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Amid crop of new teachers, hundreds designated as “select”

The Bloomberg administration might not have gotten its way to offer signing bonuses to the city’s most accomplished new teachers, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t sweetening the pot for top candidates entering the classroom.

The Department of Education has brought in about 275 “TeachNYC Select Recruits,” culled from the top 5 percent of the applicant pool coming from traditional teacher preparation programs. That’s on top of about 700 Teaching Fellows who did not earn certification as part of their undergraduate or graduate training, and nearly 4,000 other teachers with less impressive credentials.

The department expects to bring in about 5,000 new teachers total this year, officials said, up from about 3,000 three years ago, when the economic recession seriously crimped school budgets.

“You represent the cream of the crop,” Lauren Kraus, the department’s director of teacher recruitment, told the teachers during a reception Tuesday at Brooklyn Borough Hall that about 100 Select Recruits attended.

The program, which the city renamed last year from TRQ Select, fast-tracks top teaching applicants into schools. Applicants must already be licensed to teach in New York; teach in an area where the city has had trouble filling all positions, such as special education and science; and complete an interview. Applicants who are selected get special assistance in finding positions in schools, including by getting top billing in the online system that principals use to screen potential teachers.

It’s a far cry from what Mayor Bloomberg said he wanted to do a year and a half ago, when he proposed giving new teachers who were in the top of their college classes $25,000 to pay off their loans as part of an aggressive platform of teacher quality proposals. The teachers union quickly dismissed the idea, and conflict between the union and city over teacher evaluations precluded any further discussion.

Now, the top recruits are compensated in the same way as all other teachers — other than getting t-shirts, tote bags, and plates full of sliders and cookies at the reception Tuesday. The department even brought in a musician to serenade the teachers.

“You guys have the most important job,” Sam Cieri told the teachers between songs. “You guys get to shape who runs this country next. … I respect what y’all do.”

Chancellor Dennis Walcott thanked the recruits for bringing their energy and passion to the school system. “We want you to grow with us [and] stay with us,” he said. Later, he said he would advise new teachers to “avoid the politics” that surround education in New York City and instead appreciate that they are entering the classroom at a time when curriculum, standards, and teacher evaluations are all changing.

Joshua Maines, who will teach English as a Second Language at Gregorio Luperon High School for Science and Mathematics, taught English to adults in Italy for more than a decade before moving to New York City to earn a master’s degree in teaching.

“I had a lot of experience teaching but at the same time I didn’t really have any methodology, or any pedagogic approaches to the classroom,” he said. “I was going with what worked, what seemed to engage my students and what seemed to get them learning. At the same time I was conscious of the fact that I might not have been reaching as many as I could have.”

Another Select Recruit, Jessica Sanchez, actually taught last year at a city school, Harlem Prep Charter School. She said she is switching to P.S. 103 in the Bronx, where she’ll teach fourth-grade in a class that includes students with and without special needs, to get a different kind of experience.

“The school I was in was amazing and had great opportunities for the kids, but ultimately, it didn’t really mesh as well with my priorities in education,” she said. “Everything was about academics. But with my passion for special ed, I was concerned with the development of the whole child.”

Dayanna Davis, who grew up in the Bronx and attended before graduating in May from the University of Rochester, had just interviewed Tuesday morning for a fifth-grade teaching position at P.S. 346 in Brooklyn. She said she had already been invited back to do a demonstration lesson.

“I’m looking to give kids an outlet … to create some type of avenue into knowing what it’s going to be like in the real world,” Davis said. “I want to make sure they know that going to school actually matters and can lead to greater success.”

Davis did her student teaching in Rochester, but officials said more than half of the Select Recruits had student teaching experience in New York City, and 40 were part of an apprenticeship program aimed at preparing new teachers for middle schools that launched last year.

Jordan Tempro did his student teaching in the city before graduating in May from Pace University with a master’s degree in elementary special education teaching. Originally from Washington Heights, he’s interviewing for jobs now and said he is flexible about where he lands.

“I’ll go wherever I’m needed,” he said. “Wherever I feel the most comfortable and get the most support from my school, that’s where I’ll end up.”

“There are a lot of people who don’t believe that certain kids based on their intellectual handicaps or development handicaps can’t make it, but I’m not one of those people,” Tempro added. “And I know that every kid, given the right resources, tools, and attention — they can be great.”