PDL For New Teachers: A Reason To Stay

An Article By:
Leslie Jirsa, Graduate Assistant
Professional Development Laboratory - Department of Teaching and Learning
Steinhardt School of Education, New York University

(posted April, 2002)

“Who still needs a little more time?” asked Liliet, a brand new Social Studies teacher at George Ryan School in Queens, New York. A few hands shot up. “OK,” she says, “when you’re finished, please put your pens down quietly.” The quiet concentration in this New York City public, middle school classroom was startling, since just moments before, the place had been a magnificent, pre adolescent parade of rowdy chaos.

I looked around. The room was calm, and all pens were down. Liliet had looked up from her lesson plan. “Allright? Great. Students seated on the window side and the locker side, please pass your papers toward the aisles. Students seated on the aisles, please hold the papers out, so I can collect them.”

I got a tap on my shoulder from Joe, Liliet’s New Teacher Facilitator, who had been working with Liliet since the first day of school. “We’ve been trying to figure out how to get kids to hand in papers quickly so it doesn’t disrupt the concentration of the class,” he whispered. “And Liliet’s got it down. She gives them specific instructions, so there’s no confusion, kids stay focused, and they’re ready for the next thing. That’s one more thing that helps Liliet get through her whole lesson plan for the day.”

For the rest of the class period, Liliet’s students practiced the oral presentations they would give formally the following week. I heard several presenters, many of whom had honed spectacular imitations of various celebrities, and had today managed to deliver entire speeches in character. After a 13-year old Martha Stewart wrapped up an authoritative, informative four-minute discourse, I looked over at Liliet, who was grinning from ear to ear. “I have a lot of characters in my class,” she said. “And they have all worked so hard on these presentations. It’s so good to see it all pay off. I’m really glad they can have fun with it.”

Every year New York City wrestles with the relentless challenge of keeping new teachers in their classrooms. The city is, as in years past, in dire need of certified teachers—though more than 9,000 new teachers came to New York public schools this year, a much smaller number actually have full teaching credentials. In addition, a great many teachers are expected to leave at the end of this year, due in part to a large number of retirements, but also due to the growing number of new teachers who leave their positions even before the end of their first year. “Poor working conditions, and lack of significant on-the-job training and support,” said Susan Moore Johnson, the Carl H. Phorzheimer Jr. Professor of Education in Teaching and Learning, and the principal investigator for the Project of the Next Generation of Teachers at Harvard Graduate School of Education, “are major reasons why many new teachers leave the profession within five years.”

Add to the mix that all fully certified teachers in New York City are sent first to schools rated “low performing.” All other New York City schools not given that rating are mandated to fill teacher vacancies with provisionally licensed teachers unless there happen to be more certified teachers than vacancies in “low performing” schools. Then—and only then—many any other New York City school hire a fully certified teacher.

So for several reasons, there are more provisionally licensed teachers than ever working in New York City public schools. Once these new teachers are placed and hired and settle into their new positions, they learn immediately how challenging teaching is, and just how valuable they are. But these new teachers also find that opportunities for professional development are scarce. They learn how demanding and how intricate, how exhausting and how stressful, classroom teaching can be. With low pay and without on-the-job growth support, without the opportunity for formal professional development, it comes as no surprise that so many of them are out the door before the end of their first year.

This past September, the Professional Development Laboratory (PDL), a project in the Steinhardt School of Education, in the Department of Teaching and Learning at New York University, worked with New York City educators at the district and school levels to find a successful way to support new provisionally licensed public school teachers. They developed the PDL for New Teacher Program, now in its first year working with two pilot districts in the New York City public school system.

PDL sought to give new teachers the necessary tools to reflect on their teaching practice, and to use that reflection to grow as educators. PDL for New Teachers seeks to empower new teachers, and to build teacher leadership—to enable new teachers to feel like confident, capable, and supported leaders with a deeper understanding of their role as teacher. PDL for New Teachers trains new teachers to use student work to reflect on teaching practices—to uncover direct results between “effective” teaching techniques and actual student success. But perhaps most importantly, PDL for New Teachers seeks to open classroom doors, to form networks of new and experienced educators—educators who, together, explore current research, new standards, city regulations, teaching practices, and a common passion for one of New York City’s most preciously rewarding professions.

The two New York City Community School Districts, or CSDs chosen by PDL to pilot the New Teacher Program, CSD 20 and CSD 26, face very different challenges. PDL selected these two districts in part to test the malleability of the program’s structure, to see if it could actually flex to meet different needs. But while different test scores and academic demographics made for clear differences between the districts that PDL was anxious to address individually, both districts faced one common challenge, and it was the big one PDL wanted to help manage: “Both districts were facing large numbers of vacancies created by retiring teachers,” said Ronni Mann, PDL’s Senior Associate in charge of the PDL for New Teachers Program. “And both districts had to fill those vacancies almost exclusively with provisionally licensed new teachers.”

The PDL for New Teachers Program is built around a staff of new teacher “coaches,” called New Teacher Facilitators. These facilitators each work directly with approximately ten new teachers placed under their tutelage. Last year, PDL’s facilitators were “exemplary” classroom teachers themselves, but this year, they are the eight selected educators who chose to leave their own classrooms to provide new teacher guidance full time.

