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.”

Teens Take Charge

New York City students and podcasters team up to share stories of inequity in schools

PHOTO: Brett Rawson
Teens Take Charge is a student-led organization that hopes to spark change in schools.

If you ask Sherard Stephens, a senior at Hostos-Lincoln Academy of Science in the Bronx, there are two different types of schools in New York City: There are schools where resources are plentiful and students feel challenged academically. But there are dozens of others that barely provide the basics, and those largely cater to black, Hispanic and poor students.

Stephens and other students like him think it’s time to talk about that, which is why they’ve launched Teens Take Charge. The new group, which includes students from almost every borough, wants to give young people a voice when it comes to issues they know well: what goes on in their own schools.

“It’s all about us talking about the fact that we don’t have the resources to reach the same level of success,” he said.

On Friday, Teens Take Charge will host their first event at the Bronx Library Center. Through letters, storytelling and poetry, students will tackle issues such as segregation and standardized testing. They hope their stories, along with student-moderated discussions, will spark change within their schools.

Called “To Whom it Should Concern,” the event will also feature art work and a photo booth, and will be completely led by students. But they’ve had help along the way from Handwritten, an organization that focuses on the art of writing by hand, along with The Bell, a new podcast created by Taylor McGraw and Adrian Uribarri to highlight student voices.

McGraw teaches writing at Achievement First University Prep High School in Brooklyn and Uribarri works in communications. Their podcast, which launched this month, focuses on school segregation in New York City — more than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that separate schools for black and white students are inherently unequal.

The podcast was inspired by just a few lines in Chief Justice Earl Warren’s opinion in that case, in which he wrote that segregation “generates a feeling of inferiority” for minority students “that may affect their hearts and minds.”

McGraw wanted to explore the impact that segregation has on students by letting them speak for themselves.

“I want to know: How does it make them think about themselves? How does it make them think about society and their place in it? And then, what’s their response to it?” McGraw said. “So many of the other inequities that we talk about and hear about stem from segregation.”

He hopes to share clips from Friday’s event in an upcoming podcast episode.

For more information about To Whom it Should Concern, click here. To listen to the first episode of The Bell or read more about Teens Take Charge, click here.

maybe next year

Senate Republicans kill bill that would have taken broad look at public education in Colorado

Students at Vista PEAK Exploratory in Aurora work on a math assignment. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

A Republican-controlled state Senate committee spiked a bill Wednesday that was meant to spark a broad conversation about the future of Colorado’s public schools.

Some lawmakers hoped House Bill 1287 would help sell voters on raising taxes to better fund the state’s schools. But the Senate State, Military and Veterans Affairs committee voted 3-2 along party lines to kill the legislation, which would have created a series of committees to examine the state’s education laws and make recommendations for changing them.

Republicans objected to the bill because they didn’t want to create more bureaucracy, and they thought it was a ploy to raise taxes.

The bill’s demise was a defeat for a group of the state’s most authoritative lawmakers on education policy. It was one of the top legislative priorities for state Reps. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat, and Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican. Both serve of the state’s budget committee and rallied lawmakers around the bill.

Rankin called the bill the most important of his legislative career.

“I’m bitterly disappointed, although it was expected,” he said. “I certainly don’t intend to give up. We’ve worked for over three years to move this idea forward. We thought we built a bipartisan coalition that was interested and wanted to help. We thought we were making really good progress.”

Hamner also expressed dismay over the bill’s death.

“To die quietly like that in Senate was really, really surprising and disappointing,” Hamner said. “Do we still have a need to establish a vision for the future of our kids? Yes. Apparently we’re going to have to do that without our Senate majority.”

Last-minute amendments brought by state Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, to address Senate GOP leadership’s concerns could not save the bill.

Supporters of the bill said the legislature needed to step in to help rethink Colorado’s education landscape holistically, not with piecemeal legislation. The state’s laws are outdated and clash with 21st century expectations, they said at Wednesday’s hearing.

“Our current collection of policies and laws have failed to keep pace with changes in expectations of our education system,” said Mark Sass, a Broomfield high school teacher and state director of a teacher fellowship program, Teach Plus. “We need a deliberate and collaborative conversation in our state, as to our vision of education.”

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Republican from Colorado Springs, said he supported the goal of the bill. His name was listed as a sponsor when the bill was first introduced. But he said he eventually concluded the bill was the wrong approach.

“I’m not sure this is the solution to get us there,” he said. “It’s time for us to take a bottom up approach. I get nervous about standing up and staffing and financing another government program.”

After the committee hearing, Sass said Republican lawmakers failed to realize their unique role in Colorado shaping statewide education policy. The state’s constitution gives no authority to the governor, the education commissioner or the State Board of Education to create a strategic plan.

“We need someone to drive this conversation,” he said. “If the legislature won’t, who will?”

Priola said in an interview that he had hoped for more time to lobby Senate leadership and members of the committee. Instead, he said he’d try again next year.

“We live in a state with 178 school districts and thousands of schools,” he said. “There can’t be one way of doing things, but there also can’t be 1,000. There has to be some commonality on what we’re doing and what direction we’re heading.”

Rankin was less committed in trying again next year.

“I want to think about,” he said. “I don’t think this elected, term-limited legislature with the background they come from can develop the kind of leadership needed for this movement.”

The death of House Bill 1287 puts another bipartisan piece of legislation on shaky ground.

House Bill 1340, sponsored by state Reps. Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, and Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, would create a committee of lawmakers to study and make changes to the way Colorado funds its schools.

The state House of Representatives was expected to hold its final vote on that bill Wednesday morning. But Democratic leadership pushed the vote by a day.

Some Democrats in the House saw the two bills as a package, while Republicans in the Senate saw them as competing. With partisan rancor flaring in the waning days of the session, House Democrats could return the favor and kill the finance study bill.

Rankin, the House Republican, said he hoped his chamber’s leadership would let the finance study bill move forward. He introduced a similar bill two years ago but was unable to get the bill through the legislative process.

“I think it’s a good idea to take a hard look at school finance. Maybe we can get some dialogue going,” he said, adding that he believes lawmakers still need to think about a strategic plan for its schools.

Hamner, the House Democrat, said she also supported the finance study.

“I think their bill will be just fine,” she said. “Unless the Senate decides to kill it in State Affairs.”