Hundreds of top-rated upstate science and math teachers will be eligible for $15,000 in annual stipends under a new mentorship program announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this afternoon.
New York City teachers aren't eligible for the stipends, in part because they still lack an evaluation system to identify them according to a four-tiered ratings scale. But the state is relying heavily on a highly-regarded city-based mentoring organization to implement the program in selected higher education institutions.
Under Cuomo's "Master Teacher Program," 250 teachers from schools located in four upstate regions — North Country, Mid-Hudson, Central New York and Western New York — will be selected to receive a total of $60,000 in extra pay over four years. In exchange, the teachers will be trained at State University of New York education colleges and tasked with mentoring new teachers in the science and math subjects.
Recruiting and rewarding top teachers to work in high-demand subject areas was one of the recommendations put forth by Cuomo's Education Reform Commission last year. Cuomo also secured $11 million in the 2013-2014 state budget to develop the program, which is scheduled to expand to more districts.
“As part of the state's work to transform our education system and put students first, we are committed to investing in great teachers to educate our students and create a highly-trained workforce to drive our future economy," Cuomo said in a statement. "This program will reward those teachers who work harder to make the difference and whose students perform better as a result.”
Across the city yesterday, high school teachers hunkered down for a day of extra training. Some sat in on sessions at their schools, while others scattered across the city for sessions held in the offices of educational consultants.
I stopped by the Midtown offices of Math for America, a fellowship program for math and science teachers, and saw teachers working on student work to better understand why they thought the way they did. Here's what some said about some of the topics dominating the policy agenda these days (interviews edited for clarity and brevity):
Bill Lamonte, Millennium High School
Years: 10 (eight in New York City)
How long will you be a teacher for?
I may be a different case because I know I'll be teaching until I die. But it is hard to see colleagues that start out putting in that time and then get frustrated and end up leaving.
I am challenged professionally, but some people don't want to deal with the bureaucracy of the system. The DOE is a tough place. It's very top-down. It's hard. But if you have a supportive administration and you're in a school that has ideals that you believe in, it's easier to stay because you feel you can work with people and that you can actually make a difference.
Would you ever consider a school leadership position?
I know I'll be teaching, but I steer clear of the administration path just because I see what happens to teachers when they become administrators. They take on another personality, in a way. Again, it's very top-down, so they have to meet certain requirements themselves. In order to do that you have to put a lot of pressure on your teachers. When you have to have a checklist – are they doing this, this, and this? – I can see how it can become a struggle to balance.
Although I do find that a lot of schools struggle with having good administrators. There are a lot of weak principals out there. I've seen it first hand, especially at my old school in the Bronx. Luckily now I do feel that the administration is batter and that does make a huge difference. To feel supported in a school is really what's going to keep a teacher there.
For years, the number of new teachers entering the city's job market by way of alternative certification programs has been in the thousands. But this year the flood has slowed to a trickle.
When Chancellor Joel Klein announced a teacher hiring freeze last year, organizations that recruit and train new teachers, such as Teach for America and New York City's Teaching Fellows, began planning to admit fewer teacher-hopefuls. Together, those two programs are planning to take fewer than 700 applicants this year, down from over 2,000 two years ago.
"We anticipate at this point that our needs will be more limited than they have been in past years, except for perhaps this year," the Department of Education's Executive Director of Recruitment and Teacher quality, Vicki Bernstein, told me in October. At the time, Bernstein, who oversees recruitment for the Teaching Fellows program, guessed that about 700 fellows would be admitted.
The real number of Teaching Fellows will be closer to 450, according to Department of Education spokeswoman Ann Forte. In 2009, the Teaching Fellows' cohort numbered 700, which was already a significant drop from previous years when nearly 2,000 fellows entered the city's schools annually.