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Program Connects Schools, Career Changers


Beverly Harvey came to teaching through a partnership between the local schools and a nonprofit group called The New Teacher Project.

Timothy Daly is the group's president. He joins us now.


Mr. TIMOTHY DALY (President, The New Teacher Project): Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: And why do you want career changers like Beverly? She moved from banking into teaching.

Mr. DALY: They bring a set of skills that I think kids need. You could hear the passion in her voice and the commitment that she had to learning to be a great teacher, partly motivated by her own experience. And sometimes, career changers especially are in teaching for the right reasons: they're not doing it because they need a job. They're often sacrificing quite a bit to get into the profession.

BLOCK: Do you think there are certain professions that lend themselves most quickly or best to teaching?

Mr. DALY: It's a very good question. I think many times, the professions that are hardest to learn are the best preparation for teaching, because nobody learns to teach easily. You have to be prepared to fail repeatedly. And you have to have a huge amount of resolve to figure out what it takes to reach kids consistently and to help them grow. And so often, people that did something that came very easily to them, it's harder for them to transition into teaching.

BLOCK: Yeah. And what about training here? I mean, Beverly Harvey was in this intensive crash course, I think six weeks of training and then she's thrown into the classroom. Is that really enough?

Mr. DALY: You know, one of the things that we struggle with in education is that there's no amount of training that's enough. And what we found is that the key is how you respond on the job, during the first year and during the second year. There's this distance between her mentor who has all these skills that she's practiced over the years, and Beverly who's just starting out. And the truth is that Beverly is probably going to close that distance rapidly. But there's no amount of training that can make her as good as that mentor before she's ever been in the classroom.

BLOCK: But, you know, if I'm a parent of one of those kids, in those first couple of years, I might be thinking, I don't want you to be training on my kid, essentially doing - going through trial by fire in the classroom.

Mr. DALY: It's a fair question. And I think that's why it's essential that they're in really strong rigorous programs that provide them support and feedback. And part of the way that we structure our program is that they don't end the day, the teacher goes into the classroom. We work with the teachers to make sure that they reach a point of excellence at the end of their first and second year. I think that that's critical in teaching is that we don't assume that teachers, on their own, are going to automatically be great on the first day. But we structure the profession to make them great.

BLOCK: Yeah, and what do you tell the parents along the way who are watching their kids sort of dealing with an inexperienced teacher, who might have a whole lot more on her plate than she bargained for?

Mr. DALY: For parents, I think that just nationally, parents are starting to become much more attuned to the issues of teacher effectiveness because they're seeing that they have high standards for their kids and that not every teacher, whether they're a first-year, second-year teacher or a third-year teacher, or if they've been in the classroom for 15 years, there is great variation in teacher effectiveness. And the truth is that some teachers, even in their first year, are quite astonishingly effective, and we have teachers in their tenth year who are less effective.

So to parents, I would say, it's much more important what's happening in your child's classroom and whether you see learning going on than how experienced the teacher is.

BLOCK: Do you think that your model for training teachers is better than the traditional route of certification through teacher colleges?

Mr. DALY: I wouldn't say that it's better or worse. I think that it's a complement. What we had in the country for a couple of decades, from the late '70s until the mid-'90s, was we weren't doing nearly enough to get people into the profession, and we had a big shortage of teachers, and the talent, pool of teachers, was consistently going down. By recruiting career changers, in some ways we're rectifying that by bringing in a stream of professionals that really wouldn't be in the profession otherwise. These aren't people who would go back to school for two years to get a master's degree and not make an income

And so what's very critical, I think, about alternate routes is we're accessing a diverse pool of folks. It includes a lot more men. It includes a lot more people of color. It includes a lot more people that aren't 22 years old. And I think that for that reason, it's an invaluable complement to the teacher pipeline overall.

BLOCK: Do you find that you get pushback from other teachers who say, look, I did take those two years to get my teaching degree, and here comes so and so with, you know, six weeks of a crash course coming in just as I did.

Mr. DALY: We sometimes get skepticism about the approach overall, until teachers have seen it works. So what teachers most want is strong colleagues and to be part of a great instructional team. And what we found over the years is that in many of our programs, where the effectiveness of our teachers has been studied, they do a great job. So for instance, in Louisiana, our math teachers are the most effective math teachers, the new stream of math teachers in the state, and I think that teachers value that. When they see good colleagues coming out of programs like that, they often are very receptive.

BLOCK: And how do you measure that? What makes a teacher most effective, do you think?

Mr. DALY: What makes a teacher effective is that they can generate a response from kids. Kids work harder and focus more and grow more in certain teachers' classrooms than they do in others. So an effective teacher is one that knows how to adjust and knows how to read where students are at and get them to respond in a way that generates learning.

BLOCK: Timothy Daly, thank you very much.

Mr. DALY: Thank you.

BLOCK: Timothy Daly is the president of the New Teacher Project. He spoke with us from Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.