New Teacher Facilitators meet at least once a week with their new teachers. Together, new teachers and facilitators discuss pedagogy, time management, behavior management, lesson plans, student case studies, curriculum maps, and tricks and tips galore. A New Teacher Facilitator not only observes his/her new teachers in the classroom, but makes arrangements for new teachers to observe veteran teachers, and to observe each other.

The goal of the New Teacher Program, however, isn’t only to give empowering support to new teachers. The New Teacher Facilitators receive intense, ongoing training, provided by PDL staff members on a weekly basis. The facilitators are trained to offer specific skills and use solid, reflective coaching techniques. Facilitators review and interpret new developments on district initiatives and national new teacher standards, and they learn how to successfully provide training for adults, as opposed to children. They participate in weekly training seminars and workshops, and receive formal training offered by PDL as well.

The result of all this training is not only the production and support of great facilitators. “I’m beginning to think about teaching in new ways,” said Manette Gampel, a CSD 20 New Teacher Facilitator and a former science middle school teacher for over 30 years. “I feel like I’m learning just as much as I’m teaching.”

“I love this job,” said CSD 26 New Teacher Facilitator Joe Fusaro. “I was ready for new challenges, and with this program I really feel challenged all over again.”

During the course of their training, facilitators form colleague teams to co-design and co-lead professional development “institutes,” called Teacher Leadership Institutes or “TLI’s.” These TLI’s are offered to new teachers in their own districts for either New Teacher Credit or graduate credit. PDL assists the facilitators as they develop curriculum for the TLI’s, and provide ongoing course evaluation while the courses are in session. According to several of the New Teacher facilitators, leading TLIs has been one of the most educational aspects of the whole program. “The TLI is one of the best parts of the job,” said CSD 20 facilitator Roseann Harris. “My co-leader and I have had an incredible experience working together, and the classes are going really well. We’re all learning!”

The new teachers in PDL’s New Teacher Program come from all over New York City. Their past career experience runs the gamut, from former corporate executives to professional artists, and their enthusiasm, rich diversity, and vastly varied backgrounds have helped make this pilot run so successfully.

“I feel so supported,” said one new Social Studies teacher. “I was really scared to change jobs, but I knew I wanted to teach. Teaching is so hard, and so exhausting, but it’s also such an amazing experience. And now that I have a coach, it’s so incredible to do all of this specific reflection about it—to ask such hard questions of myself, and to be encouraged to build my own answers. What a fantastic feeling it is to know I’m not alone.”

Enrolled in the New Teacher Program are new teachers of Social Studies, Math, Language Arts, Earth Science, Humanities, Art, and Music and one brand new librarian. I sat in on several weekly meetings, visited classrooms with facilitators, and talked to both teachers and facilitators during the Fall Semester 2001 about what’s going on in the classrooms.

“This year I was asked to organize the school-wide holiday concert,” said Eva, a brand new music teacher in CSD 26. “I had two weeks, 90 kids, and no idea where to start.” She and her facilitator, Joe Fusaro, a National Board Certified 11- year veteran teacher, each smiled as they remembered back. “We talked about the logistics first,” said Fusaro. We had to manage 90 kids during rehearsals, and we quickly realized that we needed a few monitors for management, so Eva could concentrate on the music.”

“That was a great start,” said Eva, “But then Joe arranged with my principal for me to travel to another school to see a seasoned music teacher’s rehearsals and final performance. I don’t know if I would have ever had that opportunity without him,” continued Eva, “…and it made all the difference. Joe helped me understand, then explain to my principal, why it was so important for me to ask for help, and to ask for some time off campus to observe another music teacher.”

A few weeks later I caught up with Joe Fusaro again. “Eva’s concert was fantastic,” he said, audibly grinning. “It was totally organized and ran without a hitch. The kids looked great, they sounded great, and everyone loved it.” He paused a minute, then added, “Especially Eva.”

“Ultimately,” said Ronni Mann, “The PDL for New Teachers Program is designed to promote empowerment, inquiry, reflection, and confidence for everyone involved. At the end of the day, we aim to give the students in New York City public schools access to the best education available. And we’re reaching both new teachers and veteran teachers—we’ve seen the facilitators grow so much this year. In fact, we’re all learning, and what a wonderful thing.”

Author, professor of teaching and learning, and founder of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), Linda Darling-Hammond, reflects on the connection between teacher learning and student success in the publication Educational Leadership:

“If teachers investigate the effects of their teaching on students’ learning…they become sensitive to variation and more aware of what works for what purposes in what situations. Training…[also] helps teachers learn how to look at the world from multiple perspectives and to use this knowledge to reach diverse learners.” (Educational Leadership, volume 55, #5, Feb 1998 issue)

“PDL believes that by providing collaborative, professional learning environments for new and veteran teachers,” said PDL Director Mary Ann Walsh, “we assist in the retention of teachers. PDL places useful tools in the hands of teachers, helps them feel more secure, confident, and reflective in their work, and to helps deepen the passion and sense of mission with which they came to teaching.”

After a successful pilot in both CSD 20 and 26, PDL plans to its New Teachers program to other districts in New York City. For more information regarding the PDL for New Teachers Program, call the Professional Development Laboratory at New York University at (212) 998-5453, or visit the PDL website at www.nyu.edu/pdl.