ENGLISH TEACHER Rekha Bhatt had been teaching for only two years when she led the charge to create rigorous programs for her gifted students at West Philadelphia High School.
Her principal wanted to revive an advanced-placement English program that had been dormant for years and asked for volunteers to take up the effort.
When no one did, Bhatt and a fellow newbie teacher rose to the challenge, coaching students on writing college essays.
"We saw that the kids weren't being challenged so we wanted to get them excited about college," said the four-year district veteran. "We wanted them to be ready."
It's that sort of pioneering attitude that many new and energetic teachers have brought to the Philadelphia School District to try to make a difference in recent years.
But many of the young teachers have become anxious over the future of their jobs after officials this week proposed cutting 1,260 teachers to help make up a $629 million budget deficit.
While the district is offering an early-retirement program, it's likely that the majority of the laid-off teachers will be those with less than five years of experience.
Abby Minnich, a special-education teacher at Juniata Park Academy, said that the situation is shameful.
"You have a bunch of great new teachers with enthusiasm, work ethic and a spark, who start to find their niche and to pull them out is hard," she said. Minnich has been a district teacher for six years.
As part of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman's school-reform plan, the district went on a teacher-hiring binge - assigning more than 1,000 new teachers to most of its academically struggling schools to decrease class sizes.
But with the proposed cuts, class sizes will again balloon to contractual limits, burdening novice teachers still trying to hone their skills.
Five-year teacher Patrick Kennison also bemoaned the potential loss of other school personnel, including 180 guidance counselors and 51 nurses that could lose their jobs.
"A concern of a lot of people is not just for their own jobs, but also what our school community is going to look like given the district's need to cut," he said.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said this week that he questioned the district's numbers.
"They're coming up with these numbers, but they're not saying who these people are," he said.
Several teachers say that the environment in many schools has become so tense that even principals have given some of them permission to start looking for jobs in other districts, said a teacher in a Hunting Park elementary school who didn't want to be identified.
Minnich also noted that younger teachers aren't afraid to advocate for their rights and their students.