The Joy of Sudoku

During my recent bout of COVID, I spent a great deal of time laying in bed, feeling rather exhausted and uninterested in doing much of anything but sleep. As many of us do when bedridden, I looked through my social media accounts, random apps, and Spotify playlists – anything to help pass the time. In doing so, I came across a Sudoku app that I had installed on my phone at some point, which has largely sat unforgotten until now. For the curious, my go-to Sudoku app is currently Logic Wiz. It is available on both Google Play and the Apple App Store.

For those that don’t know, Sudoku is a deceptively simple logic puzzle. The goal is to fill a 9×9 grid so that each row, column, and 3×3 subgrid contains all digits from 1 – 9. In doing so, the numbers can’t repeat within each subgrid or across a row or column. To my unassuming mind, it seemed like an easy way to pass the time. The puzzles come in a variety of difficulty levels and don’t seem particularly complex. Man, was I wrong.

While browsing YouTube, I discovered Robin the Sudoku Guy‘s channel. At the time of writing this post, he had uploaded 98 Sudoku tutorials. It seems that he’s doing quite well, as Robin also is 28 lessons deep into a kid-friendly version of his tutorials that he says are great for students, teachers, etc. Naturally, I was curious to learn more from this Sudoku sage. If anything, I just wanted to know how many tutorials could it possibly take to learn how to play Sudoku?

It turns out that Sudoku can be an incredibly complex matter.

Robin’s tutorials begin with more intuitive things that many of us might have picked up from playing Sudoku over the years: eyeballing the grid to see what numbers could go where, eliminating certain options, etc. That, however, is barely scratching the surface of Sudoku strategy. The more complex end of Sudoku strategy introduces concepts like X-wings, swordfish, and it honestly gets more insane from there. I really like how the Sudoku wiki breaks each of the 39 techniques down by level of difficulty.

Complex games and puzzles aren’t new to me by any means. Most folks know that there are hundreds of strategies that one could employ during a chess match at any given stage of the game. Some folks know that a 3×3 Rubik’s cube has 43 quintillion possible combinations. There’s something delightful about the simplicity of the digits 1-9 and a partially-filled grid that makes Sudoku such an enticing experience. There’s a lesson to be learned about the broader beauty of logic and math that we try so hard to instill in our students.

For now, I’m happy to have a go at the puzzles that others create. I might try setting my own one day, but I suspect that puzzle crafting can become even more of a tempting rabbit hole as solving the puzzles themselves. LaTeX naturally has a package for just about everything, including a sudoku package that can convert plain text into a Sudoku grid. For those who prefer a WYSIWYG option, F-puzzles is a website that came highly recommended on the Sudoku subreddit.

To connect this all back to teaching, something that I often think about as a special education teacher in an algebra classroom is doing my best to meet the needs of my mixed-ability students. Differentiation, scaffolds, and entry points are important to keep in mind, but my students will all ultimately take the same algebra Regents exam in June. I do believe that teaching logic and reasoning in math is just as important as the algebraic concepts themselves, and I hope that I can incorporate more Sudoku into my classroom routine as an occasional enrichment activity for students. I’m currently flushing out an idea for an enrichment menu that I can post in my classroom, and I look forward to seeing how it’s received by students and my co-teacher.

On a whim, I logged into the Hunter College library catalog to see if a quick search would turn up any interesting hits about Sudoku or logic puzzles in general. I came across an essay that was published by a medical student in a 2021 issue of The International Journal of Psychiatry.

In this essay, Vigliotti described her experiences getting to know Gary, a patient that she was assigned to during her third year medical school rotations. While Gary initially came off as quite the curmudgeon, Vigliotti gradually fostered a positive relationship with Gary after realizing that he enjoyed completed Sudoku puzzles. She shared a Sudoku book with Gary that was purchased at the hospital gift shop, a small gesture that led to more substantial and deeper conversations.

Oncology is worlds apart from teaching, but there’s something about the dynamic between Vigliotti and Gary that I think many teachers can relate to. We all want to connect with and develop a positive relationship with our students. Sometimes the smallest of gestures, like sharing a book of Sudoku puzzles, can be the spark that gets a student to open up or feel more comfortable in our schools and classrooms.

While my run-in with COVID was fairly uneventful, it did lead to me re-discovering Sudoku. Like Vigliotti and Gary, I hope that I too can share the joy of Sudoku with a students at my school. Perhaps one of them will end up competing in the World Sudoku Championships one day.


Vigliotti, A. A. (2021). The gift of sudoku. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine56(3), 161–165.


Winter Break Recharge

Parts of the fall semester can feel like an absolute slog. Some weeks flew by thanks to the occasional day off or early dismissal for town hall or parent-teacher conferences, while others seemed to move slower than molasses.

Teaching 9th grade has proven to be an incredibly rewarding experience, although certainly not without its challenges. Naturally, it’s a transition grade, and I like to think that I’ve done a decent job of helping my students acclimate to the expectations of high school. Some students are still figuring it out (that the school uniform is enforced, negative repercussions for failing to do work, etc.), and I hope that some of my students are able to figure these things out before the “fall” semester ends in late January for NYC public schools.

Aside from taking a day off for side effects from the bivalent COVID booster, I was able to make it through the first part of the year with almost 100% attendance. Per an MOA between the DOE and UFT, teachers get a total of 10 days for COVID-related absences, including vaccine side effects and for actually testing positive for the virus. From what I can tell, the MOA is virtually identically to its 2021-2022 iteration. The only difference I noticed in a quick skim is that the 10 day bank of absences includes days for testing positive and experiencing side effects, whereas last year’s MOA included 2 specified days for side effects.

