revolving door

Churn in city's teaching corps includes larger crop of Fellows

Jennifer Allen is one of 900 new Teaching Fellows who hope to land teaching positions by September.

Hours before nearly 3,000 teachers at dozens of schools got official word that they would need to look for new positions, Chancellor Dennis Walcott greeted 900 fresh recruits to the city’s teaching corps.

The new teachers were recruited and selected by the NYC Teaching Fellows program, which has trained new teachers for shortage areas such as special education and math since 2000. Fellows get training over the summer, then are sent off into high-needs schools in the fall while they work toward a master’s degree in education.

At its peak, the program brought in thousands of new teachers each year. But under tight budget conditions and hiring restrictions, it shrank dramatically in the last few years. This year’s crop of 900 newbies is twice as many as the program hired in 2011, and 200 more than the Department of Education forecast this spring.

The new fellows packed into a Midtown auditorium for a ceremony that welcomed them into the city’s public school system on Monday.

“You have the opportunity to make sure your students are able to grow and thrive in today’s society,” Walcott told the fellows as he praised them for earning a spot in the competitive program, which accepted just 12 percent of applicants this year. “That’s what we want you to do to make that lasting impact.”

But with only a few months to secure a classroom position, the chancellor’s words of encouragement didn’t ease the anxiety that many recruits expressed. Since 2009, fellows who don’t land a permanent position by the middle of the fall semester are tossed from the program — and its payroll.

“I am very nervous,” said Jennifer Allen, who has already started to search for a position. “Every day, whenever I have down time, I schedule at least an hour or so to put out resumes and talk to principals to try to get myself out there.”

And the fellows have an especially large crowd of competitors this year: The welcome ceremony coincided with the announcement that almost 3,000 experienced teachers at the city’s 24 “turnaround” schools are not guaranteed their jobs this fall. Many are applying to keep their positions, but others are striking out on the open market to look for open jobs elsewhere in the system. They will join the fellows, other new teachers, and other experienced teachers looking for a change in competing for open spots.

Meanwhile, fellows can pursue jobs at the turnaround schools, or anywhere else in the system. Half of the new recruits are being trained as special education teachers, so they are unlikely to be subject to hiring restrictions that remain in place for many subject areas.

The good odds had most new fellows confident about finding a position come September.

“I’m an adult and I’ve never not had a job in the last seven years,” said Liz Geisewite, who previously worked in the nonprofit sector. “They’re very reassuring that we’ll get placed eventually.”

Geisewite said she became interested in teaching special education last year when she worked for a GED program.

“Most of the students that I worked with had been special education students at some point and never finished school,” she said. “I thought, what if I could be with them one step before, so they didn’t have to make the choice of going back to school later in life.”

Another recruit, 47-year-old Greg Kilpatrick, made the switch from being an architect.

“I taught [English as a second language] many years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand so I always loved it, and I always wanted to continue to be a teacher,” said Kilpatrick. “It’s a great opportunity. I hope to get a lot of great skills and practical knowledge about teaching that I can take into the classroom.”

About half of this year’s cohort is fresh out of college and under 24 years old, but 6 percent of the new recruits — 54 people — are over 40 years old.

Current teachers who came to the system through the fellows program joined Walcott in trying to rev up their new colleagues, with one teacher bringing 10 students from her Bronx school for students with special needs to dance to Beyonce’s “Run the World.”

“How many people do you know can say they get paid to do what they love?” asked Malik Ketcham, a Bronx teacher who was a fellow in 2008. “The key to your success in the classroom, fellows, is going to be the realization that you’re not only a teacher. To be successful in the classroom, you have to be a counselor, an advisor, and you have to be an entertainer.”

One role teachers should not take is friend, warned Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the union the new fellows will join when they land classroom positions.

“I can’t thank you enough for saying that ‘I want to be a teacher, I want to make a difference in children’s lives,’” Mulgrew said. But he cautioned the fellows to avoid the troubles that several teachers found themselves in this year because of inappropriate interactions with students.

“As a new teacher, it’s more important to help them, not to be their friend,” he added.

Allen said she decided to get her teaching certification after working as an assistant at P.S. 234 for five years, precisely because she wanted to make a difference for children.

“But I felt like as a paraprofessional, I didn’t have an impact as much as I could as being a teacher,” she said.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”