Brooke Shmuel thought she was doing everything by the book when she submitted her credentials for certification to the state Office of Teaching Initiatives. “I was working on it for two years, collecting information,” said Shmuel, a speech teacher at PS 68 in the Eastchester section of the Bronx. “I had submitted everything more than once, because they lost my information multiple times even though it was sent certified mail.”
She began to worry when she did not get a response from the state — and was on the brink of being terminated because of her lack of certification.
That’s when Shmuel turned to the UFT Certification Department — and discovered that the state evaluator couldn’t read Shmuel’s handwriting on a document proving she was engaged in continuing competency training. Nanette Rosario-Sanchez, the UFT special representative for certification, had no trouble reading the document, but nonetheless had Shmuel type it up.
Rosario-Sanchez estimates there are 25 to 30 evaluators in the state office responsible for assessing the credentials of, and issuing certification to, thousands of teachers, paraprofessionals, principals, assistant principals, speech teachers and guidance counselors, among other titles.
“State evaluators are overwhelmed,” she said.
Many people think certification occurs immediately after college coursework ends, but that is not the case, Rosario-Sanchez said. Other complications arise because applicants are coming from other states, where the certification standards may be slightly different.
Staff at the UFT Certification Department helps members navigate the certification process and rescues applications that are endangered because of bureaucratic oversights and other reasons. Out of approximately 3,100 teachers who were on the termination list for failure to complete certification requirements this past school year, only eight were actually terminated, thanks to intervention by UFT educational liaisons and the union’s Certification Department.
Rosario-Sanchez recounted other stories that revealed how minor oversights can become major obstacles to certification. There was the teacher who, according to the state evaluator, didn’t have the required college English credits on his transcript. “Three times he was disapproved by the state,” she said. “Every application for certification costs $100, so that cost him $300.” When she examined his transcript, she found that the writing courses were in the theater department and coded for theater, not English — but fully applicable to his application.
The UFT provides similar support for paraprofessionals. Out of approximately 4,000 paraprofessionals in danger of losing their jobs due to certification issues this past school year, only 49 were ultimately terminated, according to union data.
“It’s very important, when possible, to save these positions,” said Shelvy Young-Abrams, the paraprofessionals chapter leader. “There’s a need for paraprofessionals, especially in hard-to-staff areas.”
For Rosario-Sanchez, it’s about being there for members, with expert advice that makes a difference.
“We give them solutions and different strategies,” she said.
And the human touch is welcome. “Ms. Rosario-Sanchez was very helpful,” Shmuel said. “She calmed me down.”