As fortune would have it, I tested positive for COVID on one of the home tests distributed to students and staff by the DOE. The good news is that I won’t be missing any days of work due to the start of winter break. The lousy news is that this wasn’t how I thought I’d start my winter break. Thankfully, my symptoms are incredibly mild, limited to a small cough and what I’d estimate as a 95% loss of taste and smell. The irony is not lost on me that I tested positive for COVID on the same day that the DOE closed its Situation Room.

Even though my sense of smell and taste is virtually nonexistent at the moment, and I’ve been completely exhausted since testing positive, I’m going to do my best to enjoy the holiday and new year with loved ones. I’m doing to do something that I don’t think I’ve ever done before – completely put all work related things away for the next 6 days and enjoy my break. I’m sure everything will be just fine when I log back in on Saturday to prepare for the upcoming week.

One lesson I had to learn early on is that the work will always be there. There will always be a lesson to plan, student data to gather, etc. As appealing as an empty inbox or fully planned lessons a week in advance might seem, they’re not always realistic for a first-year special education teacher. I’m certainly not a time-management guru, but I think I’ve done reasonably good for juggling full-time teaching along with going to grad school and some union-related stuff on the side.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s been modest interest from folks who follow my blog – namely those are are substitute teachers or considering an alternate teaching certification program in the NYC DOE. About once a month, someone will send or message me a blog post of mine, and it feels good knowing that others find value in my humble perspective on these things.

For now, I’m going to go enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Thanks to everyone who has followed my little corner of the internet, and I hope to get into a more regular writing routine in the new year. Take care, and I hope that you have a joyful holiday season with your loved ones.

Mid-Autumn Check-in

In which I begin to find a balance between teaching and being a grad student.

I haven’t written as much as I’d have liked since the start of the school year, and I’m looking at a drafts folder littered with sentences and scraps of ideas that I hope to properly flush out during the month of November. We recently wrapped up the 1st marking period, and I feel like I’m finally starting to get a grip on everything.

Everyone talks about how stressful the first year of teaching is, and they weren’t exaggerating. I’ve never juggled so many things at one time, and these stressors are further compounded by going to grad school in the evenings. Thankfully, I only have to trek to Hunter once a week, and I find that much preferable to two separate trips or coming in for a Saturday class as some of my NYCTC cohort members are doing. My average Thursday afternoon routine consists of bolting out of my classroom right at the student bell, getting on the train, and practically inhaling a venti cold brew before going to class.

I consider myself fortunate to be working at a good school. I have great colleagues, supportive supervisors, wonderful students, and am fortunate to have a great working relationship with my algebra co-teacher.

I haven’t yet figured out how to get to a point where I can completely leave all work behind during my contracted hours. I don’t think it’s realistic at all for any early-career teacher to get to that point, to be honest. Maybe that’ll change once I have a year or two under my belt and feel more comfortable. For now, I’ll keep trying to set reasonable boundaries and making the most of my available work time.

One thing about teaching is that you’ve got to learn to take the bad along with the good. I’ve dealt with rude students who believe that they are entitled to have their demands met at the drop of a hat, and I’ve gotten to better know my students who have various needs and challenges, including some strategies that can help them be successful in my class. At the same time, students feel comfortable sharing their wins and challenges with me, and it’s been particularly satisfying to help students navigate their transition to high school. I was pleasantly surprised to find several of my students have an interest in speed cubing, and I’m excited to start a Tabletop Club for all things related to board games, tabletop RPGs, speed cubing, etc. We already have a popular e-sports team that’s known as the Gaming Club, so I shied away from using the word.

Outside of my day-to-day work, it’s an incredibly interesting time to follow along with union matters. Our contract expired in September, and the city unions are preparing for what is certain is to be a long, drawn-out contract negotiation process. I’ve been a member of the UFT for about two years now, and I’m not sure much how much more of the Unity caucus’s nonsense I can stomach.

Last month, I started going to the biweekly Executive Board meetings, largely to support the 7 HS executive board members and to stay abreast of the most recent updates from our union. Needless to say that I’ve left these meetings feeling a mix of frustration and disgust – largely due to the intentional efforts of Unity caucus to silence dissenting voices within our union. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say in the coming months as I witness more of this spectacle firsthand. For now, I’ll defer to more seasoned unionists and bloggers such as the folks at New Action and Norm Scott to provide insight into what’s going on.

Teaching is easily the most stressful job that I’ve ever had, but there’s something oddly enticing about the challenge. There’s always something to think about, whether that be curriculum pacing, student engagement, IEP data collection, and more. I love what I do, and am fortunate to work alongside great students, colleagues, and union comrades. I’m navigating my fair share of difficulties, but I don’t think I’m doing any worse than other new teachers who are in a similar position as me. The work will always be there, and I’m doing my best to set healthy boundaries along the way. At the same time, I like to think that I’m making a positive difference in my students’ lives.

NYC DOE Teachers Receive Less than Minimum Wage for New Teacher Orientation

School’s back in session next week as scores of new teachers flock to Kings’ Theatre for the beginning of our new teacher orientation week for the DOE.

New Teacher Week will begin with a central in-person event at Kings Theatre, featuring remarks from Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks, followed by two days of professional learning where new teachers report to schools around the city to attend and complete various modules on Zoom and platform called WeLearnNYC.

