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Alumni Spotlight: David de Cespedes

David, thank you so much for sharing your experience with Teachers for NYC Charters! Tell us a little about your background and what you were doing prior to our program. 

Before teaching in New York, I studied architecture. Beginning in 2008, I did some teaching right out of college in Miami, so I recently decided I wanted to get back into working with kids again.  I became disillusioned because the school board had plans for starting academies around the county. My school was a failing school, and then it was selected to be transformed into a new academy, so I was involved in planning and curriculum, but the funding fell through. I moved to New York and worked in architecture for 1.5 years. Then, I started a digital design creative agency with my brother and worked there for 4 years.   

This year, I started looking at a wide variety of schools, including nonprofit and other organizations, and different ways to work for students, and particularly middle school students because they are fun and building their personality and character in that age. I was accepted into NYCTF for SPED but had reservations around feeling prepared and didn't want to focus in on particular subject, so I decided to apply to charters and met with some private schools. I applied for the Teachers for NYC Charters program, was able to connect with some schools and hit it off with Jamie and CSA (NYC Charter School of the Arts)!  

What made you want to apply to Teachers for NYC Charters rather than applying for positions at charter schools directly? 

It was easier! Getting in front of larger amount of schools more quickly was a benefit. It also provided a way for you all to assist and help with connecting me and prospective teachers to schools. I felt like it was more productive than reaching out individually to schools. Sometimes you’re reaching out (to schools) and you don’t know if they are reading it. I liked the formal aspect of putting your stuff together, having it organized and available for several schools, and then have the backing of organization to help in that respect. 

Which of the hiring supports we offer did you take advantage of? 

I read the tips documents when I was uploading videos and completing the application process. I had video-based questions so the context around who was seeing it and expectations was helpful. The emails with the timeline to get stuff in and getting more insight into when schools were hiring was the most was helpful. Starting to think in January or February gave me a good understanding of what my timeline was in terms of shooting for connecting with schools and making sure I ended up in school that's a good fit.  

One of the reasons why I was talking to the prospective teachers at the workshop you put on was because I like to talk with individuals at school and get a real perspective about what they think is going well; the insider perspective of what to expect in each school. It’s always a possibility that you're getting a hard pitch from schools so when you show up things aren’t as tidy as they initially looked. Being able to chat with teachers or people who worked there in the past makes it easier to make an informed decision. 

Tell us about your goals for your hiring process. 

I was openminded but set on trying to find a school where I could incorporate creative projects and build curriculum using my background in architecture and design. I wasn't sure what that would like, and for math in particular, I really wasn't sure until I did the demo lesson at CSA and it was eye opening. The wheels started turning onto what I could teach in math! Going into the phone interview and the in-person interviews, CSA felt like a good fit, complementary to their work in the arts, and applying that type of work into core subjects. Some schools that weren't as open to that idea, or had a clear direction from a curriculum standpoint, didn't feel like a great fit.   

What were the biggest things you learned in Charter schools? 

I learned to be more flexible or malleable with the type of school in terms of culture, teaching methodology, and operations. It all falls on administration to create the whole experience. Charters allow new, interesting and innovative ways of presenting schools. It creates more challenges, so you have to figure out things to a certain level of detail, which is not part of the public-school system. 

What tips do you have for potential candidates? 

What I found most useful was getting on calls with people from different schools after submitting the materials, connecting with charter schools and being able to ask questions about their schools and programs. I felt it could be hard to find a lot of information on schools, and there are a lot that are somewhat new or there’s not a lot of information out there, so it was hard to get a feel for them unless you talk to someone on the phone or in person. That was really the best tool to get a sense of the differences between schools, and that gets clearer as you talk to people. I was contacted and setting up phone calls through your program so by the time I was doing the demo, I was pretty clear about CSA. There were lots of opportunities that came from your application process. Networking in education is not as common, so coming in from outside of education, I found it hard to connect with teachers outside of my network.  

Also, owning your personal background and experience goes a long way in the charter school system. There is a lot of value placed on experience and bringing in diverse teachers. This has helped me in the process and schools responded positively to that.  

Now that I'm teaching, I'm interested in building more relationships with teachers in the same subject or grade level because it helps to see what others are doing and how they are teaching in different ways. This is something I value with workshops, networking events, and panels, because I think they get the wheels turning on ideas that would be hard to do when you’re working in your classroom 10-12 hours a day. 

How long was your hiring process from start to finish?  

I started searching in January and did my demo at CSA in May. I made decision to teach there in early June. The offer was made quickly. It was around the week before Memorial Day, and by the end of the weekend, I made my decision. But, my demo didn't go great. It was my first attempt at applying an architecture activity in math though it seemed to stick out positively.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I wake up between 5am and 5:30am, in order to get into work mode by 6:30am. I tend to tackle the more challenging tasks as early as possible, whether it be lesson planning, preparing lesson materials, or thinking ahead to future units. At around 7:30am, I make any last-minute preparations for the days lessons, adjust the classroom seating, write down the agenda and goals for the day. In the rare scenario everything is set up well before students come into Opening Circle (CSA's version of homeroom), I'll grab a coffee in the Teacher's Lounge. 

During a regular school day, I'll teach four math classes, with two or three planning periods. CSA sets aside a considerable amount of time for students called 'flex time,' which allows students time during the week for both independent study time and targeted, small-group sessions with teachers. During prep times, I schedule 'quick-wins,' or tasks that are time-sensitive and achievable in a limited window, like emails to parents or grading. 

A few days a week, I tutor a small number of students after school, usually from 4:30 - 6pm. The onus is on students to sign up and show up, but tutoring is far less cognitively taxing than teaching a full class, and is nice to get more one-on-one interaction with students.

If I'm not tutoring, I like to keep the afternoon as light as possible, in order to focus on more creative or open-ended work. Whether it's researching interesting lesson ideas for class, reading the news, or just catching up with other teachers.