When Cara Jacofsky began her teaching career 23 years ago, she was determined to become the best teacher she could be for her students, so she connected with the UFT Teacher Center.
“The first few years of my teaching career, they would plan lessons with me and give me materials,” Jacofsky said. “It helped build the foundation of my teaching.”
So when her school, PS 107 in Queens, was getting its own Teacher Center site this school year, Jacofsky applied for — and was selected to be — the site coach. “Helping someone the way I was helped is my goal,” she said.
Citywide, 134 Teacher Center sites in 118 school buildings are providing vital support for public school educators as they help their students recover academically from two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
"During the pandemic, schools with Teacher Centers fared better with remote teaching because of the additional support," said UFT Vice President for Education Mary Vaccaro. “As schools returned to fully in-person learning this school year, it became the perfect time to start expanding Teacher Centers across the city to help educators rise to the challenge."
Since September 2021, 20 new Teacher Center sites have opened or been refurbished in school buildings. More than 35 schools have requested Teacher Center sites for next school year.
The UFT Teacher Center program has been providing relevant, job-embedded professional development to New York City educators for more than 40 years. The centers were flourishing in city public schools when the 2008 recession hit and Albany eliminated funding for the program. The UFT provided funds from its own budget to allow the program to continue, but many of the school sites didn’t survive.
As the program makes a comeback, the UFT made funding of Teacher Centers one of its budget priorities in Albany this year. Teachers appreciate being able to find the support they need without leaving their building, said Veronica Vadi, the site coach at the new Teacher Center in Longwood Academy of Discovery in the Bronx.
“Sometimes teachers pop in for targeted support, but we also have days set aside when we work with specific grades on special things,” Vadi said. “For example, tomorrow’s lens will be on curriculum and how to teach it to be socially responsive.”
Site coaches are certified to conduct workshops where members can earn CTLE hours.
“Teachers and paraprofessionals can get the credits they need right here,” Jacofsky said about PS 107. “We can gear the topics to whatever the school’s or educators’ needs are.”
The program also gets important technology and supplies to each school.
“The UFT Teacher Center has provided us with computers, a color printer, a professional development library and other books that help guide instruction,” Jacofsky said. “And we’ve also received beanbag chairs and chair bands to support social-emotional learning.”
PS 107 3rd-grade teacher Aliya Ali-Mohamed is grateful for the strategies she’s learned and the materials she’s received from the Teacher Center as she supports students in the school’s Special Education Recovery Services program, which helps students with disabilities who were identified as needing additional academic support this year. “We do special ed recovery every morning, and the Teacher Center offers resources that have helped me teach that program,” she said.
Diana Turck, also a 3rd-grade teacher at PS 107, said the Teacher Center has helped her support special education students who have struggled with the transition back to in-person learning. “We are able to use the beanbag chairs and other tools to help these students,” she said.
Sara Girardi, a kindergarten teacher at the Longwood Academy for 18 years, calls the Teacher Center an amazing place. “When we’re getting ready to start a new unit, we’re able to work on things collaboratively in one space. Everything is right here,” she said.
First-year teacher Chris Jimenez, who teaches in a 3rd- and 4th-grade transitional bilingual classroom at Longwood Academy, uses the Teacher Center to plan each day.
“I come in in the morning and at midday during lunch to plan what I’m going to do,” he said. “There are other teachers here, and I can count on the team to give me resources. I also ask the site coach questions and she’s very insightful.”
Site coach Vadi at Longwood Academy said the Teacher Center has become a welcome meeting place for UFT members, “whether it’s to borrow something, print something or just get a cup of coffee.”
The new Teacher Centers are helping meet both the academic and social-emotional needs of students.“
With the COVID-19 pandemic, making decisions and shifting priorities in teaching can feel monumental,” said Samantha Hall, the Teacher Center coach at PS/IS 295 in Jamaica, Queens. “The UFT Teacher Center provides resources and tools, creates structured goals, implements new strategies and offers guidance to exponentially improve our teachers’ and students’ ability to reach their highest potential."