The problem? New DOE teachers will receive a paltry $51.70 for attending each full day of training. Each of the three days of training will be from 8:30am – 3:30pm, with a 50 minute lunch. That’s 420 minutes per day inclusive of lunch and 370 minutes without lunch.

Yes, you read that correctly, $51.70 per day for attending three 7 hour training days. It’s listed on page 6 of the New Teacher Week FAQ. And a quick skim of Article 8 of the UFT/DOE contract (Section G(1)(h)) confirms the same information. The FAQ document language refers to this as a “stipend”, but I’m not entirely sure how the DOE gets away with paying almost 50% of minimum wage for a mandatory orientation program.

Some quick napkin math: 420 minutes ÷ a $51.70 rate for the entire day of training = approximately $7.39 per hour ($0.12 per minute). I kept lunchtime in my calculation because our contractual workday normally includes a duty-free lunch. Even with factoring out the daily lunch, the hourly rate works out to $8.38 per hour.

No matter how you look at it, these rates are woefully below both the New York City and New York State minimum wage of $15 per hour.

Interested readers might ask (as I myself did) if there are any laws that allow employers to pay new workers less during their training period. I’m not the most knowledgeable when it comes to labor law, but I did find the following excerpt from the Code of Federal Regulations:

(b) Compensation payable for nonproductive hours worked. The parties may agree to compensate nonproductive hours worked at a rate (at least the minimum) which is lower than the rate applicable to productive work. In such a case, the regular rate is the weighted average of the two rates, as discussed in § 778.115 and the employee whose maximum hours standard is 40 hours is owed compensation at his regular rate for all of the first 40 hours and at a rate not less than one and one-half times this rate for all hours in excess of 40. (See § 778.415 for the alternative method of computing overtime pay on the applicable rate.) In the absence of any agreement setting a different rate for nonproductive hours, the employee would be owed compensation at the regular hourly rate set for productive work for all hours up to 40 and at a rate at least one and one-half times that rate for hours in excess of 40.

29 CFR 778.318(b)

To be completely honest, I’m not even sure if this section of the CFR is relevant to training rates, but I’m going to go with the assumption that mandatory orientation sessions would be considered nonproductive hours. If there are any union contract or labor law afficionados reading this post, let me know if you know of any better sources!

There’s no reason for any worker in this city to make less than minimum wage for any function of their job. From what I can tell, the daily training rate has existed since 2008, and I’m surprised that previous cohorts of new teachers haven’t pointed out this egregious oversight in our contract before.

On the Other Side

Never forget where you come from.

During the recent UFT Town Hall, Mulgrew shared several updates with members as we prepare to head back to school in just two short weeks (or a week for those of us attending New Teacher Week).

It was nice to hear that many of the policies negotiated from last year are being kept: extending Personnel Memorandum No. 1 to give members up to 10 days off for COVID-related illness, virtual parent-teacher conferences, and a generous per session compensation for setting up Google Classrooms. As a substitute teacher, I was woefully barred from receiving any benefit from the DOE’s COVID policies, despite doing very much the same work as the “real” teachers. I almost collapsed in a stairwell the day after receiving a COVID vaccine dose because substitute teachers didn’t get days off for vaccine side effects and I couldn’t have afforded to take the day off. I did get COVID later on, during a time when my only activities were working and commuting to/from work. As a long-term sub, I wasn’t entitled to any days for testing positive.

All of that to say that I deeply appreciate many of these policies, especially after having them flaunted in my face during a time when the union should have done more to advocate for substitute teachers in long-term positions.

The policy that tickled me the most was the extension of the MOA requiring classroom teachers to setup a Google Classroom. It’s not required that we use it on a regular basis, but the expectation is that we had the platform ready to go in the event of a partial classroom closure, inclement weather, etc. The DOE has all but completely gutted all COVID precautions in school, so that whittles down our required use cases to inclement weather.

The compensation for setting up Google Classroom was set to be $225. I’m not sure how it worked at other schools, but the school that I was subbing at during the start of the 2021-2022 school year created and prepopulated students into their respective Google Classrooms if I recall correctly. No work needed from teachers on that front. Sure it takes some time to upload handouts, assignments, get things organized, etc., but teachers weren’t even required to do that much with the platform. I would have been happy to be paid for something I’d have done regardless.

Whenever Google Classroom comes up, it’s a contentious point for some teachers. The usually retort is that it’s outside of the contract and that we shouldn’t expected to manage a digital platform.

I can’t imagine teaching without Google Classroom. It helps me stay organized and to keep everything together in one place. Sure it can take some additional time to fine-tune the way that everything is set up and organized, but it pays dividends in the long-run. The fact that teachers are getting paid to set one up is just icing on the cake.

I think back to easily my work as a substitute teacher was easily neglected as I worked on the same things and in the same working conditions as other educators. While I’m glad that will no longer be the case for me, I’m also sad that many long-term substitutes will continue to be neglected by these policies.

There is much work left to do.

8/22 UFT Town Hall Notes


  • 5 free COVID days due to positive test. Documentation required beyond that.
  • No more health screenings and in-school testing programs.
  • Everyone gets 4 home COVID tests/month. More if needed.
  • Contract is up soon, many city unions already are with no new contract.
  • Teachers’ Choice is the same as last year for all titles. ($250 for teachers).
  • Teachers to get a stipend for setting up Google Classroom.
  • The UFT is developing a Members’ Hub similar to the Chapter Leaders’ Hub; hope to roll out before Thanksgiving.

