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New York City
September 2002

New York City Welcomes Over 8,000 New Teachers
By Marie Holmes

Last year, hundreds of teaching positions were still vacant just days before school started. A lot has changed since then, and with the academic year about to kick off, only a handful of openings were left, likely to be filled by uncertified teachers.

The BOE received so many applications this year that it actually turned away over a thousand people, reported the Times in a recent article declaring an official end to the teacher shortage. 2,000 of the more than 8,000 new hires are Teaching Fellows, career changers and recent college graduates who do not have degrees in education but are working toward their master’s while teaching in low-performing schools. Hundreds of others entered the system through similar programs.

The economic downturn, the proliferation of fast-track certification programs such as New York City Teaching Fellows and Teach for America, as well as the increased interest in public service that has been a by-product of the fervent nationalism of the past twelve months, are popular explanations for the surge of applicants. However, the single largest factor contributing to this upswing, teachers and administrators agree, is the new teachers’ contract, which raised entry-level salaries from $31,910 to $39,000.

While it remains to be seen whether the shortage will return and whether these fast-track programs offer a sustainable model, few dare complain when the number of uncertified teachers working in the schools is at a new low. Many of the new teachers do not yet hold a master’s degree, and some of the Fellows and other mid-career recruits got their first taste of the profession during their brief but intense summer training.

The Teach for America Corps Member

Due to over-hiring and the usual beginning of the year confusion, some new recruits had not received their assignments at the end of August. Monique Cueto, 23, who spent her first two years out of college working as a paralegal in order to make an informed decision as to whether she wanted to pursue a career in law or in education, was still waiting for her bilingual elementary assignment in mid-August. During her two-year commitment, she will also take classes at Bank Street towards her master’s degree.

“I just feel like I’m supposed to be a teacher,” said Cueto. “I want to be in the classroom for as long as I have the energy to do it.” Having made her decision, she was eager to jump right in.

“My interests just fit practically and philosophically with Teach for America,” she said.

Many Teach for America corps members, like Cueto, use the program as a springboard for a career in education, and most do remain in the profession. The program recruits heavily on the campuses of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, such as Cueto’s alma mater, Georgetown, and a number enter law school and medical school after their two-year commitments. Teach for America has even established partnerships with several J.D. programs.

The organization’s objective is not only to provide well-educated teachers for the country’s poorest children, but also to build a national movement advocating each child’s right to a quality education. This collective sense of mission, and the support network that it assumes, is a key selling point for service-oriented young people.

Cueto is convinced that between her Bank Street courses and the resources available via Teach for America, she’ll be able to find any help that she may need in the upcoming year.

“I think that the five weeks of training gave me what I needed to start,” she said, admitting that she was, of course, anxious. “But I feel like I have a good kind of nervousness in me.”

The Teaching Fellow

Heather Maguire found her way into the classroom just over a year after graduating from SUNY Cortlandt with a degree in physical education. She worked a variety of jobs, including substitute teaching. “I had pre-K and kindergarten and I really liked it,” she said. “This program came up and . . . everything worked out.”

Maguire will be teaching 5th grade in one of the city’s Schools Under Registration Review, a school that falls below state standards. Unlike Cueto, she knew which Bronx school she would be teaching in, but still lacked a definitive classroom assignment. Over the course of the next two years, while she is teaching, she will earn a master’s degree from Mercy College. The program covers the Fellows’ tuition. The 2,000 Fellows, selected from a whopping 16,000 applicants, also complete an intensive Summer training session, during which Maguire served as an assistant teacher in a 5th grade classroom in the mornings and attended classes with other Fellows in the evenings.

“I know it’s going to be hard, and I know that my first year is going to be the hardest,” said Maguire, who readily admits that the summer training could not possibly prepare anyone for all of the issues she will confront in her classroom this September. “Your first year is your first year. You just kind of have to jump into it.”

Maguire plans on teaching for as long as she loves it, a sentiment that became clear when she suddenly realized that she was actually enjoying the work. “All my other past jobs . . . I was always looking at my watch. I think I’ve finally found what I want to do.”

She has thought a lot recently about all the baggage that her students will bring with
them to school every day, as well as the myriad roles that the teacher is expected to play in
their lives–instructor, counselor, nurse. One of her goals for the upcoming year is to connect with her students. “I think that’s how you gain respect and how you get them to want
to learn.”

The School of Education Graduate

Stephanie Kandel, who will be teaching kindergarten on the East Side this fall, made a big investment when she decided to become a teacher. Two years at Bank Street–which she describes as a hands-on immersion experience, working as an assistant teacher in the public schools while completing her coursework–have left her with thousands of dollars in student loans.

Yet Kandel choose to bypass the fast-track certification programs. Despite having held various volunteer positions working with children, she did not feel that she had the background necessary to manage her own classroom. “I felt like I would really be doing the children a disservice,” she said.

An English literature major, Kandel moved to New York to pursue a career in public relations. But after a few years at various firms and companies, she was “unfulfilled” in her profession. “People were just so consumed by money . . . I thought, when I’m my boss’ age, what am I going to have to show for my work?”

Her classmates at Bank Street, she explained, included a number of young women moving away from the corporate world, some mothers with school-age children preparing to reenter the workforce as well as a few recent college graduates.

She has an advantage over other new teachers in that she has not only been placed but has been able to set up her classroom. Kandel realizes this, and is concerned for the Teaching Fellows that she met in the city’s new teacher orientation workshops. “There’s a lot of stuff as a new teacher that you do have to buy, and they don’t have the money,” she noted, on the scholarships they receive to get them through the summer. During the new teacher orientation, she also overheard a few Fellows wondering aloud how they were going to get books for their classrooms.

“I worry about them because it’s tough enough being a teacher without having to worry about basic things like pencils.”

Kandel herself feels ready to meet her next big clients. “I’m anxious and I’m also nervous, but I don’t feel overwhelmed because I got such wonderful preparation from Bank Street and from my mentor teacher.”#


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