teacher prep

Department of Education wants the state to let it certify teachers

If the Department of Education gets its way, new teachers won’t have to enroll in local colleges or universities to get certification to work in city schools.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s second in command, said today that the department would ask the state for permission to certify teachers internally by using top educators to train new recruits in shortage areas. Currently, teachers must either have completed an education certification program at a college or university or be enrolled in one.

Traditional teacher preparation programs have not produced enough special education or science teachers to fill the city’s needs, Polakow-Suransky said. Reforms to the way students with disabilities are served this year have pushed the city to offer current teachers an incentive to take classes that would allow them to lead special education classes.

“We don’t want to have to depend on a university in order to train our teachers,” he said this afternoon. “Already, we’re having to retrain many teachers when they come into the system because they don’t have the skills that they need.”

State officials say they will consider the city’s application when it is formally filed. But if approved, the proposal would build on several other changes to teacher preparation rules that the state has rolled out in recent years in response to growing criticism that teachers trained in the traditional way are not always up to par.

In 2009, state officials announced that alternative certification programs such as Teach for America would become eligible to certify teachers without partnering with a college or university to provide training, as they always had. This past June, the American Museum of Natural History became the first non-graduate school to gain state permission to certify teachers.

Last year, a new graduate school of education, Relay GSE, opened with an exclusive mission of training teachers while they are already working in schools; several charter school networks now use it to train their teachers exclusively, and some district teachers attend as well. The state is currently in the process of adopting new certification standards that focus more on real teaching and less on written tests and other benchmarks to prove competence.

But no district has yet been granted permission to certify its own teachers. Such a move would grant an unprecedented level of authority to local education officials while heightening competition with existing teacher preparation programs.

Under the proposal, which the city has not yet made formally, the department would fast-track teachers into the classroom for areas where more teachers are needed, including special education and science. They would work in thriving schools alongside strong teachers who would serve as instructors in an arrangement similar to that of small-scale residency programs that the city introduced last year.

The difference would be that no higher education institution would have to be involved, saving both teachers and the city on tuition while freeing up more of teachers’ time to focus on on-the-ground needs.

Polakow-Suransky announced the proposal while testifying before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform commission this afternoon during a meeting that was held at a teaching college, Bank Street College of Education.

“While we have some really powerful partnerships with higher education, the capacity to drive teacher development exists within the system,” Polakow-Suransky said. He added, “I don’t think the higher education programs are going away, and that wouldn’t be my intention.”

The program would not award master’s degrees and would not supplant the city’s longstanding Teaching Fellows program, which brings new teachers into the classroom full-time while also requiring them to take classes at local universities. But Polakow-Suransky left open the possibility that a department-run certification program could expand in the future.

“This would be initially small because we have to prove that we can do this well,” he said. “Who knows where it will lead in the long run?”

Jon Snyder, a dean at Bank Street, said during the commission meeting it would be a mistake to let all of the certification power rest with either higher education or the city alone, because a major problem facing teacher training is the fact that pre-service training does not match up with in-service needs. “We are going to recreate our existing problem” if the city gains more authority over teacher certification, he said.

The city has already had informal conversations about the proposal with Commissioner John King, Polakow-Suransky said. “He didn’t say no. He didn’t say yes either.”

Today, King said, “We’ll review what the city is proposing. Our top priority is to ensure that new teachers have content knowledge and instructional skills to successfully prepare people for college and careers.”

But Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said the proposal deserved consideration because it aims to solve a problem — a shortage of teachers in certain areas — that has existed for decades at least.

“You can’t just keep identifying the same problem areas and tread water on difficult questions and say you are moving the system forward,” Tisch said. “Everything needs to be on the table.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”