Town Hall began at 2:03pm.

Hoping everyone is enjoying some time off. Take these last few weeks to get some of that mojo back. Hope that everyone has some kind of relaxation and enjoyment this summer. Update on issues with the city before school starts. Another town hall during the first two months of school. Remember that our contract expires in the middle of September. Hoping for a solid 40-45 minutes to take lots of questions.

Working all summer on the cuts that we’re dealing with. Insane that we’re having school cuts. Constantly in negotiations over things like exemptions and accommodations, COVID protocols.

Thanks to everyone who is advocating and doing the work. Situation makes no sense .This mayor has more money than any mayor previously, using this rightsizing rational due to enrollment loss. Enacted complete use of Fair Student Funding. This formula was designed under Bloomberg. Many Bloomberg admin are back in the DOE and following a strict per pupil allotment. DeBlasio understood it wasn’t the right way to fund a school. Need to take into account base cost; forces schools to do things like remove art and music. SPED is a big problem with FSF. Certain children need more services. We’ve been cited for being out of compliance with IEPs; principals getting squeezed through their budget.

DeBlasio had a committee to change FSF to address issues. Because of COVID, it was never finalized, and the DOE didn’t like the changing of FSF. We’re frustrated with the DOE thinking they’re there to be served by us. Sick of hearing it’s impossible to do this. Try walking into a classroom and seeing the work we’re doing. Banks going forward with FSF; we’re also a part of that committee. Lots of advocates and frustrations. Don’t know where the school cuts are going to land. State leaders upset because they gave NYC more money than ever had. We have to keep the pressure on them. Testified this morning at City Council. Comptroller Lander confirmed $4.3 million dollars in federal money not yet spent. We need a plan to get the support that our schools need. This mayor’s educational platform was to blow up the bureaucracy and support schools. We’re going to keep fighting on the budget cuts. City Council just passed a resolution to rescinding all cuts.

Class Size legislation in Albany. Keeping pressure on the governor. Many of us are there to talk to her about class size. Of course this mayor won’t support lowering class size. We have the budget to support it. There are provisions so that schools that are overcrowded won’t be hurt. To the DOE: You must lower class size, but also have to implement a plan for overcrowded schools. Repurposing spaces, annex spaces, etc. It’s a thoughtful, good piece of legislation. John Liu has been a strong advocate for the bill.

Contract – still in effect. Most city union contracts have expired. MLC is all talking together about raising the level of intensity. The city isn’t broke; has more money than ever before. You can hear from the mayor’s comments that the city is about to go off of a financial cliff. Not dealing with the fact that they need to get their workers contracts.

Talk of teacher shortage/negotiations. Always a shortage of SPED, STEM, foreign languages, but now what’s happening in the rest of the country is starting to happen in NYC. As VP of ALT, Mulgrew also travels to other areas. Living in NYC is an expensive undertaking. You want the best teachers working with our children, help them afford to live in NYC. The contract is only one piece. Also trying to develop housing programs. It’s tough to live in the city. We have a 500 member negotiation committee. Every chapter, every title is represented. Meeting again after we get back to school. No concern from the city because our contract is still in effect. Some career and tech stuff happening, dyslexia training nothing like how the mayor has been speaking about it. UFT offered the DOE a plan, but the DOE disregarded. We’ll monitor throughout. Nothing really happening on the educational side with the DOE.

COVID. The country has decided to live with COVID. We don’t negotiate with the DOH, we follow their guidance. Missed opportunity that there wasn’t a willingness to sit down and talk about moving the schools and system forward.

A few thousand received notice of possible excessing in June, between 600-700 actually excessed. Not losing a job, but there is currently not a position in the building they were at.

Frustrating last couple of years. Maybe I’m (Mulgrew) a bit jaded from dealing with other states, especially Florida. The attacks on teachers, unions, public unions are so intense. This administration seems to not be able to move on anything except for convincing others that the city is broke. What happens in NY is important. Some states are trying to push vouchers, online learning. Recent legislation in FL where teachers can be sued/arrested/prosecuted for discussing any sexual (identity) issues. Can’t believe this is happening in the United States. Yes we’re frustrated with the mayor and chancellor. They come and go, we’ve always been here. We protect our children. Hiring is down. Currently 1,100 new people coming in our system. Do what we do: embrace those people and help them out. Remember your first year. It’s going to be tough. Make sure you’re helping them out. Welcome them. It’s important that we are treating each other with the support and respect that we expect others to show us.

COVID. Basically following the CDC guidelines. In-school testing will not be in place. Every member of a school community will get 4 monthly home tests minimum. More tests will be available. 5 day quarantine for positive test no CAR days. After 5 days, need to supply medical documentation. Wear mask for 5 days upon return. Health screening is no longer in place. Anyone who had a full year medical or religious exemption, the DOE will recognize those exemptions. More information coming out for those in that group.

Accommodations. Anything related to COVID is a regular (reasonable) accommodation. COVID stuff now dealt with under the regular accommodations process. Will need to supply more up to date paperwork.

Leave b/c of vaccination status. DOH is not rescinding the vaccination mandate. In conversations with the Department of Ed about if someone chooses to get a vaccination before the 5th, they’ll be treated as if they’re on a regular leave and have full rights to their position. After Sept. 5th, access to employment, but no guarantee of returning to the employee’s previous site.

