Program Connects Schools, Career Changers

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Many new teachers from nontraditional backgrounds have come to teaching through a partnership between local schools and a nonprofit group called the New Teacher Project. The group's president, Timothy Daly, says the program is allowing schools to access a diverse pool of candidates.


Beverly Harvey came to teaching through a partnership between the local schools and a nonprofit group called The New Teacher Project.

Timothy Daly is the group's president. He joins us now.


Mr. TIMOTHY DALY (President, The New Teacher Project): Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And why do you want career changers like Beverly? She moved from banking into teaching.

Mr. DALY: They bring a set of skills that I think kids need. You could hear the passion in her voice and the commitment that she had to learning to be a great teacher, partly motivated by her own experience. And sometimes, career changers especially are in teaching for the right reasons: they're not doing it because they need a job. They're often sacrificing quite a bit to get into the profession.

BLOCK: Do you think there are certain professions that lend themselves most quickly or best to teaching?

Mr. DALY: It's a very good question. I think many times, the professions that are hardest to learn are the best preparation for teaching, because nobody learns to teach easily. You have to be prepared to fail repeatedly. And you have to have a huge amount of resolve to figure out what it takes to reach kids consistently and to help them grow. And so often, people that did something that came very easily to them, it's harder for them to transition into teaching.

BLOCK: Yeah. And what about training here? I mean, Beverly Harvey was in this intensive crash course, I think six weeks of training and then she's thrown into the classroom. Is that really enough?

Mr. DALY: You know, one of the things that we struggle with in education is that there's no amount of training that's enough. And what we found is that the key is how you respond on the job, during the first year and during the second year. There's this distance between her mentor who has all these skills that she's practiced over the years, and Beverly who's just starting out. And the truth is that Beverly is probably going to close that distance rapidly. But there's no amount of training that can make her as good as that mentor before she's ever been in the classroom.

BLOCK: But, you know, if I'm a parent of one of those kids, in those first couple of years, I might be thinking, I don't want you to be training on my kid, essentially doing - going through trial by fire in the classroom.

Mr. DALY: It's a fair question. And I think that's why it's essential that they're in really strong rigorous programs that provide them support and feedback. And part of the way that we structure our program is that they don't end the day, the teacher goes into the classroom. We work with the teachers to make sure that they reach a point of excellence at the end of their first and second year. I think that that's critical in teaching is that we don't assume that teachers, on their own, are going to automatically be great on the first day. But we structure the profession to make them great.

BLOCK: Yeah, and what do you tell the parents along the way who are watching their kids sort of dealing with an inexperienced teacher, who might have a whole lot more on her plate than she bargained for?

Mr. DALY: For parents, I think that just nationally, parents are starting to become much more attuned to the issues of teacher effectiveness because they're seeing that they have high standards for their kids and that not every teacher, whether they're a first-year, second-year teacher or a third-year teacher, or if they've been in the classroom for 15 years, there is great variation in teacher effectiveness. And the truth is that some teachers, even in their first year, are quite astonishingly effective, and we have teachers in their tenth year who are less effective.

So to parents, I would say, it's much more important what's happening in your child's classroom and whether you see learning going on than how experienced the teacher is.

BLOCK: Do you think that your model for training teachers is better than the traditional route of certification through teacher colleges?

Mr. DALY: I wouldn't say that it's better or worse. I think that it's a complement. What we had in the country for a couple of decades, from the late '70s until the mid-'90s, was we weren't doing nearly enough to get people into the profession, and we had a big shortage of teachers, and the talent, pool of teachers, was consistently going down. By recruiting career changers, in some ways we're rectifying that by bringing in a stream of professionals that really wouldn't be in the profession otherwise. These aren't people who would go back to school for two years to get a master's degree and not make an income

And so what's very critical, I think, about alternate routes is we're accessing a diverse pool of folks. It includes a lot more men. It includes a lot more people of color. It includes a lot more people that aren't 22 years old. And I think that for that reason, it's an invaluable complement to the teacher pipeline overall.

BLOCK: Do you find that you get pushback from other teachers who say, look, I did take those two years to get my teaching degree, and here comes so and so with, you know, six weeks of a crash course coming in just as I did.

Mr. DALY: We sometimes get skepticism about the approach overall, until teachers have seen it works. So what teachers most want is strong colleagues and to be part of a great instructional team. And what we found over the years is that in many of our programs, where the effectiveness of our teachers has been studied, they do a great job. So for instance, in Louisiana, our math teachers are the most effective math teachers, the new stream of math teachers in the state, and I think that teachers value that. When they see good colleagues coming out of programs like that, they often are very receptive.

BLOCK: And how do you measure that? What makes a teacher most effective, do you think?

Mr. DALY: What makes a teacher effective is that they can generate a response from kids. Kids work harder and focus more and grow more in certain teachers' classrooms than they do in others. So an effective teacher is one that knows how to adjust and knows how to read where students are at and get them to respond in a way that generates learning.

BLOCK: Timothy Daly, thank you very much.

Mr. DALY: Thank you.

BLOCK: Timothy Daly is the president of the New Teacher Project. He spoke with us from Chicago.

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Career Changers Find Way Around The Classroom

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Until a year ago, Beverly Harvey was more familiar with balance sheets than attendance sheets. Harvey had spent 25 years in the banking industry before switching careers and becoming an elementary-school teacher.

