2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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The New Teacher Institute Brings TC to Bushwick

The New Teacher Institute helps to make the first years of teaching in urban school districts as smooth as possible with the resources of both Teachers College and experienced mentors.

Anxiety on the first day of school is not limited to first grade students or an occasional high school student. First-year teachers need support and guidance, too.

"I was given the keys to my classroom and told ‘Good Luck!'" said Kate Unger, Director of Teachers College's New Teacher Institute, referring to her first days of teaching.

The New Teacher Institute helps to make the first years of teaching in urban school districts as smooth as possible with the resources of both Teachers College and experienced mentors.

The Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation (CEO&I), teamed up with Judy Rizzo, Deputy Chancellor of New York City Schools to create this program when they realized that they needed to "build bridges" to keep teachers in urban areas. The CEO&I allows the participants of the Institute to take any workshops that it offers as well as use the many other TC resources."When I found out that the turnover rate of first year teachers was near 50 percent, it became clear that without the infusion of new blood, the system could not succeed in the long term," said Peter Cookson, Director of the Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation and Associate Professor of Education.

The program will focus on three areas: leadership, standards, and literacy, said Unger. The teachers will create a personal development plan and place themselves on a continuum. They can develop their own program to move up to where they want to be.

The New Teacher Institute is working exclusively to support and supplement the efforts made by District 32 in Bushwick, Brooklyn. "We are proud to be a part of District 32," Cookson said, "and we are planning to expand the program to other districts."

"It's just an experiment-we aren't claiming to save all of public education. We are learning how to do this," he said.

Unger leads The New Teacher Institute's interactive program by bringing TC to Bushwick loaded onto a small cart. The program introduces "new concepts for teachers to have in their bags of tricks to be more fluent in the art of teaching."

The bi-weekly, 90-minute seminars for teachers and their mentors take place with experienced professionals from Teachers College and other cultural institutions.

Mary Zaks (EdM 1998) and Emily Kambour (MA 1999) from Teachers College, were on hand to encourage group participation and share their knowledge and experience of teaching. Kambour and Zaks helped to direct small group discussion and assisted participants whenever necessary.

In the first session, the participating teachers have the chance to get to know one another better through a quick interview survey. Through a series of exercises, the teachers create their own definitions of community that will eventually spill over into how they manage their classrooms.

Unger concluded the seminar by asking the new teachers and mentors to stand in a circle. She threw a rainbow ball of yarn to one of the members and and told something that she remembered about that person. As the ball went around the room, the unraveling yarn literally connected each of the new teachers and mentors in a web of communication.

Each new teacher has an on-site mentor teacher who is shared by several other teachers for day-to-day needs. Unger said that the New Teacher Institute is trying to build a multi-level network of support with mentors, new teachers, alumni from the pilot program, as well as volunteers from Teachers College.

To help the teachers further connect locally, there is a Web site (http://www.tc.columbia.edu/ceoi/eli) where teachers can share resources like lesson plans. The teachers can e-mail questions and comments to faculty members.

Last year's pilot program was very successful. "The teachers graduating from the program are so grateful," said Unger. "One teacher wanted to begin an Alumni Association to lend a hand to new teachers this year.

"They are so dedicated, caring and driven to do the best job they can for the children," she added. "It is really inspiring."

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