Retirements not particularly up, they’re in the usual range. Folks aren’t waiting for the end of the year to retire. Steady trickle of retirements each month. Hiring is low. Take the idea of the CL hub, and create a similar thing for all members. Plan to roll that out before Thanksgiving. Ability to quickly communicate with everyone; very important in this day and age. It’s hard to get straightforward information from any source. People don’t need this frustration in their lives. Last year, everyone was paid for the Google Classroom. This year, there will likely not be partial classroom closures. based on the CDC guidance and where we’re going. Still going to have staff members and children who are out with COVID. The DOE isn’t thinking about paying people to set up their classrooms. Are you really going to allow schools to say that they don’t get an asynchronous option during illness? Talks to implement the same process as last year.

Quick pitch for the Labor Day parade on Saturday 9/10. We’re going to set up on the street with food, rides, and stuff before the parade. Bring your children and have a good time. Just us and CSA on that entire block.

This is a tough job, but a great profession. What we do isn’t easy. There are a lot of loud voices on both sides of the political debate. We need to start pushing the message about elevating teaching as a professional field. What happened during COVID has put teachers in a much better light. Took this pandemic to make that happen. The city re-gave authority back to the superintendents. Very disorganized and all over the place. Superintendent’s are supposedly in charge and their job is to support and hold principals accountable. Not sure how it’s going to work out. Always more about what they think versus going to schools, talking to members, clinicians, therapists. We need to push, we’re going to go hard at them. This school year should be somewhat like what we’ve had in the past, but we’ll never go back to the past. Public education is about the opportunity that we have as a union to push the message out there.

[Missed the start of this remark. Mulgrew spoke to CollegeBoard representatives.]Teachers like PBL. Sometimes we have to follow crazy curriculum. Doesn’t work, but that’s how our evaluations are aligned. Projects work, and also in AP courses. CollegeBoard saw great strides for black and brown students. Let us do what works best for our children and provide the right support. Thanking everyone for taking the time to join the call. Hope that everyone gets some down time. Transition to questions.

Town Hall Q&A

Margaret Retiring CL: More of a suggestion. With the teacher shortage, can excessed staff be used to fill the gaps?

DOE couldn’t tell us how many teachers they need. When they say they’re out of SPED compliance, they can’t say how many therapists, providers, etc. they need. That’s a common sense idea, but the DOE has made sure that they can’t figure things out. We’ll do our best to keep track and move people. We’ll see where the need is and certain districts will be able to do it faster.

Allison: Are we still getting teachers’ choice? How much?

Yes, $225.

What happens to long-term subs who haven’t received a full-time position? Covering maternity/leaves for several years. Why aren’t the long-term subs getting positions?

Principal is in charge of the hiring (comparison to schools as like a franchise). This is one of the things we’re going to try to address. We’ve had long-term subs serving in the same position for two years. We’ve been angry at the DOE. Why aren’t you hiring these teachers? Hope to address soon.

Gertrude: Any more information about dyslexia program?

We’re going to (want to?) use literacy coaches to become city experts because dyslexia is within their wheelhouse. One hour program isn’t effective, never going to work. Need to ID and screen student; how do we train experts who then work with the teachers? The DOE threw up their hands because they don’t want to manage the program. They don’t want to manage 600 people; would rather tell schools to go figure it out.

Member Q: Elementary para: can I wear my mask?

MM: Yes, that’s okay.

Beth: Often on hold with HR Connect for 3 hours and getting disconnected. Trouble rectifying paychecks because I can’t get through to a person.

Write an email to We don’t run HR Connect. Have told the DOE that it’s a failure. They keep saying that they’re working on it. We don’t control HR Connect.

Melissa – Will PTC’s be remote. Can they be remote forever and ever?

Yes for this year. We’re trying for ever and ever. We’ve been in more contact with parents than ever before using the remote system. In the DOE’s interest too.

Alissa – Are booster shots going to be mandated?

No, have not heard from the DOH about mandate boosters. We don’t negotate with the DOH, they do their thing.

Amanda – On a medical/religious exemption and it goes through again this year, where do they report?

At this point, it’s basically the same setup we had last year. Some will report to buildings, others work from home. First need to get the exemptions/accommodations recognized. Expect it to run the same as last year.

Robert – I drive into work on W 50th St in Manhattan. Any thoughts on congestion pricing?

City workers should be exempt. Anyone that has to report to a workplace in that zone should be exempt. Just starting the process. A lot of us pay tolls, this thing is a mess. The process just started and we’re a part of it.

Karen – [Missed the question, something about the contract]

We’re one of the few city unions left with a contract still in effect. The mayor is telling everyone that the city is broke. We passed a reso that the time (length of day) can’t be negotiated. We are not swapping time for money. We need a raise.

Tashonna – We’re hearing about the influx of migrant children in the news. Are there any additional resources of provisions that are being shared?

We’re still waiting. The mayor made the announcement. DOE said we’re going to put together a support program for these students; we’re already short ESL teachers. No issues with helping, but here goes another announcement without a plan. Going to need serious services there to support families and students. We’ll get out info once we learn more from the DOE.

Member Q: in SI our borough office houses students. Any guidance on where members with accommodations will be going to?
MM: We are figuring it out.

Member Q: Is there anything in place if schools have a breakout of monkeypox?

MM: What our doctors have told us is that schools are not high liability/risk place for monkeypox. But if there is an outbreak we would work with the DOH quickly. But I have learned to say that nothing is definitive.

