From the courtroom to the classroom

Their orientation session last week began with upbeat images of smiling students and colorful bulletin boards. Slides clicked on and off the screen to the sound of the Jackson 5 singing that it's easy as "ABC."

But nothing about the challenge these 81 men and women are facing will be easy. This is the second crop of recruits beginning in the New York City Teaching Fellows program. Last year's group of 350 has already been whittled down by a 9 percent dropout rate.

The teaching fellows are said to be a favored project of New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy. Under pressure to place certified teachers in failing city schools, Mr. Levy intends to expand the fellows program to bring in as many as 3,000 new teachers this year.

The fellows program seeks to recruit professionals from other fields interested in trying their hand at teaching. The city offers classes toward a master's degree in education and an alternative route to teacher certification. In exchange, they must accept placement in districts that are among the worst performing in the city. At least half the fellows in this group said they were taking a pay cut.

Levy hopes the program will provide the city's teaching corps with an influx of new talent. The new group includes a PhD and several artists, lawyers, and healthcare professionals.

Levy greeted them with a thank you. "This is no small task," he warned. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it. You're going to be placed in some very challenging situations." He paused and then deadpanned, "Challenging is the euphemism."

Later, some of the fellows shared their motives for teaching. "I hope to make use of my talent for talking to children as grownups," one said. "I want to inspire the desire of these children to learn," said another.

Not all the reasons were as lofty. "I don't know," said Gerard Tilley, a former high school teacher from Baltimore. "I'm just riding the crest of this wave."

The fellows will have four to six weeks of classes and student teaching in city schools. They will begin working in their own classrooms in February.

Up to 1,400 new fellows will start in June.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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