to see her go,” she said, “I think the parents take solace in the fact that she is going to be spreading her wisdom and experience to other schools.”

planning ahead

Big assignment for group of Colorado education leaders: rethink the state’s education priorities

File photo of student at Marrama Elementary School in northeast Denver. (The Denver Post)

A newly constituted group of educators, lawmakers and state officials led by Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne will be charged with creating a sweeping new strategic plan for education in Colorado.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order this week giving that task to a reconstituted Education Leadership Council, which formed in 2011 but has become inactive.

The new-look council will identify statewide priorities for how to better educate the state’s children so they can contribute to Colorado’s workforce, according to the order.

In an interview Thursday with Chalkbeat, Lynne said she expects the plan to include recommendations for how the governor’s office, relevant state departments, the legislature or others can work toward the state’s goals.

The group will begin meeting in August and will spend its first year setting priorities. It is supposed to give recommendations for possible legislation by 2018 or 2019.

Lynne said various state departments and groups already work on initiatives tied to education, but “we don’t have a place where we weave it all together.”

For example, Lynne said, the group could examine whether certain districts still need help getting access to the internet, whether students are being introduced to STEM careers early enough and whether graduates are prepared for the workforce.

Having a strategic plan and clear goals for what schools should be accomplishing could also give officials a better chance of changing school finance, Lynne said, if the group determines that is needed. Reports routinely rank Colorado near the bottom in per pupil funding among states.

“I think it’s hard when people want to talk about changing school finance or they want to address things like compensation for teachers, if you don’t have the core foundation of what do we want to achieve and how do we get there,” Lynne said.

Bipartisan legislation introduced this spring would have created a group with similar goals, but Republicans killed the so-called “vision” bill. Critics said the bill would have created more state bureaucracy and potentially conflicted with school districts’ strategic plans, and called it a ploy to ultimately ask taxpayers for more money.

Lynne said the group commissioned by the governor — which will have as many as 25 members — will include a diverse group of people representing different interests across the state to ensure local districts have a say in the statewide work. It will include directors from five state departments, a superintendent, a school board member, a teacher and a principal.

The original Education Leadership Council was commissioned in 2011 by a Hickenlooper executive order. Recently the group stopped meeting. Members’ terms had expired, and excitement had decreased after the 2013 defeat of Amendment 66, which would have raised taxes for schools. The council helped push for the measure.

When Lynne succeeded Joe Garcia as lieutenant governor, she said she knew she wanted to revive the group.

Her office started planning to regroup the Education Leadership Council in late 2016 before the legislature considered the same work, but she said she paused while legislators considered their bill. When that effort failed, Lynne said her office got back to organizing the council.

The group, Lynne said, will work under a shorter timeline than the one outlined in the failed bill.

Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican who sponsored the “vision” bill, said the council is the right avenue for this kind of work.

“The legislature is not suited for long-term strategic thinking,” Rankin said. “It’s more about shorter-term action. This is a better way to do it — with our involvement.”

Sponsors of the vision bill, including Rankin, will be part of the leadership council.

Here is a copy of the executive order:



EO Education (Text)