Dial-A-Teacher for homework help

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 2/9/2012, 12:36 p.m.
Homework got you stumped? It has changed quite a bit since our day, but help...
Dial-A-Teacher for homework help

Homework got you stumped? It has changed quite a bit since our day, but help is only a phone call away. For more than 30 years, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the New York City Department of Education (DOE) have teamed up in a joint project called Dial-A-Teacher.

This service for elementary and middle school students puts parents and students in direct contact with experienced New York City teachers for help with challenging homework questions. The service is available throughout the school year and is available in English, French, Spanish, Bengali, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Haitian Creole, Russian and Slavic.

The program was started in January 1980 with 17 schools in eight districts. Five teachers, including one proficient in Spanish, were hired. It caught on quickly and was soon expanded to include all of the elementary schools in the city.

The Dial-A-Teacher program operates in a space provided by the UFT and offers help in reading, math, writing and science as well as advanced math and science for older students. It continues to enjoy steadily increasing popularity and, last year, celebrated a milestone high, receiving its 80,000th call.

Anthony Harmon is a former New York City public school teacher of 15 years. As the UFT director for community and parent engagement, Dial-A-Teacher is one of several programs that he supervises.

"The Dial-A-Teacher program is the pride and joy of the UFT and is one of the true collaborative efforts between the DOE and UFT that really works," said Harmon. "Forty-six teachers are employed by the program. On any given day, there are at least 30 teachers on the floor. On average, we receive 70,000 to 80,000 calls per year, mostly students.

"The most common subject they have trouble with is math. Lattice math is the latest challenge. It's been a long time since we've been in school and things have changed." The program does its best to adapt to the changing needs of the students who use it.

"When the earthquake in Haiti happened in 2010, we had students here from Haiti who needed help. We looked for more Haitian Creole speakers to try to meet that need. It all depends on what happens in the school system," said Harmon. "We're adding an interactive computer component. It's a partnership that we developed with the New York Public Library. For example, kids can go online and actually draw a triangle with their mouse, and we can see it in our program.

"Dial-A-Teacher is a great program, but this is not a program that gives answers. We had kids who would call up and say, 'What's the answer to number 12?' That's not what the program does. It's to teach them how to find the answers for themselves. We give them resources."

The program also extends beyond just helping students with their homework.

"Every year, we give away more than $1 million in scholarships to public high school students through the Albert Shanker Scholarship fund. They have to meet income eligibility and show academic promise. We would love for more kids, especially from Harlem, to apply. This continues the UFT's mission of helping students reach their academic goals," said Harmon.

For more information about the Dial-A-Teacher program and the Albert Shanker Scholarship fund, visit www.uft.org/dial-a-teacher. Students can get help with homework by calling (212) 777-3380, Monday through Thursday, from 4 to 7 p.m.