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Testimony regarding teacher preparation and training

Testimony

Testimony before the New York City Council Joint Hearing of the Committees on Education and Higher Education

Good afternoon. My name is Christina Collins and I am the Director of Research and Policy at the UFT Center under the auspices of Vice President for Education Evelyn DeJesus. On behalf of the union’s more than 190,000 members, I would like to thank Education Chair Mark Treyger and Higher Education Chair Inez Barron and members of both committees for holding today’s hearing on teacher preparation and training.

I would also like to recognize City Council Speaker Corey Johnson for his strong leadership, and congratulate him and the members of this council for your efforts in passing our most recent city budget.

Teacher residency as preparation

I would first like to speak to the matter of teacher preparation and how to improve our current system. New York City, like many urban school districts, has a tough time retaining new teachers. When I speak with new teachers, especially those who are struggling, the constant refrain is — “They didn’t teach us this in (education) school.” We need a new paradigm. One that mirrors the medical profession and gives prospective teachers a student residency of working, teaching and learning inside a New York City public school.

The UFT and the New York City Department of Education have been in talks with the City University of New York about how such a residency program could be structured. Each year, New York City hires upwards of 4,000 new teachers. We support a residency program that absorbs as many of these new hires as possible. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer just yesterday proposed a residency program that builds on the existing alternative preparation program, the New York Teaching Fellows. With so many public school advocates calling for a vigorous residency program, we hope it is an idea whose time has come.

UFT Teacher Center

We at the UFT value your commitment to ensuring that our teachers are adequately prepared to succeed in our classrooms and that they receive meaningful learning opportunities throughout their careers to help them grow into exceptional educators. For this reason, I want to thank the City Council for its most recent investment in the UFT Teacher Center program.

The UFT’s award-winning Teacher Center, founded in 1979, is a school-based professional development program that promotes teacher excellence and academic achievement for all students. The Teacher Center is a collaboration of the UFT, the New York State Education Department, the New York City Department of Education, participating schools and districts, school support organizations and metropolitan area universities and cultural institutions.

The UFT Teacher Center operates throughout the five boroughs of New York City with dedicated professional learning specialists in 115 school-based sites and over 25 experienced New York City educators who serve as Teacher Center field staff members and instructional specialists who work directly with schools and offer city-wide learning opportunities. Drawing on current research and best practices, the UFT Teacher Center’s professional development activities are designed and taught by educators for educators to deepen content knowledge across all subject areas, including shortage area subjects such as math and science; enhance pedagogical skill; and support teachers to better serve all students, including English language learners and students with special needs.

Activities range widely and include intensive in-classroom support, after-school study groups, citywide networks, conferences and seminars. The UFT Teacher Center has deep experience in the design, delivery, and implementation of high-quality professional learning, including work with interactive learning experiences, in collaboration with outside partners. They also have a long history of successfully bringing innovative new content and pedagogical practices directly to classroom teachers throughout the city and working side-by-side with them in schools to support engaging instruction. 

Through this network of 115 school-based sites and numerous conferences and workshops, during the 2017-2018 school year, the UFT Teacher Center provided professional learning to more than 246,000 participants, including teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, school staff and parents in New York City. And now more than ever, the UFT Teacher Center is uniquely positioned to play a leading role, as New York State moves to create and implement its new Next Generation learning standards and related resources and curricula. UFT Teacher Centers have and will continue to play a vital part in developing and executing New York’s Professional Development Plan requirements and helping educate classroom teachers so the work aligns with the new standards.

The UFT Teacher Center also supports National Board Certification and serves as an approved provider of Continuing Teacher and Leader Education (CTLE) credits. It has partnerships with six local colleges and universities and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) college partners including Brooklyn College and the New York Institute of Technology to support teachers’ continuing education.

UFT Teacher Center school-based sites

I would now like to walk you through examples of the work performed at three distinct UFT Teacher Center school-based sites.

Students with special needs

First I would like to showcase the UFT Teacher Center school-based site inside P396, a special education program located inside PS 532 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that recently opened in April 2019. This site works with educators from four District 75 locations and affects more than 1,600 special needs students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Our colleague Shameeka Hill is the site specialist at this particular UFT Teacher Center site. The paint was barely dry when Ms. Hill was already planning presentations about how the new state learning standards in English language arts and math apply to special needs students and instruction. “I am a resource,” is how Ms. Hill describes herself. And by May 2019, educators in these four District 75 locations were reporting that the Teacher Center site was providing them with hands-on materials for their students. Educators were thrilled to have this new content, which they used to write curriculum specific to the needs of their special-needs students.

Civic education

Next, I would like to focus on UFT Teacher Center work around civic education. Supported by a grant from the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT), educators from across the city are meeting regularly with me and with staff from the UFT Teacher Center to discuss their vision for civics education and write recommendations to present to the New York State Board of Regents in the fall. Their work will provide substance to New York State’s K-12 framework for civic participation, which goes beyond calling for students to be educated in democratic responsibilities such as jury duty and voting. These standards identify ways students of all ages should behave and interact with each other, such as 6th graders showing respect for the rights of others in classroom debates regardless of whether one agrees with the other viewpoint.

STEM education

Finally, as educators, we know we are preparing our students for a world we can barely dream of. So how do we do that? By developing their critical skills early and ensuring that all students see science, technology and math as tools they can master— and have fun exploring.

Educators at PS 28 in the Bronx put this philosophy into action with their Teacher Center Coach, Roslyn Odinga, by designing and building structures that could prevent — or at least slow — an ice cube from melting. By working in teams, evaluating their designs and then improving them, these educators saw this experiment through the eyes of a both a teacher and a student. They will be better equipped to help their own kindergarten students — yes, kindergarten — understand scientific concepts and vocabulary about the effects of sunlight on the earth’s surface.

Closing thoughts

We understand that providing our students with a world-class education means that our educators must be well prepared and afforded consistent professional development. For this reason, the UFT is committed to providing our members substantive and meaningful learning opportunities throughout their careers that help them grow into outstanding educators. We strongly believe that now is the time to engage in a conversation around implementing teacher residency programs to better prepare our future educators, and to continue support for our signature teacher professional development program, the UFT Teacher Center, to guarantee that the students of New York City are served by the best trained teachers with experience in the classrooms they will be working in. Thank you.   

Testimony