700 new teachers have been hired for Philly schools this year. This is what they heard at orientation.
“We want to take good care of you...and we want to make sure that you work in a culture that you feel good about, so that you’ll be here for the long haul," Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr. said.
Hundreds of new teachers will work in Philadelphia School District classrooms this year, and Superintendent Tony B. Watlington Sr. had a message for them Monday. With an ongoing educator shortage, he knows the 700-plus women and men could have accepted jobs practically anywhere.
“Please know that we do not take your choice for granted,” Watlington said at the district’s new-hire orientation, a weeklong series of sessions that began Monday via Zoom. “We want to take good care of you, we want to support you, and we want to make sure that you work in a culture that you feel good about, so that you’ll be here for the long haul.”
But Watlington, school board President Joyce Wilkerson, and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan urged the new hires — some brand-new to teaching, some veterans coming to the district from other states or schools — to take heart, and to remember the importance of their work.
“Stay focused on what’s good for children, because it’s a good North Star to follow,” said Watlington, who started as superintendent in June after the departure of William R. Hite Jr.
The superintendent acknowledged that some of the new hires will consider quitting. (”Not me — because I know I’m here for the long haul,” Watlington said. “I want to have a Bill Hite 10-year tenure in the district. In fact, I want to beat Bill Hite’s record.”)
“I want to encourage you to build a network so that when you have a tough day — and they’ll come in our business, in our organization, in our work — reach out to your lifeline, talk to your network peers, help them to give you an opportunity to vent, because all of us need that sometime,” Watlington said.
Wilkerson said the new teachers’ debut represented “a big day for us. We’ve been stressed all year wondering will we have the full complement of teachers and counselors, and so we’re excited to see hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of you out there in the audience, stepping up to support the children in Philadelphia.”
Hundreds of openings remain, though. The district has about 97% of its teaching jobs filled, according to the most recent data released by the school system. In all, the school system of about 114,000 students needs more than 9,000 teachers to be fully staffed.
One of the new recruits is Russell Sams, who will teach English to ninth graders at West Philadelphia High.
Sams, who moved to Philadelphia for his wife’s job, is entering his sixth year in the profession. He previously taught in Oakland, Calif., and said at first blush, Philadelphia’s school infrastructure is more professional and helpful than his last district’s.
He could have taught in the suburbs, in a charter or private school, but that didn’t feel right, said Sams, who managed to spend a day at West Philadelphia in June. He wants to go where he feels he can be the most help.
“I do this job for the students,” said Sams. “I don’t do it for the pay, I don’t do it for the other adults. I know that if I’m not doing it, there may not be someone else to do it.”
Ivan Matos is new to the profession. He’ll be teaching math at George Washington High School in the Northeast.
Matos, who graduated from North Carolina State University in 2021 and was part of a teacher residency program through West Chester University, has never lived in a city, and he knows the district is at a crossroads.
“I’m nervous, but I’m trying to push that aside and be excited, because nerves won’t help,” said Matos. The training will help, he said, but “I think it’s impossible to feel ready in your first year teaching.”
In addition to sessions where teachers met peers from their schools and learned about equity, the district’s new hires also got a quick lesson on Philadelphia slang. (Jawn, of course, but also ard, drawlin’, old head, salty, and hoagie.)
Matos aced the vocabulary quiz, but another relatively new hire — Watlington — didn’t fare as well.
“I got two of the possible answers right,” Watlington told the new teachers. “I’ve got some work to do.”
(For the record: Watlington said he knew jawn and old head, and when presented with a photo of a local sandwich, he guessed grinder or hoagie.)