Philly teacher Rachael Grobman decorates her second grade classroom. (Courtesy Rachael Grobman)

Philly resident Rachael Grobman is all about her students. She teaches at an independent school on City Avenue, but hopes to bring her dedication to the School District of Philadelphia.

In Grobman’s second grade classroom, social and emotional learning is at the forefront, she said. On the first day of school, the kids come up with affirmations that they’ll recite every day, and throughout the year they start their mornings standing on their desks in a superhero pose. 

“They repeat after me and scream out these affirmations at the top of their lungs, and that’s how we start our morning, every single morning, with only positivity,” Grobman said. “Seeing the kids who are nervous to even find their voice in that, and then three days later be belting out that they’re amazing and that they’re brave is just truly something that I couldn’t even explain if I tried.” 

She went all out in decorating the room, often using ideas from her class. Like many teachers, she spends her own money on supplies.

There’s a “smart cookie” bulletin board, and one themed after popcorn, created after her students pointed out it was their teacher’s go-to snack.

It’s all documented on her Instagram account, @missgrobman, which she hopes to use to connect with other teachers and parents, and inspire more creative decor in schools around the city and country. 

“All of our classrooms are so different, and we all live in such different areas,” Grobman said. “But at the end of the day, we’re here to help our kids grow and teach them and help them reach their highest potential.”

She aspires to teach in Philly public schools, but said that despite applying several times to various district schools, she hasn’t even gotten an interview.

There is a nationwide teacher shortage, and the School District of Philadelphia is currently hiring for all positions, according to district spokesperson Marissa Orbanek. Across the district, Orbanek said, teaching positions are 96% staffed. With a roster of 9,000 full-time teachers and 1,600 substitute teachers, that means hundreds of spots remain unfilled.

Grobman started applying to schools in May 2020, she said. Not hearing back is frustrating and concerning when hearing about the shortages. 

“You kind of wonder, ‘Why? Why don’t they want to help?’ or ‘What am I missing? Do I need another professional development course?’” Grobman said. “You start to question yourself.”

Hundreds of positions open, and a goal to improve the hiring process

To become a teacher in the district, you have to have a certification from the Pa. Department of Education, which requires at least a bachelor’s degree with a teacher preparation component and completion of the state teacher competency exams. Only about 5,500 Pennsylvania college graduates received teaching certificates in 2020, down from 15,000 a decade prior.

With a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in elementary and special education, an elementary pre-K-fourth grade certificate, and a special education pre-K-eighth grade certificate, Grobman said she meets all of the requirements.

The district’s office of talent support services currently shows it’s accepting applications for entry-level instruction positions.

A poster board in Philly teacher Rachael Grobman’s second grade classroom. (Courtesy Rachael Grobman)

Grobman emailed the district about her application’s status, she said, but has not received a response. Orbanek, the district spokesperson, said she could not comment on a specific person’s hiring process.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has heard similar concerns before, according to union communications director Hillary Linardopoulos.

“We have heard about these concerns from multiple individuals; we have expressed this to District officials and have encouraged them to adjust to ensure a smooth and timely application process,” Linardopoulos told Billy Penn. 

Recruiting and retaining diverse, effective educators falls under “Priority 4” of Accelerated Philly, the five-year strategic plan that was introduced by Superintendent Tony Watlington in May.

“We will be implementing a streamlined onboarding process to improve hiring timelines so we can be fully staffed and able to provide students with a quality education,” Orbanek said. “In addition, the district is also committed to improving its customer service, as well as response times to all of our stakeholders.”

Orbanek pointed to the district’s talent support services like hiring events and Zoom office hours that are held every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 1 to 2 p.m. Grobman said she hasn’t been able to attend these services because they take place during the school day. 

A poster board in Philly teacher Rachael Grobman’s second grade classroom. (Courtesy Rachael Grobman)

She isn’t letting her experiences hold her back from trying to build camaraderie among students, parents, and teachers she works with now.  

“No matter where I am, continuing to help every single student I ever come in contact with” is the goal, Grobman said, “whether it’s as a teacher or as a teacher in the community, reach their highest potential, and grow and develop into a upstanding citizen and community member.”