A Tale of Two Lunches
Jennifer Green and Christina Hall founded Urban Teachers (formerly named Urban Teacher Center) in 2009 in response to a need they had recognized as teachers, central office administrators, and nonprofit partners in district reform.
The conversation began over lunch. Jennifer and Christina were colleagues in the Baltimore City Schools central office at the time, with more than 20 years of urban education experience between them and a shared belief that teachers play a critical role in influencing children’s long-term success. They had seen the impact skilled teaching makes in students’ lives but had faced repeated challenges as they worked to raise the level of instruction across city schools. The biggest challenge they came up against: the uneven preparation of new teachers. Too few entered classrooms with skills matched to their students’ needs, and too many left before they became effective.
Jennifer shared an idea that had been brewing. What if they tackled the problem of teacher quality head on? They could design a different kind of teacher preparation program, one that would supply high-need districts with talented, highly accountable teachers trained in practices that get results and committed to teaching as a profession. Christina and Jennifer went back to their day jobs after that first lunch, but the idea lingered. They both knew that without a solution to new teacher quality all other efforts at reform would continue to flounder.
Christina asked Jennifer to lunch with a proposal of her own. Over a year had gone by, and the school system had brought on its third CEO in four years. Christina could not stop thinking about the idea they’d discussed. During their second lunch, she proposed that they make it happen. Christina had already begun investigating sources of start up support and asked Jennifer if she wanted to go for it.
They set out with an ambitious goal, eyes wide open. Urban Teachers’ founders understood schools and districts from the inside and had experienced two of the most prevalent teacher education models firsthand. They knew exactly where the challenges lay, and they knew what sort of experiences new teachers would need to meet them. As finalists for a grant from Echoing Green, they had an opportunity to put what they knew into an actionable plan.
There was no turning back. Though the initial proposal didn’t result in funding, it did cement Jennifer and Christina’s resolve. They spent the next year getting feedback on their plan. In August 2009, they won a start-up grant from the New Schools Venture Fund. By the next summer, they had built a team, lined up partnerships with schools, and were ready to welcome Urban Teachers' first cohort of aspiring teaching.
The rest is history.