By Richard Carreño
I still have my job as a Philadelphia public school teacher. No thanks to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
At a time when Paul Vallas, chief executive officer of the Philadelphia School District, and other city officials are making every effort to retain teachers in a woefully troubled system, the PDE is often making every effort, it seems, to thwart teachers from staying on the job. This, incidentally, occurs in amidst a period when teacher retention in Philadelphia is in free-fall, with more than 50 percent of new teachers resigning within the first five years of service.
The PDE, interestingly enough, is also the outfit under which the Philadelphia School Reform Commission operates ever since Mayor Street lost control of Philadelphia schools to state (ie PDE) control about five years ago.
In other words, the two authorities aren't quite on the same page. The result, in my case, was getting myself slammed shut between the covers. First, a mea culpa: I erred in filling out one of dozens of the PDE's required forms. If that sounds innocent enough, you would be -- like myself -- wrong, very wrong.
The form I was dealing with was the crucial application for certification and a last hurdle to that benchmark. After countless hours of graduate-level classes at the University of Pennsylvania (during an interminable five-year period), dozens of tests (including the infamously pedantic PDE-required Praxis exams), and more than $10,000 of debt, I finally was able to submit the cert application.
And, thus, the beginning of my tale of woe. First, my application wasn't vetted by the UPenn officials at the Graduate School of Education who were in charge of submitting student materials. Ultimately, this was my fault. One, I failed to answer several questions and, two, the application never got to Harrisburg in a timely way.
In my eagerness to get the application to Harrisburg, I failed to answer five questions. These, including such doozies as 'Are you an American citizen?' and the like, were essential, I learned the hard way, in having the application acted on favourably.
I sent in the application in February 2006, thinking that its submission would noted forthwith on the PDE's website. I waited. I waited. About the same time, I learned from the School District's Human Resources division that I was facing a deadline. Get my certification by 30 June, or get fired. This, because of the federal Leave No Child Behind Act, demanding that all teachers be 'highly quality' (in other words, certified) at the conclusion of their fifth year of teaching.
Fair enough, I thought. (That is regarding the certification process. Don't get me started on the LNCB Act). I had plenty of time. Wrong, again.
Though I submitted my documention (to Penn) in February, the PDE's website showed my paperwork was, in fact, received on 30 March. I was not made aware of my incomplete application until late May, when I called for PDE for an update.
There was more bad news. As a consequence of my faulty application, I was told that I had to submit a notarized letter affirming my responses to the previously unanswered questions. There was more. In addition, I had to resubmit a new, updated copy of a PA State Police Criminal Record Check. Hello! I'm already working with children in situ. No matter, I was told.
The Department received my revised, updated materials, including the updated state police report, on 16 May. (This, according, to the Post Office record).
But still not hearing anything (or seeing anything updated the Department website), I telephoned, now only to learn that my application was in the hands of the Bureau's Legal Department. Was there is problem that I should know about? No, just standard operating procedure.
Then the other shoe drops. I'm told that nobody actually knows when my application will be approved.
This was early June, and the clock is ticking.
By now -- starting my new year of teaching next month -- I have my teacher certification. No thanks to the PDE. I acquired it, finally, in a time-honoured way -- by appealing to my state senator. In this case, this figure was the seemingly all-powerful Vince Fumo. I got the certification within two days of ringing him in early June.
I refused to fall through the cracks. But how many inexperienced teachers, new to trhe system, do?