Needs Qualified Teachers
In 1998 the
New York City Board of Education and the City College
of New York (CCNY) set a national paradigm for
recruiting math and science teachers to meet the
local teacher shortage. On May 1, 2004 we began
the seventh round of annual interviews of “Austrian” math/science
teachers in Vienna. This year, fittingly enough,
there were more “new European Union (EU)” countries
(some, previously called “former east bloc
countries) than in the past years.
motivates these young teachers is their desire
to teach their subject in English, learn more about
the United States and earn a proper wage. A Slovak
teacher currently earns about $300 per month. When
compared to the modest New York City teacher’s
base salary of $3,250 per month it becomes clear
(even calculating cost of living difference) that
these are incentives for a young Slovak teacher
to desire a New York City assignment. Furthermore,
the central European countries have an over abundance
of math and science teachers, so those that teach
in New York City alleviate the possible unemployment
problems at home and fill a critical need in New
York City schools.
When, I initiated
the idea of providing fully qualified (and highly
needed) math and science teachers for the New York
City schools, there was some apprehension about
foreign teachers functioning in the New York City
schools. Commitment for employment was initially
made for only one year. The first groups’ success
prompted officials to ask candidates to commit to
stay for at least two years—some have since
stayed considerably longer!
The main concern
besides the usual teacher qualities, are culture
and language. Will the new-EU candidates be able
to rise to the challenges presented by many New
York City schools and will their English language
competence be sufficient to not only communicate
properly, but also to understand the myriad of language
variations of our inner-city students—many
of whom also struggle with the English language.
Will they be prepared to teach the New York City
curriculum? Of course, these teachers are very well
content-prepared, especially when compared to our
current teacher force which includes a fair number
of math-immersion inexperienced “alternative-certification” teachers.
language competence of the Austrian candidates
(and the few Germans among them) is truly excellent.
This results from their country’s
total commitment to making English-language instruction the most important in their school curriculum. They learn
English at the beginning of elementary school. In
comparison the new-EU countries, which, until recently,
were still wedded to the importance (or tradition)
of teaching Russian first and introduced students
to English at about age 14. This was particularly
evident in the group of Slovaks (for example) we
interviewed this May.
Only 26% of
the new-EU candidates were selected as compared
to 55% of the German-speaking candidates. With
the demise of the Soviet Union, English became
even more clearly the lingua franca of the world.
It is the language used in international commerce,
in communication between citizens of countries
when neither conversant knows the other’s
language, and in the computer world. The upshot
of this is the regrettable diminution of foreign
language instruction in the United States.
The New York
City experience of importing a much-needed resource
has now been replicated throughout the United States.
Yet, despite growing globalization, this cannot
be a long-term solution to the ever-growing domestic
math teacher shortage. We must take radical steps—including differential salaries, signing
bonuses, more attractive (and more professional)
assignments, and above all we must—as a society—recapture
the prestige formerly inherent in the teaching profession.
Only then will future generations aspire to this
most noble occupation.#
Dr. Alfred S. Posamentier is Dean,
School of Education at City College of New York.