BAYYINAH ABDUL-ALEEM says she really loves her job coaching new teachers in the Philadelphia School District.
"Sometimes people are unprepared" for big-city classrooms, even with an education degree and teacher certification, she said.
For one thing, she said, the children in city classrooms often have had a lot of responsibilities at home. That's one thing she likes to get across to newly minted educators.
"You can't talk to these young adults like they're little children," Abdul-Aleem said.
And she tries to get the new teachers ready for the cosmopolitan nature of a district with eight other official languages, and with a student population that's more than 65 percent African-American and almost 15 percent Hispanic.
"They might come from a background that doesn't have much diversity, to a place where there's a high concentration of urban youth," Abdul-Aleem said.
As a teacher coach with some 28 years' experience, and as a nationally recognized National Board Certified teacher, Abdul-Aleem says she helps new teachers make the transition - both those right out of college with a brand-new teaching degree and those changing careers in midlife.
But today, Abdul-Aleem and the other 25 remaining teacher coaches in the district are expected to be told their coaching jobs have been eliminated and they must return to regular classroom teaching jobs.
When the program started in 2003-04, there were about 60 coaches. Then the number dropped to 52 and finally to 26 this year.
School district spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed Friday that the teacher coaches are needed as teachers in the classroom because they are "highly qualified and they're good at what they do.
"We want these people in the classroom," Gallard said. "It's a budgetary reason and a quality reason."
He said the district can place already highly qualified teachers in the classroom without having to hire as many new teachers next year.
The school district is coping with a $73 million budget deficit and has already had a number of layoffs in the administration building.
Jerry Jordan, vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, blasted the decision to cut the teacher coaches in midyear.
"Paul Vallas said that the cuts would not affect children in the classroom, but this will," Jordan said.
He said there is a danger that new teachers will get frustrated and leave before they can become experienced teachers.
Kathy Hanratty, who spent 31 years in the classroom and the last 3 1/2 years as a teacher coach, agreed:
"It's a poor decision because it will hurt [the district] down the road," Hanratty said. "In the near future, the retention of new teachers is most likely to decline."
The teacher coaches contacted last week said they expected the news, because they were given a memo Jan. 23 telling them to "attend a mandatory meeting" at 1 p.m. at the Education Center at Broad and Spring Garden streets this afternoon.
Back in February 2003, the Campaign for Human Capital, a group including teachers, administrators, business leaders and community activists, released a report called "The Three R's, Retention, Recruitment and Renewal: A Blueprint for Action."
The report said Philadelphia's teacher-supply "crisis" is due to one main thing:
"We have a revolving door through which 32 percent of our new teachers leave within three years and 40 percent leave within five years."
" . . . We must not allow these realities to persist. We must seek out, hire and retain teachers with the skills our students need to attain academic success."
Richard M. Ingersoll, professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, said there's a growing recognition of the need to provide some kind of support to new teachers.
"Research shows that the turnover among beginning teachers is very, very high," Ingersoll said. "Within the first five years, we lose between 40 and 50 percent of those who have come into teaching."
Ruth Curran Neild, an education researcher at Johns Hopkins University who co-authored the recent study on Philadelphia's high dropout rate, also has written about the need keep new teachers.
She said that "it was unfortunate" but the reality of urban school districts is that they take a few steps forward - such as hiring teacher coaches - and then due to budget restraints, have to step backward.
But Gallard said the school district will continue to mentor new teachers. The difference is, the mentors will be based in the schools.
Until this week, the new-teacher coaches were assigned to a regional office and traveled to a number of schools in the regions.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers officials, however, said that the mentoring offered inside the schools will not be as effective because those mentors have other complex duties in addition to helping new teachers.
The teacher coach's only job was to observe the new teacher in the classroom, discuss strategies with them, help them understand all the paperwork required, and generally "hold their hands and dry their tears," said Sheila Linton, another teacher coach with 20 years' experience.
Linton, who also is one of 10 National Board Certified teachers among the 26 teacher coaches, said she doesn't mind going back to the classroom.
"Going back into the classroom is not our issue," Linton said. "We are very, very concerned about leaving our new teachers midyear . . . "
"We are also concerned about the impact we're going to have on the classroom. Every child in the School District of Philadelphia deserves a highly qualified, strong and dedicated teacher," Linton continued.