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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 taught middle school  right out of college in Miami, so I recently decided I wanted to get back into working with kids again. Teaching in Miami-Dade, I became disillusioned with my role. The school board had plans for starting academies around the county, and my school was selected to house a new STEM-based academy.  Being involved in planning and curriculum for a little under a year, it was disappointing to learn the funding for the academy fell through with weeks to go before the upcoming school year. I later went to the University of Michigan to pursue a Masters of Architecture, and worked as a designer in New York. I’d always had an affinity for startups and entrepreneurship, so along with my brother, started a digital design creative agency with my, which we co-led for four years.  

At the start of 2018, I felt the need to work with kids again, and started looking at a wide variety of schools, nonprofits and other organizations. I was accepted into NYCTF for SPED, but had some reservations, as I saw myself best suited for STEM subjects. So I decided to apply for the Teachers for NYC Charters program, was able to interview and demo at several schools, and and really hit it off with Jamie Davidson, the Principal and Co-Founder of 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 quickly was a huge benefit. Teachers for NYC Charters provided what felt like the best way to connect me and prospective teachers to schools. Sometimes you’re reaching out to schools and don’t know if anyone’s reviewing your applications or résumés. I liked the formal aspect of putting your information together, having it organized and available for several schools, and then have the backing of Teachers for NYC Charters to help find and interview at multiple schools.

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

The tips and recommendations when completing the application process were very helpful. I was a little nervous about the video-based part of the application, but getting some context beforehand put me a little more at ease. Also, receiving regular emails with the timeline to get my application in on time, and getting insight into when schools were hiring helped keep me on track. Starting the process in January gave me a good understanding of what my timeline was in terms of connecting with schools and making sure I found a good fit. 

Tell us about your goals for your hiring process.

My primary goal was to stay open-minded when engaging schools, while being 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, but doing demo lessons provided an opportunity to test out lesson ideas and get feedback from teaching professionals and students. It wasn’t until my demo at CSA that the wheels started turning with what I could teach in math! Continuing with phone and in-person interviews, CSA felt like a good fit, where I could complement their work in the arts. I also learned that schools with more standardized curricula weren’t as open to my approach, and therefore didn’t feel like a great fit.

What are the biggest things you’ve learned in Charter schools?

I’ve gotten more comfortable with being at a school where everything from culture, to teaching methodology, to operations, are still evolving. It largely falls on the administration to drive  school culture, but charters allow for new ways of approaching instruction, discipline, and social development. It’s very much a team effort. Many aspects of the school experience are rethought, which bring certain challenges that are not as prevalent in public schools, but also provide room for innovation.

What tips do you have for potential candidates?

What I found most useful was getting on calls with teachers and administrators from different schools, and being able to ask questions about their philosophy, and some of their more unique characteristics. I felt it could be hard to find a lot of information on schools, many of which are new and/or don’t have large staffs, so it can be hard to get a feel for a school without talking to someone on the phone or in person. That was really the best tool to get a sense of the differences between schools. I had been in touch with several schools that I connected with via Teachers for NYC Charters, so by the time my demo lesson at CSA rolled around, I was pretty confident it was a good fit.

There were lots of opportunities that came from the application process that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. Networking in education is not as common, so coming in to the process not having studied education, I found it hard to connect with teachers outside of my network. 

I also believe owning your personal background and experience goes a long way in the hiring process. There is a lot of value placed on experience and having a diverse teaching staff that brings in multiple perspectives. This has helped me in the process and I think 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 in your classroom all week.

How long was your hiring process from start to finish? 

I started searching in January and did my demo at CSA in May. I decided it would be a good idea to do demo lessons and interviews at multiple schools before making a decision. Even though I received an offer from CSA shortly after the demo lesson and interview, it took a few additional phone calls with the principal before before I felt 100% about the decision. Coming from outside of education, it felt like a big moment, but speed and depth to which Jamie – the Principal at CSA –  answered my questions and concerns was a great introduction to the culture at CSA, and definitely made the decision easier.

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.