Joel Legatt, 33, loves his job teaching math at Northeast High School.
But he says the day-to-day life of a classroom instructor is like being an emergency-room doctor performing triage - minus the life-and-death situations: So much to do, and no time to sit back and think.
That's one of the reasons Legatt and three Northeast colleagues are excited to have been selected for a coveted fellowship program at Stanford University designed to keep talented young high school educators from leaving the field. The program in California starts Sunday.
"The opportunity to sit back and reflect with like-minded practitioners is awesome," Legatt said.
Yaniv Aronson, 33, a video and English teacher at Northeast, is looking forward to meeting educators from across the country. "Hear what they're doing, what's working," he said. "I think Philly is such a massive entity with so many things going on. . . . So I'm just excited to get the perspective outside of Philadelphia."
The other team members are history teacher Lauren Ball, 30, and math teacher Jeremy Cress, 25.
Some New Jersey educators have participated in the program, but the four from Northeast are the first Pennsylvania teachers chosen for Stanford's Hollyhock Fellowship program.
The team's application, which included a video about Northeast, stressed some of the school's unusual features: It's a neighborhood school with magnet and career programs that draw from across the district. With more than 3,100 students, Northeast is the city's largest, and its student body is diverse. Dozens of cultures and 59 languages are represented at the sprawling school on Cottman Avenue.
"We wanted to show how big Northeast was," Aronson said. "We also wanted to show our diversity, because we are the most diverse school in Philadelphia. We thought that would really help separate us."
The program annually selects about 100 teachers who have two to seven years' experience. Applicants pledge to remain at their schools for at least two years and to share what they learn with colleagues.
"I was so excited to hear there's a team from Philadelphia," said Pam Grossman, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education.
She founded the Hollyhock program when she led Stanford's Center to Support Excellence in Teaching. "It's certainly a competitive program, and to have these teachers selected is a testament to them and an honor," Grossman said.
Janet Carlson, who now directs the center and runs Hollyhock, said about 350 teachers applied this year.
The two-year program, created in 2013 after Stanford received a $4.5 million gift from an anonymous donor, selects teachers from schools in which more than 50 percent of the students come from low-income families.
Nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years. The rate is even higher at schools with large low-income populations.
Research shows that good teachers get even better with time. The high turnover at low-income schools means that students with the greatest needs often have the least-experienced teachers.
Carlson said the program's goal is "keeping high-quality teachers in the classrooms where students need high-quality teachers the most."
Hollyhock provides support and incentives to prevent new teachers from becoming discouraged, burning out, and leaving.
Fellows are brought to Stanford for two weeks. They live in dormitories, participate in group and team meetings, and work with colleagues.
"I think the real draw is there are 100 teachers, all of whom are teaching in under-resourced schools in similar situations," said Grossman, who welcomed the first group in 2014.
"There's an amazing feeling in the room with those teachers from across the country coming together to talk and learn from one another," she said.
The fellows, who have submitted classroom videos, also work with instructional coaches on techniques to become more effective teachers.
During the school year, teachers upload monthly classroom videos and lesson plans that are critiqued by coaches. The fellows return to Stanford for another two-week session the following summer.
Carlson said the second year is important. "That's longer than many other programs that are trying to address some of the same issues," she said.
Hollyhock covers the teachers' expenses, including travel, and gives them $2,000 stipends in recognition of the extra time the program requires during the school year.
Applicants apply as a team with at least three members so they can aid one another at school.
"One big part of the program is team-building," said Cress, who recruited his Northeast colleagues after he learned about the program from a district email.
"They want us to go back and be a strong team at our school," Cress said. "At a school this size . . . I think it will be nice where we'll have the skills to further make this staff stronger and have a strong support system for each other."
The program focuses on English, math, history, and science. Fellows work on campus with colleagues who teach the same subjects.
"They're building teams based on what we teach," said Ball, a world-history instructor at Northeast. "Well, world history for ninth graders in Philly is all 3 million years of history in 180 days. There is someone else who has to do the same thing. I'm really looking forward to picking her brain or his brain on how they do it."
Based on some early case studies, Carlson said, Stanford researchers are "seeing dramatic changes in classroom practice." She said the biggest growth comes at the end of the second year.
Grossman said she hopes that by creating a national network of educators and developing their leadership skills Hollyhock assures that the fellows stay in teaching.
The team members at Northeast are looking forward to being part of that.
Said Legatt: "I think the opportunities for growth are amazing, especially because my goal is just to be a better teacher in front of the classroom."