They say if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I’ve taken that adage to heart as I begin a new role of preparing pre-service teachers to educate our City’s students. If you read my blog posts, you know that I have not been shy in expressing my concerns about the seemingly easy route that pre-service teachers navigate to gain their certification by alternative means. I took a traditional route to becoming a classroom teacher — a route that included six years of extensive undergraduate and graduate coursework and an intense eight-month student-teaching placement.
My concerns are deeply rooted — through personal experience — that teaching, contrary to popular belief, is not about having the summers off. Becoming a teacher is challenging, as it should be, because teaching is challenging. We are charged with the task of nurturing, educating, and ministering to young hearts, minds, souls, and spirits. That should not be taken lightly, nor can it effectively be achieved without the explicit expertise and support of highly-effective classroom teachers.
Given my perspectives on the training of pre-service teachers, I grappled with the fact that currently, the teaching staff in the NYC Department of Education does not reflect its student demographics. Simply put, the majority of teachers are White women, while the majority of students are Black and/or Brown. As a matter of fact, “[a] full 88 schools (6 percent) have no Latino teachers, 144 schools (9 percent) lack a single black teacher, and 327 schools (21 percent) have zero Asian teachers on staff.”
Perhaps these alternative routes to teacher certification will broaden the pool of teachers when administrators are hiring. As I delved deeper into this educational nuance, I learned that my assumptions were not too far off the mark.
According to the NYC DOE,
The New York City Teaching Collaborative prepares talented, committed individuals from diverse backgrounds to teach in high-need schools. Partner Teachers begin residency style training in January, working alongside experienced mentor teachers and receiving intensive coaching for over four months before teaching in the fall.
Four months versus four years. I still wasn’t convinced, yet I remained committed to finding out and doing more.
I’m so glad I did.
Last month, after a lengthy, multi-tiered interview process that included written, verbal, and mock classroom lesson demonstration components, I was chosen to be a Lead Instructor with the New York City Teaching Collaborative (NYCTC). Leaders, creators, and facilitators of the program are teachers who took varied means of acquiring teacher certification and are like-minded in their commitment to equity, lifelong learning, collaboration, excellence, and leadership. These essential traits are required of all Fellows of the program and, as Lead Instructors, we assess what that looks like and how it translates to engaged, intentional, and top-notch pre-service teachers working with our students each day.
Some aspects of the four-month intensive program that really resonate with me and which I believe resonates with most teachers is the expectation of professionalism, malleability, consistency, and skillful verbal and written communication. NYCTC is rooted in a growth mindset approach to placing the best and brightest educators in the classrooms that need it the most. Additionally, from the training I recently attended, Lead Instructors function quite similarly to adjunct professors in that we meet two times a week with the pre-service teachers in the program for two-hour sessions to facilitate skills-based lessons that include the in-depth grading of assignments, one-on-one check-ins, and the personalized professional attention that is vital for the training of burgeoning educators.
I come to this work with a strong belief in giving back to the community that gave to me. I’ve written about the superb student teaching experience that I had not only had with my then-collaborating teacher, Keri Crocco, but also with my field supervisor and professors at Long Island University, CW Post Campus. I remember sitting in our supervision classes and hearing horror stories about student-teachers being used as glorified personal assistants to make copies, run errands, and maybe — if they were lucky — write lesson plans. They never got the chance to see whether or not they had that magical “je ne sais quoi” with students. I can appreciate that, from day one, Fellows in the New York City Teaching Collaborative are immersed in the classroom. That is something that they are getting right. By the end of those four months (really before, to be honest), they will know whether or not they have what it takes in both theory and practice to be a certified teacher.
So often we highlight what’s not going well in education. The NYC DOE is a huge bureaucratic machine with many structural frameworks that need recalibration and sometimes eradication. I’ve often felt torn and at odds with my own personal philosophy of education and the larger system in which I function. The NYCTC provides a timely, necessary, solutions-oriented approach to the issue of training, hiring, and ultimately retaining teachers that are good at what they do, who care about the kids they teach, and who look like and understand the students that they teach. I’m proud to be a part of this initiative.
I start working with my cohort of pre-service teaching Fellows in a few weeks after I complete a few more trainings. Listen out for my updates. I’m feeling really good about this. Kudos, NYC DOE. Kudos.