This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
With a wary eye toward the shrinking supply of Pennsylvania teachers, Drexel University has started a new program to train more middle school math and science instructors. Dragons Teach Middle Years (DTMY) has been in development since 2015, but received its official launch Monday with the announcement of a $1.2 million grant from the Philadelphia School Partnership.
By 2022, DTMY expects to graduate 40 certified middle school teachers each year and funnel them toward Philly schools of all stripes: district, charter, and parochial.
Unlike students in traditional teacher prep programs, DTMY participants won’t major in education. The model allows students to remain in fields such as psychology and English while completing the coursework necessary to earn a teaching certificate in Pennsylvania.
DTMY also emphasizes in-class training. Participants will spend nearly a year at partner schools in the city serving as teacher-residents. Traditional teacher prep programs don’t require as much in-class learning time.
"These teachers will be trained specifically for the unique challenges of urban classrooms," said Drexel president John Fry. "And urban classes are tough places to get students to learn."
TNTP, formerly known as the The New Teacher Project, helped design Drexel’s new program. TNTP is a reform-minded teacher training organization that focuses on preparing educators to work in big cities.
The School District of Philadelphia announced last week it wants to hire 1,000 new teachers this year alone. For years the district has struggled to put a certified, permanent teacher in each of its classrooms. Finding good middle school math and science teachers has been a particular struggle.
"Having a teacher training pipeline focused on our hardest-to-fill areas — which [are] math and science is critical," said Lou Bellardine, the district’s chief talent officer and former vice president of human resources at Drexel.
Observers assign many potential causes to this recurring shortage. Some say potential teachers eschew Philadelphia because the district and the city’s teachers’ union don’t have a contract. Others point to the district’s relatively late hiring process or the tough task of educating students in a city where more than a quarter of residents live in poverty.