Tell me about Philadelphia (re: teaching)

As I’ve posted in previous threads, I’ve recently decided I want to teach high school math. Yesterday I saw an ad for teachers for The School District of Philadelphia, which states up front that my Bachelor’s degree is sufficient to get me hired, and I can go the alternative route to earn my credential.

Before I look into it further, though… I’ve never been to Philadelphia, I have no clue what it’s like. Is anyone familiar with this school district, who can tell me what kind of area it’s located in? I have no problem with working in a “bad” area, but I’d have to draw the line at a school with metal detectors and such, where I’d be in fear for my life every day.

Even better, though I know this is asking a lot… :slight_smile: I grew up in the Bay Area, specifically the East Side of San Jose, which has its share of rough areas. I’ve also lived in Portland for the last five years. If anyone is familiar with either of these areas and Philadelphia, and can compare it to this school district’s area… if it’s something like, say, the seedier parts of Oakland or Richmond, I’ll know to say no thanks. Otherwise, I’m sure it’d be ok.

Of course, I’d also like to know about the city in general.

I only know a little bit about Philly as I didn’t live there very long, but as far as I know the District of Philadelphia is large and the high schools in that district vary quite a bit. For example, the district includes Masterman, which is the highest-performing public school in the state. There’s also Carver, a magnet high school for science and engineering that is also a highly ranked school (I am only aware of that one, but there may be more than one magnet school for science). My guess is that teaching jobs in those two schools would be hard to get, but the ad may be worth looking into. That said, there are some parts of Philly that are like the seedier parts of Oakland, IMO (e.g., West Philadelphia, IMO). I don’t know enough to be more specific, though.

ETA: I used to live in San Francisco, so I know a little bit about Oakland but never spent much time there.

This is weird, I was listening to the Simpsons DVD commentary and two of the writers / show runners were from Philly and they talked about how bad the Philly school system was. And they went in the late 70s early 80s

I’ve lived and worked in the Philadelphia area all my life, and am currently going to Penn for grad school. It’s a very variable city, and its reputation for being a tough town is exaggerated but not totally unearned. In center city and on the parkway you have some world-class history and attractions (the zoo, which is the country’s first, and the art museum with the ‘Rocky steps’), but go a few miles north and you’ll find yourself in the urban wasteland of north Philly, which is probably as bad as Oakland’s seedy areas.

I’m afraid I can’t comment on the specifics of the inner-city school system, but it has a bad reputation.  I do know that having metal detectors at the schools is not out of the realm of the possibility.  In the city of Chester, which is a poor, high-crime town 20 minutes outside of Philly, they have metal detectors in their high school.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the school district’s website yet, but you can check out schools from the list and view data about them, including incidents and assaults on teachers.

Pick a high school, go under ‘Demographics, Attendance, Suspension and Incidents’, and click ‘data’.

I was told this by a person who worked for the Philadelphia School system for many years:

Don’t work at any school whose name begins with S.

Shaw, Sugarman, etc.

It’s a coincidence, but all of those are considered some of the worst.

And not all of West Philadelphia is scary. It depends on where you are. 42nd & Spruce? Okay.

54th & Kingsessing? Not okay.

Ok, I’m kind of an outsider, born and raised in Michigan but going to school in Philly. I don’t know a lot yet, but I just began working on a policy project to address the problem of violence at South Philly High School. There is a huge problem in this area with school violence, a lot of interracial conflicts and in particular violence against immigrants. There have been countless articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer over the last month addressing this issue.

Here’s one.

My project involves doing a national literature review of proposed interventions which will be used for a massive violence report published by OMG.

So, this isn’t a joke. According to Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, violence in Philadelphia schools has reached ‘‘epidemic proportions.’’ The problem has gotten bad enough that a year-long series of hearings is being held in Philadelphia to begin the process of problem identification.

I’ve begun the process of networking with local leaders in Philadelphia regarding their assessment of the problem. One frequently mentioned concern is that the school system functions out of fear–not just the students, but teachers and administrators are unable to do what they feel is right for fear of retribution by their higher-ups. The process for dealing with violent incidents is badly structured and perpetuates future violence. The system itself is broken and letting down these kids, for a number of reasons that I have yet to investigate in detail.

Of course, I’m not going to generalize about all Philadelphia high schools, because they are not all alike. I’ve never set foot in any of these schools, only talked to those who have. This is not my culture, my hometown or my area of expertise. I just want to do something useful while I’m here.

My professor (who is an amazing, inspiring human being) has created a charter school in Philadelphia with low violence rates and positive outcomes. There are people, teachers and community leaders and students alike, stepping up to the plate to really fight this problem. So there are certainly places you can work and feel like you are making a difference.

If you want a taste of what kind of issues some schools are dealing with, I recommend you follow the series of hearings being held on school violence in Philadelphia on behalf of the Human Relations Commission.

These hearings will be videotaped and eventually we (as in, me and my student cohort) will have a website up detailing the findings. Once our website is up (another month or so) you’ll be able to learn more than you ever wanted to know about school violence in Philadelphia.

Parts of Philly are going to get rough. Parts will be as bad as Oakland. Parts of the city are quite nice.

I think the reality of this teaching program is that you aren’t going to be assigned to Central or Masterman. Philly has lots of teachers who want to teach in those schools already. More than likely you are going to get assigned to a school that has its share of problems. That’s going to mean metal detectors among other things.

Yes there are violence problems. olivesmarch4th alluded to the problem du jour which is Southern High. My friend’s mother was an administrator in a middle school and was assaulted, suffering some injuries. That stuff certainly happens.

If that makes you nervous then the Teaching Fellows may not be your cup of tea. But I think you will probably survive your time in the program if that is the direction you choose. I haven’t heard about teachers leaving schools in bodybags or ambulances. I think your biggest struggle will be trying to make an inpact on kids that are living in poverty, may not have supportive parents and are dealing with a multitude of societal problems.

I am a proud graduate of Central HS, 202nd class and it had the best male students in the city. You want to know hoe good it was? When I got to college, I found the work easy, while for most of my classmates it was a shock. But I graduated 56 years ago and that is time for a lot of water to go over the dam. For one thing I has become coed. Every teacher in the system (almost) wanted to teach there. Some had PhDs.

As for the city, well it is a big city, over 1 1/2 million and there are good neighborhoods and bad. I don’t think I would venture into the neighborhood I grew up in (57th and Catherine) now. But my son lived for two years in Mt. Airy and that was quite pleasant (and has been stably integrated for 50 years–his neighbors on both sides were black).

Wow… thanks for the answers, everyone. Looks like I’ve got some reading ahead of me, and some thinking to do.