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

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.”


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.


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.”

Big gains

No. 1: This Denver turnaround school had the highest math growth in Colorado

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
University Prep Steele Street students at a celebration of their test scores Friday.

Denver’s University Prep faced a gargantuan task last year: Turn around a school where the previous year just 7 percent of third- through fifth-graders were on grade level in math and 6 percent were on grade level in English.

On Friday morning, dozens of those students — dressed in khaki pants and button-up sweaters — clustered on the lawn to listen to officials celebrate their charter school, University Prep Steele Street, for showing the most academic growth in Colorado on last spring’s state standardized math tests.

The high-poverty school also had the eighth-highest growth on state English tests. Another Denver charter, KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy high school, had the first-highest.

“I want to say clearly to all of you that no one is ever going to tell you what you can and can’t do — ever,” University Prep founder and executive director David Singer told his students. “You’re going to remind them what you did in a single year.”

By the end of last year, 43 percent of University Prep Steele Street third- through fifth-graders were at grade level in math and 37 percent were at grade level in English, according to state tests results released Thursday.

University Prep Steele Street students scored better, on average, than 91 percent of Colorado students who had similar test scores the year before in math and better than 84 percent of students who had similar scores in English.

As Singer noted Friday, that type of skyrocketing improvement is rare among turnaround schools in Denver and nationwide.

“This might be one of the biggest wins we’ve ever seen in our city, our state, and our country of what it truly means to transform a school,” he said.

Many of the kids were previously students at Pioneer Charter School, one of the city’s first-ever charters. Founded in 1997 in northeast Denver, Pioneer had struggled academically in recent years, posting some of the lowest test scores in all of Denver Public Schools.

In 2015, Pioneer’s board of directors decided to close the school, which served students in preschool through eighth grade. University Prep, an elementary charter school a couple miles away, applied to take it over. But unlike many school turnarounds, it wouldn’t be a gradual, one-grade-at-a-time, phase-in, phase-out transition. Instead, University Prep would be responsible for teaching students in kindergarten through fifth grade on day one.

“When Pioneer Charter School became an option and we looked at our results up to that point of time and what we believed to be our capacity … we saw an opportunity,” Singer said.

A former math teacher at nearby Manual High School, which has itself been subject to several turnaround efforts, Singer started University Prep after becoming frustrated with the reality faced by many of his teenage students, who often showed up with gaps in their knowledge.

“When you walk into school at 14 or 15 and have a huge gap, the likelihood you get to be whatever you want to be is diminished,” he said.

The key to changing that, Singer realized, would be to start students on a path to success earlier. That’s why University Prep’s tagline is, “College starts in kindergarten.”

“It’s a significantly better pathway than the one of intense catch-up on the backend,” Singer said.

University Prep Arapahoe Street opened as a standalone charter school in 2010. Last year, its fourth- and fifth-graders outperformed district averages on both the English and math tests.

Several teachers and staff members from the original campus helped open Steele Street in 2016. The school started with 226 students, 89 percent of whom qualified for subsidized lunches. Ninety-seven percent were students of color and 71 percent were English language learners, more than twice the percentage in the district as a whole.

The biggest difference from the year before, Singer said, were the expectations. The work was more rigorous and there was more of it: three hours of literacy and more than 100 minutes of math each day as part of a schedule that stretched from 7:15 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Lauren Argue was one of the teachers that moved from the original campus to Steele Street. She and Singer said the other big difference was the honest feedback students received from their teachers. That included sharing with students the fact that they were several grade levels behind, and starting the year by re-teaching second-grade math to fourth-graders.

“We had conversations of, ‘Here is where you’re at,’ but also expressing our unwavering belief that, ‘By the end of the year, you will grow a tremendous amount,’” Argue said.

While those hard conversations may have been uncomfortable at first for students and their families, Argue said they embraced them once they saw the progress students were making — progress that teachers made sure to celebrate at every opportunity.

“Kids learned the joy of what it means to do hard academic work and get through to the other side,” Singer said. “That became a source of pride.”

Ten-year-old Abril Sierra attended Pioneer since preschool. This year, she’s a fifth-grader at University Prep. On Friday, she said that while at times she thought her brain might explode, it felt good to tackle harder work. She credited her teachers with helping her achieve.

“The things that changed were definitely the perspective of how the teachers see you and believe in you,” Sierra said. “…They make you feel at home. You can trust them.”

By the numbers

NYC announces it will subsidize hiring from Absent Teacher Reserve — and sheds light on who is in the pool

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman

Ever since the city announced a new policy for placing teachers without permanent positions into schools, Chalkbeat and others have been asking questions about just who is in the pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Now we have some answers.