Member Q: Will members be paid for setting up Google Classroom? Will snow days be remote?

MM: Got a text that teachers will be paid for Google Classroom setup just like last year. If we get a snow day, it will be…gotta come up with a snow day. If the mayor says that children shouldn’t go to school, we’ll be remote.

Member Q: Why can’t nurses come back and work part time?

MM: All about the pension stuff. This is something we’re going to revisit with the city. We still don’t have a nurse in every building. This mayor was one of the fiercest advocates for nurses in every building as borough president. We’re not going to stop. We need a nurse in every building. Maybe we can open it up to nurses who are retired and want to give some time to the school system.

Member Q: I’m one of the staff members who only received 3 vacation days. Will we ever receive the other 4 or is that settled?

MM: Most folks in that case were able to get their 7, but there were some under the arbitration who wouldn’t get all 7. Reach out to Michael Sill to confirm your circumstances.

Member Q: We had IEP meetings virtually on various platforms. Will that be the rule or exception?

MM: It worked better, but we’re still in discussions.

Member Q: Anything more than excessed teachers could be doing to find a placement since Open Market has closed?

MM: Open Market was previous extended (by a day?) Transitioned to the Excessed Staff Selection Site. Excessed staff can see vacancies.

Member Q: Parents weren’t allowed in the building last year without the vaccine. I’m in a building with low parent involvement. Do children’s family members still need to be vaccinated to come in?

MM: Parents required to provide proof of vaccination, but the daily screening has been withdrawn. Health and safety team is working on making sure that each school has a system for parents to provide proof of vaccination. The issue isn’t completely settled yet. Like usual, the Department of Ed is dumping the issue on schools.

Member Q: Asking for clarification about the budget process.

MM: The next step is the appellate courts to review this court case

Member Q: Staff members reached out to me. A member is now in collection (because of a COVID test that wasn’t covered?) What avenues are there to get that bill paid?

MM: At this moment, the MLC is going to have to make a decision about whether the city pays for the expenses or if there will be some kind of court case. The city said numerous times: We want all city workers to get tested.

Member Q: Will the DOE implement DESSA and will teachers have more times to complete the paperwork? Took a lot of time last year.

They’re going to continue DESSA. Being transparent: This is a waste of our time. You don’t do anything to help kids in crisis find a counselor. We signed an $18 million contract. Another reason why we don’t need the DOE.

Member Q: Developed an autoimmune disease due to COVID. Do we reapply or are accommodations extended to this year?

MM: Can apply now.

Member Q: Wondering about a potential buy out for senior members who didn’t qualify for 25/55.

MM: Don’t see anything at the state level, especially with upstate being hit hard by teacher shortages. Has to come from the state.

Member Q: Anything about getting our raises back? Ended on May 14th, 2021.

MM: Ended because that’s the last raise of the expiring contract. Will be updated with the new contract, but it’s probably going to be a fight.

Member Q: Many city school’s front doors are always open. Will doors be secured/locked?

MM: 50 schools are getting buzzers, but that’s a drop in the bucket.

Member Q: The news keeps saying that budget cuts are due to lower enrollment of kids in the system. Will it be the case that if numbers increase, that’ll be an argument for restoring the money?

MM: The thing that’s really causing the budget cuts is that they went to a strict interpretation of FSF from the Bloomberg years. DiBlasio was decent about funding throughout his entire term. The Adams administration went back. The state doesn’t fund NYC Schools on per pupil. This morning, I asked: “Where the hell is the money?” When they send less money to the schools, central gets more money.

Thanking everyone for taking the time. We’re going into a new school year. There are going to be great and frustrating parts of the year. We adjust and move. Because we’re professionals we make things work. No matter what happens, schools figure it out. That’s why I’m so proud to say that schools can handle it. They’re there with the children and taking care of them. Be there for the new staff members. They’re going to be great teachers and make a phenomenal impact. We’re here to support and take care of each other. Another town hall will happen around the end of October unless something comes up.

Have fun, be safe, and enjoy family and loved ones.

Town hall adjourned at 3:39pm.

Hobby Creep and Blog Focus

Each summer, I seem to run into the same problem: I realize how many things I want to do with my free time. I quickly realize each time that it can be hard to juggle multiple hobbies/interests at a time.

Off the top of my head, several things that capture my interest (in no particular order) are: reading, blogging, learning computer programming, brushing up on my math skills, learning the electric bass, learning to play Irish whistle and recorder, learning the Highland pipes, and learning the uilleann pipes. Sure those last few items are all musical instruments, but they’re different enough from one another that I think they merit their own mention.

The issue is further compounded when I realize that I want to be good at a subset of these hobbies. I’d like to get involved with a competitive pipe band and compete on the competitive solo circuit through the Eastern United States Pipe Band Association. I’d like to hone my programming chops enough that I can contribute to some open source projects or create things that other teachers find helpful. Some days I mull over the idea of getting really involved with my local recorder players’ guild and finding a group to play medieval and Renaissance music with.

Whether they be artists, dancers, musicians, etc., I think other creative types will empathize with me, especially those who have full-time jobs that take us away from our creative endeavors. I didn’t go into teaching for the money or benefits, but one really nice perk of the teaching calendar is that I can use my summers to pursue my musical aspirations with much more freedom than than afforded to most other full-time occupations, many of which work year-round and don’t get nearly as many days off as teachers do.

