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Free to Give Something Back

Posted on 11 April 2009

Independent professionals foster a teaching revolution

The need to give something back is motivating mid-career professionals to consider an alternative line of work: teaching. Those who wish to forego the corporate experience are finding greater challenges–and more satisfying rewards–in American public schools.

Plan of Attack
Launched two years ago with a $1.1 million nationwide ad campaign, the New York City Teaching Fellows ( are quickly becoming the front line of defense in the nation’s largest public school system. For years, the city has been plagued with failing test scores, crumbling buildings, and seasoned educators fleeing for the better-paying suburbs. To make matters worse, an estimated 7,000 teachers may retire by the end of 2009–the largest mass exodus from the system in 10 years. Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy responded to the situation by challenging professionals in other careers to help teach in the city’s under-performing schools. Located in central Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan, these schools are in traditionally low-income areas with high immigrant populations. In addition to offering full-time instruction, new Teaching Fellows must complete a Master’s degree in education (at the city’s expense) within the first two years.

Sometimes making good money isn’t enough. You want to know that you’re making a difference in a child’s life.

The Board of Education received 2,300 applications soon after the program was announced, and 323 fellows began teaching in Fall 2008. The initial group was 21 percent African-American, 10 percent Hispanic–and 40 percent Male. A second group of 70 began teaching in January 2009.

Almost 8,000 applications were submitted for the following school year, but only one in five was accepted. The new group is 30 percent African-American, 12 percent Hispanic, and 32 percent male. Almost one-quarter of them have a graduate degree, and more than half are aged 25 to 49.

More Than Money
The NYC fellowship does not pay particularly well (just over $30k to start), but money is not the prime motivating factor for a career-changing teacher. “Sometimes making good money isn’t enough. You want to wake up knowing that you are making a difference in a child’s life,” says Tania Caraballo-Catus. Ms. Caraballo-Catus taught in the Bronx for a year, and is now a recruiter for the New York Teaching Fellows. “It’s about wanting a challenge,” she adds, “something that is rewarding to both you and the community.”

The job can be physically and mentally grueling. “You need to feel a strong commitment to teaching,” says Christine Derananian, “because it will be the hardest job you ever do, but also the most emotionally rewarding.” Derananian taught in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan for three years, and is now an admissions communications associate for the program. She says of teaching: “It’s not an hourly job. You will think about it all the time. But at the same time, it’s an amazing feeling when a child finally understands something after days of hard work.”

The Revolution Continues?
The New Teacher Project, a division of Teach for America, does the recruitment and selection for NYC fellows. The New York City Board of Education handles their training and placement. The program will eventually be completely run by the Board of Education. Similar initiatives are in place in a number of other school districts around the country, including Compton, CA, Kansas City, KS, Kansas City, MO, and San José, CA.

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