CUNY’s New Teacher Academy to Educate Middle/High School Math & Science Teachers
Responding to a growing U.S. concern about the shortage of secondary school math and science teachers, the City University of New York (CUNY) has rolled out a brand new Teacher Academy on seven of its campuses that will prepare a new generation of middle and high school teachers to educate inner city students in math and science. The Teacher Academy, launched in February 2006 in partnership with the Department of Education (DOE) and NYU (which will focus on graduate education), enrolled its inaugural class of 118 undergraduates this fall and will expand to 300 students by next year. Students will major in either biology, chemistry, earth science or mathematics and pledge to work in NYC public schools for at least two years after they graduate.
The Teacher Academy’s formula is deceptively simple. Realizing that good teachers need to be well educated not only in their subject matter but also in the craft of teaching, CUNY will provide the students with up to 1000 hours of in-school experience over their four years, placing cohorts of four to five students each into 19 host middle and high schools in all five boroughs. “We want our young people, by the time they’re 21 and graduating, to walk into a school and say, ‘I know everything about this. I know how the classroom works. I know how the lunchroom works. I know how the parent-teacher conferences work. I know how the supplies work. Everything!’” explains John Garvey, CUNY’s Associate Dean for Collaborative Programs. The student cohorts will be a support group for each other not only in their host schools, but also in their CUNY classes, and they’ll serve as mentors to incoming cohorts of students in successive years.
To provide an optimal learning environment, CUNY faculty are acutely aware that they’re accomplishing two objectives in the classroom: they are teaching their academic subject matter, and they are also serving as powerful role models for how teaching should be done. “If I’m a math teacher and I spend my entire class period with my back to the students writing on the board, I am [incorrectly] teaching the math students a model for a math teacher,” says Garvey rhetorically. The CUNY faculty will also work cooperatively with their host school teachers to co-develop and co-teach the education courses. “We’re changing the idea that the college coursework exists in a vacuum apart from what goes on in the school,” adds Garvey.
CUNY is fully reimbursing its Teacher Academy students for tuition, fees and summer/school year internships (which are highly encouraged), thanks to a $15 million grant from the Petrie Foundation. Understandably, acceptance into the program is selective; students must demonstrate a talent in science and mathematics as well as a sincere desire to teach. Likewise, their high school grades, particularly those in math and science, SAT scores, and Regents scores in math and science subjects must all be high. CUNY recommends that students take its pre-calculus course prior to enrolling, even if they already took it in their high schools (two-thirds of this year’s class took it last summer.)
CUNY’s job will not end once its Academy students graduate. Though the students will move on to become classroom teachers, CUNY is mindful of its continuing role in making the transition to real teaching as smooth as possible. They’re adopting a highly touted professional development model pioneered by Ellen Moir, Executive Director of the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) New Teacher Center, which pairs novice teachers with veteran classroom teachers and provides support for the essential tasks involved in being a teacher. “The advice of the mentor is informed by a sophisticated understanding of what’s involved in good teaching,” explains Garvey.
While CUNY’s groundbreaking Teacher Academy will doubtless serve as a model for other urban educational systems, Garvey is the first to admit that the challenges facing inner city schools are great. The most important thing is to encourage people to feel they are not alone in what it is they’re trying to do and in the difficulties they’re trying to surmount,” adds Garvey.#