Thinking about these creative pursuits also prompted me to think about this blog – what it is and what I want it to be. Initially I thought it would be strictly about things related to teaching and my thoughts about getting involved with the United Federation of Teachers, the union representing many titles within the NYC Dept. of Education.

The more I think about it, the more it feels right to leave this blog open-ended to include learning about various things that interest me, whether it be my growth as a teacher, or my foray into music or technology. I want this to be a blog and artifact about my own learning, and perhaps others may find value in that. There are some NYC DOE bloggers who I enjoy keeping up with, and I hope that others find similar value in this fledgling blog one day.

Sure it’s not conventional practice to lump multiple interests together under one blog, but I also have no interest in profiting from this platform. I don’t particularly care how well this blog does in terms of SEO or number of hits. It’s always been a reflective tool for my own use, and I always think it’s nice when other folks let me know that they enjoyed a post that I made.

I’m going to go read my book for a bit and pull out the pipes for some play time. I hope you have a pleasant day as well, interested reader.

NYC DOE Nomination Limbo IV and a Resolution

I was fully prepared for this post to be my fourth entry in what seemed like an ongoing struggle to get my hiring paperwork processed through the DOE. Just to quickly recap, I was hired for a full-time teaching position. It’s my second job in the DOE, but my fourth nomination due to how the DOE sets up some of its other processes, like the Roster Evaluate to join the Teaching Collaborative and get placed at a Teaching Academy or the Person Not on Budget (PNOB) nomination that ties someone to a specific school in Galaxy. Nomination is DOE lingo for the hiring process – paperwork, fingerprints, background checks, all that jazz. It turns out that passing a background check and having a demonstrated record of good service isn’t enough for the DOE’s bureaucratic overloads. Candidates have to undergo the background nomination process for any new position.

I’m in good standing with the DOE from my time as a substitute teacher, but I’ve jocularly accepted the fact that my file number is cursed. Every darn time I’ve gone to the background investigation step in Applicant Gateway, I’ve gotten stuck there for an disgustingly long length of time.

Interested readers who know my frustrations all too well will recall that the OPIINFO email account is the only way advertised in order to reach. I mentioned in a previous post that a little Google magic and using the DOE’s Outlook directory allowed me to quickly figure out some of the folks that work behind the scenes at OPI. I don’t think they were terribly thrilled that I reached out to them directly, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

After rehashing this same story on four different occasions, I’m happy to say that I’ve been finally hired as a full-time teacher as of about a week ago. As long as I remain in my current position of special education teacher (and I intend to do so), I’m glad that I won’t have to deal with Applicant Gateway, background investigations, or OPI for the foreseeable future.

New hires get a congratulatory email when they complete the hiring process in Applicant Gateway, and I couldn’t have been happier to get that email. While this entry marks the end of my nomination saga, I know that future candidates will continue to experience the same difficulties that I did (I know of 4-5 subs and Teaching Fellows who had the exact same issue). Perhaps the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality (TRQ) can look more closely into the matter alongside their OPI colleagues to ensure that future candidates don’t have to endure what so many of us had to endure.

The NYCTC Field Experience Teaching Portfolio

The Collaborative’s teaching portfolio can seem daunting at first, but it’s not that bad once you find your groove.

During the Teaching Collaborative’s Field Experience, Partner Teachers submit a portfolio that highlights their growth and understanding of the skills learned throughout field experience, including sample lesson plans and a reflection on supporting diverse learners in the classroom. I found this post buried in my draft posts, and thought I’d polish it up and share it.

At 11:18pm on Wednesday May 11, 2022, I clicked send on an email to my Collaborative Coach, notifying him that my teaching portfolio was ready for his review.

The teaching portfolio is one of the last requirements needed in order for Partner Teachers to successfully complete the field experience component of the program. There are quite a few things involved, but it can be broken down into a some key components:

  • A unit plan outline, which identifies the desired results of the unit, evidence and data that I used to assess student learning, and a learning plan that broke down the pacing of the unit.
  • Two lessons complete with relevant materials, including: slides, handouts, answer keys, etc.
  • A Reaching All Learners narrative, which somewhat synthesized my previous reflection and writing on data collection/analysis and my inter-visitations where I got to observe licensed teachers practicing the tenets of culturally-responsive sustaining education (CR-SE) in their classrooms.

For the unit plan, my coach and I decided to plan it around the ICT earth science class that we were teaching together, as we knew that I’d be teaching in an ICT setting for the upcoming school year. At this point in the year, we had finished the majority of the content, and the Regents for our class (June 15th) wasn’t too far away at that point. After consulting with our general ed co-teacher (who is absolutely brilliant in all things earth science), we decided that my mini unit would focus on the factors that influence climate, heat transfer, and the water cycle.

Every time I plan a lesson or unit, I can’t help but to think about a play. It feels like me and my students are on a stage and I’m orchestrating some grandiose display that will wow them and support them in taking their knowledge of earth science to a new level. Are my hopes a bit lofty? Absolutely, but you gotta find a way to amuse and entertain yourself when possible.

I don’t think there’s a particularly right or wrong way to prepare a lesson plan (LP), and everyone I know does it in a way that works best for them. My general workflow is to have a copy of my lesson plan template open, along with a copy of my Google Slides template and a folder that I can drop other resources into (handouts, articles, etc.). I usually do most of my planning as I look at my Google Slide deck, thinking about what I’m going to say and how I expect my students to respond. I then use the lesson plan to fill in more of the details, like how I want to phrase certain things, key points to highlight, common misconceptions, and anticipating student questions.

