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As New York City seeks out new pre-K teachers, a training challenge grows

Jacqualyn Porter, Sandra Shillingford, Rosshell Capers and Maria OluHamilton participate in a Pre-K Summer Institute workshop. (Photo: Madeleine Cummings)

Jacqualyn Porter, Sandra Shillingford, Rosshell Capers and Maria OluHamilton participate in a Pre-K Summer Institute workshop. (Photo: Madeleine Cummings)

Emma Markarian spent seven years studying psychology and early childhood education in Russia and the United States before taking over her own classroom. So Markarian, now a pre-kindergarten teacher in the city, was surprised to find herself leading an abbreviated course on child development in June to aspiring pre-K teachers who hoped to lead their own classrooms this fall — with only three months of training under their belts.

The child development course Markarian taught lasted for a fleeting three-and-a-half weeks. “There is no way you can have a deep understanding within three-and-a-half weeks,” she said. “That’s the scary part.” In addition to taking a sequence of condensed courses over the summer, the teachers-in-training interned in pre-K classrooms to get some hands-on training.

A longstanding body of research shows that high-quality pre-K programs help children succeed in school and in life — a driving force behind the city’s unprecedented expansion of pre-K this school year. But high-quality programs depend on high-quality teachers.

Knowing that schools and private organizations would need as many as 1,000 new instructors before classes start next week, city and school officials have tried to devise creative training and hiring strategies. While education leaders say there is not an outright shortage of applicants, the number of pre-K seats will increase again in 2015. And though many pre-K teachers are entering the system through traditional pathways, it’s important that schools and community-based organizations have a choice of candidates as the pre-K expansion progresses.

The architects of the effort are faced with the complicated task of training prospective teachers in a highly specialized field. Teaching the youngest students is far more complicated than babysitting on the one hand, or simply demanding that four-year-olds master increasingly demanding academic skills on the other.

Read the full story on Chalkbeat New York.

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