Beverly Harvey's contract with Prince George's County School District

When banker turned teacher Beverly Harvey signed her contract with Prince George's County School District, she was thrilled. "This day has finally arrived. This is it!" Harvey said as she signed it. Larry Abramson/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Larry Abramson/NPR

Every year, schools in the U.S. hire a quarter of a million new teachers. Desperate to boost the number of top-quality educators, school districts are luring people from other professions.

Beverly Harvey in teacher training i

Beverly Harvey, a former vice president at Citigroup, trained for her new career during a crash course in teaching. Though she had worked in the banking industry for 25 years, she was required to take math classes as part of her preparation. Larry Abramson/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Larry Abramson/NPR
Beverly Harvey in teacher training

Beverly Harvey, a former vice president at Citigroup, trained for her new career during a crash course in teaching. Though she had worked in the banking industry for 25 years, she was required to take math classes as part of her preparation.

Larry Abramson/NPR

Harvey, a former vice president at Citigroup, had been attracted to teaching all her life. She left the company in 2007 after 25 years and decided to make the career switch. And after finishing a teacher training program last summer, she is now settling into a classroom full of 33 first-graders at Oakcrest Elementary School in Landover, Md.

To prepare for the classroom, Harvey and about 20 other teachers in training took a six-week course through Prince George's County Schools in Maryland. The Prince George's County Teaching Fellows program sends career changers into the classrooms of the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

Except for Harvey, most of her fellow students are only a few years out of college.

The questions that Harvey and the others ask their instructors seem trivial, but for teachers about to face a room full of children, nothing is too small.

"How often do you let them go to the water fountain and do you have any special procedure?" Harvey asks.

"What if they like, go on their pants? Like, what do you do?" asks another.

Number of Teachers Certified Through Alternative Routes, By Year

About 62,000 new teachers were certified to teach via nontraditional "alternative" routes in the 2007-2008 school year, accounting for a third of new teachers hired. That's nearly double the number of five years ago.

Line graph showing alternative teacher certifications from the 1985-06 school year (275) through 200

Classroom management of young students is a key focus of this training program, and it's something this group is anxious about. They will all be working with kids in the early grades, children who have yet to develop any of the skills and habits they need to succeed in school.

Educational Roots

Harvey is the second-youngest of seven kids. She grew up in the South, raised by a mother who cleaned houses and a father who could not read or write. Her parents wanted her to do better.

Today, she is still inspired by teachers who insisted that she try harder.

"My teachers were always kind of on top of me. And when I see some of these students off track and not believing in themselves, that they can do it, it's just encouraging them that they can do it, and giving them the opportunity to do it," Harvey says.

Harvey is exactly the kind of person the Prince George's County teaching fellowship is designed for. She's an experienced professional with proven leadership skills who didn't want to go through a traditional teachers' college program.

After the crash course and some practice teaching, Harvey was thrown into the classroom in late August.

Experience, it turns out, is a harsh teacher.

A Teacher In The Making

Harvey has been handed 33 squirming, fidgeting first-graders at Oakcrest Elementary School. Harvey's principal has told her this class will eventually be cut, but in the meantime, her hands are full.

Constant noise interrupts everything she does. Harvey interrupts a story she's reading and lets loose a stern admonition — "No talking!" — but she has trouble getting the students to focus.

She also tries a little physical activity to help them burn off a little energy. She tells them all to get up — "Hop on one foot!" — but this just gets them all riled up.

Banker turned teacher Beverly Harvey i

Harvey teaches 33 squirming, fidgeting first-graders at Oakcrest Elementary School in Landover, Md. Larry Abramson/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Larry Abramson/NPR
Banker turned teacher Beverly Harvey

Harvey teaches 33 squirming, fidgeting first-graders at Oakcrest Elementary School in Landover, Md.

Larry Abramson/NPR

Harvey has a rescuer of sorts. Patricia Williams, Harvey's mentor, shows up. Williams has 10 years of experience and helps her manage the classroom.

In the classroom, Williams has a presence and a confidence as well as an effective superpower: a stare so penetrating that it might make adults want to fold their hands and hush up.

When asked how you teach someone to do that, she laughs.

"I don't know! You give them the look, and they know to stop," she says.

While the students are at lunch, peace has returned, giving Williams and Harvey time for a little debriefing session.

Harvey says she feels she is getting the hang of this.

"I like the fact that they pretty much know their morning routine," Harvey says. But she continues to struggle with the size of the class. No sooner has she dealt with one student than she has to rush over to deal with another — and then another.

Harvey and Williams try to figure out how to keep this large class occupied. Williams has a satchel full of activities, chants and songs to grab kids' attention.

Williams warns Harvey that kids will get tired of any activity so she will have to keep inventing new ones all year long.

Harvey is finding that keeping up with these kids is exhausting.

Sometimes when she's running low on energy, Harvey renews her dedication by thinking of her illiterate father.

"Can't let what happened to him happen to them. It's more challenging than I thought," Harvey says.

Back in class, Harvey savors a moment of calm. She reads a story, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

For a few minutes, students are listening and reading along.

Harvey has a long way to go before she figures out how to make this happen more regularly.

That won't be easy. A month into the school year, and Harvey's principal still has not reduced the size of her classroom. She's still got her hands full with 33 students.

Radio story produced by Marisa Penaloza.



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