College And Charter Groups Team Up To Train Teachers

David M. Steiner effortlessly navigates between different media devices in a classroom, guiding his twenty-four students through a lecture on Plato using written notes in English and ancient Greek, a map of post-Classical Athens, and a stick-figure diagram of the philosopher’s famous cave allegory. This is not your typical Saturday morning activity, especially for these students who dedicate long hours to their own teaching jobs from Monday to Friday. They have come to Hunter College’s education school for the day as the pioneering group for a new program developed by their charter school employers and Hunter College. Their goal is to earn master’s degrees in elementary education in the future.

Norman Atkins, the CEO of Uncommon Schools, one of the three charter-management organizations involved in this project, stated that their biggest challenge is human capital. To recruit, retain, and improve the best educators, these three groups needed to find a better way for their busy teachers to obtain the required provisional certification and later a master’s degree mandated by the state of New York. Leaders from Uncommon Schools, KIPP in New York City, and Achievement First believe that this program will be highly appealing to teachers in the city. They plan to admit around 500 students annually in 2011 to this two-year program. The plan has received support from Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

This new venture, currently referred to as the Teacher YOU Training Institute, follows other initiatives that were created outside of universities to enhance teacher preparation. For example, the High Tech High charter-management organization in San Diego has launched its own teacher-licensing program and will soon offer master’s degrees.

What differentiates the New York institute is its close collaboration between entrepreneurial groups and Hunter College, which is considered the premier teacher-preparation school in the City University of New York system. Additionally, the involvement of Mr. Steiner, the dean of the education school, is significant. Mr. Steiner is known for his insightful criticisms of the teacher-training status quo and he now has the opportunity to demonstrate how it should be done. According to his collaborators, who claim they approached nearly every university with a teacher-preparation program in the New York metropolitan area, Mr. Steiner fully embraced this new approach.

"It was challenging to find a partner," said David Levin, the head of KIPP charter schools in New York City and co-founder of the Knowledge Is Power Program, when addressing the students at the start of the teacher-training program in the summer. "Most universities either wanted us to do it all ourselves or they wanted control." Only Mr. Steiner was willing to make this project a true collaboration, according to Levin. Working with schools that have a strong track record of performance in the city is a benefit for Hunter College, explained the dean. He even decided to teach the Foundations of Education course himself, which he hadn’t done in seven years.

The required courses for the state certification are being completely revamped to meet the unique needs of teachers in the high-expectations environment of the three charter groups. These organizations collectively operate more than two dozen schools that serve low-income families in New York and other Northeastern cities. The courses will be co-taught by charter school staff members and faculty from Hunter College. Three chairs of Hunter education departments were involved in designing two courses completed during the summer and fall: one focused on the "art and science" of teaching, and the other on child development. "The ultimate goal is to blend the best teaching practices with the best educational theories," said Levin.

"Education revolves around setting a good example," advises Mr. Steiner before proceeding to his next point.

‘Highly practical’

Suzanne Vera, a music teacher at the Leadership Preparatory Charter School, reveals that she joined the institute partly to prepare herself for transitioning from her current teaching specialization to working in a primary classroom. With seven years of teaching experience, she is also trying to determine the best path for her future as an educator. "It’s crucial for me to make sense of my actions, decide where I want to work, and choose an organization that aligns with my values," she explains. Additionally, she finds that graduate school elsewhere does not offer anything practical, unlike this program, which she describes as "highly practical." Furthermore, the program is almost free for participants due to an arrangement made with AmeriCorps, a federal program focused on engaging young individuals in community service.

Josh Falk, who made a career transition from lawyer to teacher at the age of 32, praises the program as a "valuable opportunity." Mr. Falk, currently teaching 2nd grade at the Achievement First East New York Charter School, obtained the provisional teaching certificate required after enrolling in the institute’s program, which included a week of summer study. Comparing it to higher education, he emphasizes that the program fosters a collaborative environment with extensive student-teacher discussions.

Aligned with the results-oriented and data-driven approach of the three organizations’ schools, the institute’s leaders intend to make academic growth of the teachers’ students a crucial aspect for earning a degree. "We are developing standards for student learning gains," explains Mr. Atkins of Uncommon Schools. "We are seeking substantial data that demonstrates students’ learning progress." All three groups have plans to expand their school networks, and their vision for the new teacher education program includes significant growth.

In addition to teachers from the three founding charter-management organizations, the program aims to attract teachers from other schools in New York City, both charter and non-charter. Most of these teachers would come from the New York Teaching Fellows program, which brings in high-quality beginners. "Our network members recognized the training needs of our teachers, but we also wanted to share our expertise with as many teachers as possible," states Mr. Levin from KIPP. The work of the institute is expected to influence the professional development programs offered to teachers who already possess a master’s degree.

"While this program may serve as an introductory course to elementary teaching," Mr. Atkins comments, "we envision future iterations such as more advanced courses to cater to different skill levels."


  • kaylarusso

    Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.



Kayla Russo is an educational blogger and volunteer and student. She is a 27 yo educational blogger and volunteer and student who loves to help others learn.

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