Some Baltimore City teachers say the process of getting hired and certified for a teaching job is slow and frustrating, forcing some candidates to turn away from the city system and accept jobs in neighboring counties.

While part of the difficulty is the pace of processing applications through the district’s Human Capital Office, teachers say Maryland state certification rules also make getting the necessary credentials too complicated.

The complaints come at one of the worst possible times for the school system. This spring and summer the system went on a hiring spree to replace hundreds of teachers who had left and to fill some 600 new positions that were created when tens of millions of dollars in new federal and state funds flowed into school system coffers.

Teachers are frustrated that they have difficulty getting answers to questions as they try to be certified for their first job or get recertified — a process they must go through every five years to keep their licenses, said Cristina Duncan Evans, a Baltimore Teachers Union official.

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Often, she said, they cannot get answers to simple questions about which graduate-level courses to enroll in to meet certification standards or whether all their paperwork is filled out correctly. They only learn if they have done those tasks correctly when they get denied or certified, said Evans. And often that notification comes days before they are supposed to be in a classroom teaching or after their certificate has expired.

“The certification office is understaffed for a district our size. The member experience is one of confusion, uncertainty and stress in a high stakes situation,” said Evans. The Human Capital office has about eight staff members.

“You have teachers trying to make their way through the Maryland State Department of Education, Baltimore City certification officers, institutes of higher education. You are working with three different bureaucracies in a process that is very technical,” she added.

Esther Santos was teaching at a Federal Hill school last year and wanted to transfer to another campus, but a series of bureaucratic foul-ups prevented principals at two other schools that had offered her jobs from hiring her, she said. She kept reaching out to the Human Capital Office after they put her into a surplus teacher pool that should have allowed her to be hired by another school, but she never got any response. All summer long, she said, she worked on getting hired. But by August, when she still hadn’t gotten a satisfactory answer, she began looking for jobs in the county.

By the end of her first week of new teacher orientation in Baltimore County, city school officials said they were working on the issue. By then she had already made a commitment to the county. “It is unfortunate, because I really wanted to stay in the city, but they don’t handle things well. They don’t do things in a timely manner. I really don’t understand it,” Santos said.

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She was still waiting for a reply from the city schools in September.

Another teacher, who asked not to be identified because he was worried about retribution, said he graduated from college in 2016 and tried to get hired by the city, but ultimately took a job in Baltimore County. He was conditionally certified because he had not taken the Praxis test, a licensure exam, and needed certain credits. As a graduate of the city schools, he wanted to return to Baltimore City to teach math. So after completing his course work and trying to pass the Praxis, he applied again. He finally got a substitute teaching job at a city school, which he took, but he said it wasn’t enough to support a family.

During a phone interview with The Baltimore Banner during the first week of school, he described how he had submitted his paperwork to become a full-time city teacher over a month prior and didn’t know how long he could hang on. The phone interview was interrupted by a call from the city schools Human Capital Office. He had finally been offered a job.

Baltimore City Public Schools released a statement saying it was “striving to improve our outreach with schools and candidates to ensure everyone is aware of where they stand in the hiring process.” The statement also said that the system was designing a new data system to replace a 20-year-old one to better meet the needs of job candidates, and that it had hired more staff to help with the certification process. But the district stressed that the process was slowed by the need to train these staffers in the use of a new state system.

The need to increase hiring from 600 to 1,200 teachers had an impact on the Human Capital department. The district had about 200 vacant positions when school started in August, but did not include all of the additional positions that had been added.

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The city school system announced the hiring of Emily Nielson as the new chief of the Human Capital Office, effective Sept. 12.

After teaching middle school math in North Carolina and Washington, D.C., one city teacher said he thought he would have no problem getting a job teaching in Baltimore City. But it turned out he was wrong.

“The certification laws are so restrictive that someone with four years of teaching middle school math could not get a certificate,” he said. An economics major in college, he was told that under state rules he needed 30 credits in math at a university and to pass the math Praxis, a rigorous test that teachers in the state must pass to get a certification. He got a job teaching math at a city high school and was given two years to complete his certification.

Candidates who don’t have the right credentials for certification can teach through an alternate process as long as they are working toward fulfilling the requirements. So he passed the math Praxis and started taking additional classes. Because he had gotten a degree in economics, he would either need to take 30 credits in math or get his professional license in economics by taking 21 more credits — even though he didn’t want to teach economics. But he could add math as an additional certification area, so that is what he did.

He finished all of these steps by May 18 and then filed his paperwork to get his license in Baltimore City. He is still waiting to hear about the results, having gotten no answer at the phone numbers for the city school offices that handle certification.

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“I have called 14 times,” he said. He said he’s been told, “No we can’t connect you with anyone in certification.” He asked not to be identified because he is now teaching without the correct credentials. He is frustrated by the fact that he doesn’t believe it should take months to be certified. “Their end of the deal would take 10 minutes and mine took hundreds of hours and they can’t do it.”

The Maryland State Department of Education, which plays a role in certification of individual teachers, also doesn’t answer the phone, he said.

Maryland State School Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury agreed that the state’s certification requirements need adjusting. He would like to address the high school teacher’s concerns by having a compact between states that would allow certification in one state to transfer to another. The teacher could have then transferred from a school in Washington, D.C., to one in Maryland without going through another licensure process and time-consuming paperwork.

Choudhury also believes the difficult-to-pass Praxis exam is excluding people of color from becoming teachers.

“There is a way to raise standards while not to rely on teacher licensure,” Choudhury said. He wants the state to encourage better mentoring and induction for new teachers coming into the profession, rather than relying on a cut score on an exam.

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