Delays found in job search

New York expects shortage of teachers, but it's difficult to apply

March 23, 2000|By Newsday

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The message education officials are sending is straightforward and urgent -- an already acute teacher shortage will likely worsen in the next few years as a slew of older teachers retire and more would-be educators succumb to the financial lure of the private sector.

But the automated message on New York state's telephone help-line for potential teachers takes a different tone. "Office of Teaching representatives are not available to speak to you on Wednesdays or on Friday mornings," the recording says. "Due to staffing limitations, the Office of Teaching will remain closed to visitors until further notice."

State education officials won't be able to assess callers' credentials over the phone, the message indicates. But once the agency receives completed paperwork, an evaluation of the applicant's status will be returned, the hot line promises, "within 18 weeks."

The recorded voice does pledge to respond to phone, mail and e-mail inquiries "as expeditiously as possible," but an e-mail question sent in by a reporter -- limited to the maximum 50 words -- had not been answered a week after it was sent.

The Regents, who regulate New York state's certification process, are looking at ways to revise the arcane system for accrediting new teachers and to provide information to applicants. Bill Hirschen, a spokesman for the state Education Department, said that by 2004 the department hopes to computerize a process that now involves piles of handwritten folders, and to increase staffing and training to speed processing.

"We're definitely working towards speeding up this process and having it be more efficient and accessible for those applying for certification, both within New York state teachers colleges and those beyond," said Hirschen.

'Nearly impossible'

But that won't help Lorrie Losanno, 22, and thousands of other would-be teachers now trying to decipher the process for fall teaching slots.

"It's nearly impossible to figure out what I'm supposed to do; I have to go searching for this information," said Losanno, of Clifton Park, N.Y., who majored in education and psychology at a Massachusetts college. "I tried the Web site, I called the help-line, I've tried to reach a human being. It's very frustrating. I know in my heart that I could be an awesome teacher if they'd actually help me get certified."

Potential teachers like Losanno -- especially those who went to college out of state or received a degree other than education and don't have the guidance of a New York teachers college -- have been stymied by a system that can be complicated, time-consuming and expensive. Receiving a permanent state certificate, plus an added layer of licensing for New York City teachers, can take up to four years and cost as much as $1,200 for application fees and testing.

Two problems

The problem, according to many teachers, union leaders and college administrators, is twofold: The state's application evaluation office is understaffed and there are few accessible, knowledgeable and efficient places to ask questions about the process.

In major public speeches recently, Gov. George Pataki, state Education Commissioner Richard Mills and interim New York City schools Chancellor Harold Levy all laid out plans for stronger teacher recruitment, but Tom Jennings, associate dean for Teacher Education and registrar at the Teachers College at Columbia University, said state officials may "hire lots of people to go out and talk about certification and licensing, but if they were willing to put in the money at the worker level, it could really have an impact on the process."

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