S.F. Unified Relying on Homegrown Teachers and Interns to Fill Void

SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza (left) and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (right) congratulate 22-year-old Tina Yang (middle) on her first year as a teacher resident at El Dorado Elementary School.  (Ana Tintocalis)

San Francisco public school leaders desperately want and need people like 22-year-old Tina Yang.

She was born and raised in the city, and knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was 5 years old.

“When I first went to kindergarten here, I didn’t speak English," Yang recalls. "But my teacher, she worked with me for that year and I did learn English in such a short amount of time."

Fast forward to this year.

Yang just graduated with a degree in education from San Jose State University.

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The San Francisco Unified School District quickly snatched her up for its teacher residency program, designed to get former students into the teaching profession.

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A student raises his hand in class.

It's one of several unconventional ways the district is trying to build its own pipeline of homegrown teachers in the midst of a national teacher shortage.

“It’s just a really good model,” says SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza. “The reality is we will never be able to fill all of our vacancies through any one program.”

As part of the program, Yang is back in her old neighborhood of Visitacion Valley, spending an entire year embedded at El Dorado Elementary School working with second-graders.

Yang is matched up with a veteran educator while she works on her teaching credential. Most college credentialing programs require only a semester of student teaching.

In exchange for specialized training and support, Yang has promised to stay and work in city schools for at least three years.

“You’re not doing it part time,” Yang says. “It’s really about building your endurance for it and exposing you to the reality of what being a teacher is like.”

The program was created five years ago, and each year it turns out about 20 new teachers.

But even Carranza admits the number of new teachers the program produces is a drop in the bucket. This year, SFUSD had to hire roughly 450 new teachers.

As a result, Carranza says he's had to get creative and partner with organizations like Teach For America and local universities to place teachers without credentials into full-time teaching positions.

“These are individuals who have gotten bachelor’s degrees, who have gotten a college education, and have decided they want to come into teaching,” Carranza says. “We’re very selective about how we partner with organizations.”

But relying on so-called teacher interns is a strategy many educators, school board members and community leaders do not support because these individuals are untried teachers filling hard-to-staff schools.

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Jeannette Williams teaches eighth-grade algebra at Presidio Middle School, a San Francisco Unified School District school. Photo taken in 2011.

“The bottom line is either you have qualified, talented teachers in the classrooms or you don’t,” says Lita Blanc, president of United Educators of San Francisco.

She and other critics say the district needs to provide the kind of teacher support and better pay that would keep talented educators in place even in tough schools.

Research shows kids in the worst schools need the most qualified teachers, with solid experience in managing classroom behavior. They also need to stay in those schools because students are more likely to succeed when there’s teacher stability.

“If San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to live in the United States, they're going to have to address the salary issue big-time.” Blanc says.

Carranza says the district just gave teachers a significant pay raise, and says he is also exploring affordable housing options for teachers.

But for now, Carranza maintains the district has to rely on these programs to keep schools running, and to avoid another last-minute scramble to hire teachers for the next school year.

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