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Business Is Booming for Career Switcher Programs That Train Teachers

The high unemployment rate has provided an unexpected boon for the nation's public schools: legions of career-switchers eager to become teachers.

The New York Teaching Fellows program began in 2000 and quickly grew. Fellows accounted for more than 30 percent of new hires four years later. Most work in the poorest schools. This year, the program received about 14,000 applications for what it anticipated would be 700 spots.

Down the block from a burned-down building and a U.S. Army career center, Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx welcomes scores of teachers from alternative programs.

Barbara L. De Pesa, an assistant principal who oversaw the math department last year, said she had the luxury of picking applicants with the strongest math skills.

Two-thirds of her teachers were recruited through Teach for America, the New York Teaching Fellows and Math for America. Her staff consists of graduates from Yale, Tufts and Rutgers. They are former lawyers, derivatives traders and financial analysts.

She teaches them how to teach.

De Pesa pairs new teachers with more-experienced mentors, and the new teachers spend at least one period a day observing veterans teach a class they will be teaching a day or two later. Newcomers learn how to present material and pace the lesson and begin to anticipate questions that students might ask.

Paul Sweeney, 59, a former lawyer and a New York Teaching Fellow, is in his sixth year of teaching. With the extra support from his colleagues at Lehman, he said, he feels he is improving and wants to stick with it.

"As long as I can do a service for the kids, I'd love to do it," he said.

This report was compiled with assistance from the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Columbia University.

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