The education department released figures on Friday that show a quarter of teachers currently in the the pool were also there five years ago, and a third ended up in the ATR because of disciplinary or legal issues. The average salary for teachers this past year was $94,000, according to the data.

The city also said it would extend budget incentives for schools that hire educators from the ATR, a change to its initial announcement. Principals have raised concerns about the cost of hiring from the ATR, since its members tend to be more senior, and therefore more expensive, than new teachers.

The ATR is comprised of teachers who don’t have regular positions, either because their jobs were eliminated or because of disciplinary issues. It cost almost $152 million in the last school year — far more than previously estimated — and currently stands at 822 teachers.

In July, the city announced a plan to cut the pool in half by placing teachers into vacancies still open after the new school year begins — even potentially over principals’ objection.

Critics have argued that the city’s new placement policy could place ineffective teachers in the neediest classrooms. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called the move “shockingly irresponsible” in a statement.

“There are reasons why no principal has chosen to hire them and this policy is bad for kids, plain and simple,” she said.

But Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School who is now responsible for helping to shrink the pool, called the new policy “a common sense approach to treating ATR teachers like all other teachers,” since they now have the opportunity to be evaluated by a school principal.

Here’s what the latest numbers tell us about who is in the pool.

How did educators end up in the Absent Teacher Reserve?

Most of the educators in the ATR were placed there because their schools had closed (38 percent) or due to budget cuts (30 percent.)

Another 32 percent entered the pool because of a legal or disciplinary case.

How effective are they?

A majority — 74 percent — received an evaluation rating of “highly effective,” “effective” or “satisfactory” in 2015-16, the most current year available. Current ratings for teachers citywide were not immediately available, but in 2014-15, 93 percent of teachers overall were rated effective or highly effective, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Twelve percent of teachers in the pool received an “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” rating in 2015-16, and about 7 percent received a “developing” rating, one step up from ineffective.

Some teachers in the ATR say evaluations can be unfair since teachers are often placed in classrooms outside of the subjects they are equipped to teach and because they are bounced between classrooms.

Asked whether teachers with poor ratings would be placed in classrooms, Asher said “all” teachers in the ATR have traditionally been placed in school assignments.

“They’re in schools, no matter what. It’s a question of what is their role in the school, and how are they supported and evaluated,” he said. “Obviously we will look at each individual teacher and each individual assignment on a case-by-case basis.”

How experienced are they?

Teachers in the ATR have an average of 18 years of experience with the education department, and earn an average salary of $94,000. By comparison, the base salary for a New York City teacher as of May 2017 was $54,000.

How long have they been in the pool?

Almost half the educators who are currently in the pool were also there two years ago. A quarter were in the ATR five years ago. That doesn’t mean that teachers have remained in the ATR for that entire time. They could have been hired for a time, and returned to the pool.

Still, the figures could be fuel for those who argue educators in the ATR either aren’t seriously looking for permanent jobs — or that the educators in the pool are simply undesirable hires.

How will schools pay for them?

Teachers in the ATR have argued that their higher salaries are one reason principals avoid hiring them — a concern that principals voiced in a recent Chalkbeat report.

“This is part of the injustice of the ATR placement,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “Schools might not want them and they will cost schools more in the future, taking away from other budget priorities.”

Under the policy announced Friday, the education department will subsidize the cost of ATRs who are permanently hired, paying 50 percent of their salaries next school year and 25 percent the following school year.

Where have they worked previously?

This question is important because the answer gives a sense of where educators in the ATR are likely to be placed this fall. The education department’s original policy called for an educator to be placed within the same district they left, but the change announced in July allowed for placement anywhere within the same borough.

Almost half of ATR members, as of June 2016-17, came from high schools. That isn’t surprising: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein targeted large high schools for closure, breaking them up into smaller schools as part of a turnaround strategy.

Of the school districts serving K- 8 students, District 19 in Brooklyn’s East New York and District 24 in Queens had among the most educators in the ATR. Each had 26.

What subjects do they teach?

The largest share of teachers in the ATR — 27 percent — are licensed to teach in early childhood or elementary school grades. Another 11 percent are licensed social studies teachers, 9 percent are math teachers and 8 percent are English teachers.

Questions have been raised in the past about whether the teachers in the pool had skills that were too narrow or out of date. A 2010 Chalkbeat story found that a quarter of teachers then in the pool were licensed to teach relatively obscure classes like swimming, jewelry-making and accounting.