The unit plan wasn’t particularly difficult, it just took some time and thought to put everything together in a coherent order. One thing that I appreciate about my Collaborative experience was the expectation opportunity to create and submit multiple LPs per week for feedback from my coach. Will I use the Collaborative’s standard LP format in my teaching job? Absolutely not, and pretty much everyone I’ve talked to feels the same way. The Collaborative’s template is great for learning what makes a good LP, and I know I’ll consider all of those components in my teaching practice, but there’s just no way that it’s sustainable on a daily basis. It’s similar to the way that some teacher preparation programs require LPs to be formatted or require scholarly sources to justify the choices that we make.

The timing did prove to be a bit tricky. I said that the unit plan wasn’t particularly hard, but man did it take some time to sit down and bang out. I used to be a slacker who couldn’t manage his time well. Now the difficulty laid in having a ton of stuff on my plate at any given moment and trying to make time to work on the portfolio. In many ways, my girlfriend was the unsung hero of my teaching portfolio. She was incredibly supportive every step of the way as I vented, talked about how my day in the classroom was, and acted as an incredibly thoughtful sounding board on numerous occasions. I often joked that she was my rubber duck; rubberducking being a method that software developers use to debug code by explaining the problem in natural language. Rubberducking is a surprisingly effective debugging/brainstorming strategy, and I encourage other educators to try it out with their inanimate object of choice.

Eventually, I got the portfolio done and submitted it at 11:26pm – just shy of the midnight deadline. The portfolio is reviewed by the Partner Teacher’s coach and also their SBS lead instructor. The two scores are averaged together and that becomes the Partner Teachers’ portfolio grade. When all was said and done, I got a solid A and my coach’s blessing that I was prepared to take on my own classroom.

Aside from the amount of time that the teaching portfolio required, it was a net positive and a fitting way to wind down my field experience. I’ve always enjoyed reflection-oriented tasks, which is a reason for why I started this blog. This blog wouldn’t be terribly helpful if all I did was ramble the entire time, so I’ll leave the interested reader with some takeaways from my experience putting my portfolio together.

  • The portfolio rewards effort. One reason that the portfolio went pretty well for me was that I was intentional throughout my field experience about preparing high-quality LPs and in completing the intermediate assignments along the way. Earlier in my field experience we completed inter-visitations and observed how licensed teachers employed CR-SE practices in their classroom. Despite being two separate assignments, the work I did during the inter-visitations and CR-SE reflection went a long way towards setting the stage for my Reaching All Learners narrative, especially as I thought about the underlying principles of CR-SE in my own teaching practice.
  • Start earlier – earlier than you think. If I could go back in time to the almost month that I recall putting aside to work on my portfolio, I would have printed out a monthly calendar for the month of May and planned out almost day-by-day exactly what I wanted to accomplish. A month sounds like a lot, but in the midst of pre-service training doing a little bit each day goes a long way. When I did this planning, I wish I had gone back and identified several non-negotiable checkpoints along the way.
  • Lean into your resources. I was lucky by having a coach that was invested in my professional development. I always felt like I could pull him aside during a prep or send an email to ask about a certain thing, and my coach always offered new ways to think about some component of a lesson or how I might organize something from a planning perspective. Our earth science co-teacher was also tremendous. She had no obligation to help me out, but went out of her way to give me content ideas and to dial in the pacing of my mini unit.
  • Use a tool like Google Docs/Sheets to plan the unit and lessons. I can’t begin to count how many times I started planning a lesson one way and then it did a 180 and I ended up doing something else. Maybe I was just terrible at sequencing, but I chalked it up as part of my planning process. Google tools (Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc.) offer a robust set of version management tools, and you can even assign names to certain versions to better keep track of everything.
  • Leave a day for to review the portfolio with fresh eyes. This goes for pretty much any major assignment. I don’t think any major projects should be submitted without getting a good night’s sleep and looking over things one last time to make any final adjustments.

The portfolio might seem like a lot at first, but I think most Partner Teachers don’t realize how prepared they are to take it on until they get to it. Staring at a blank page can be daunting, but never be afraid to just start writing. Even if it doesn’t make any sense, get those thoughts on paper and the rest will flow naturally.

The Summer Term Has Come and Gone

On finding a rhythm in grad school (again) and brushing the dust off of my impeccable APA citation skills.

As part of my first summer in the Teaching Collaborative, I began my graduate coursework for the M.S.Ed in adolescent special education at Hunter College. We seem to be hopefully in the waning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our first term of coursework has been a decent mix of hybrid classes, meeting online, in-person, and sometimes working asynchronously for certain modules. Summer coursework at Hunter is broken up into 3 sessions, and each of my three classes so far have fallen under one of the five week sessions. Most of the Collaborative’s university partners begin graduate coursework in the summer, with a few exceptions (I know a colleague at Touro mentioned that they’re starting in the fall).

For this year’s Hunter College adolescent special education cohort, we took three courses: one on literacy and another on math methods during the first summer term, and a class on the study of learning disabilities during the last 5 week summer term. I thought I learned a good deal from these courses, especially given that they each happen in the span of 5 weeks. I can’t help but wonder what sacrifices have to be made when condensing a graduate level course down into 5 weeks, but my professors have been great. Our program intentionally sets a foundational knowledge base with the three classes that I mentioned above, and I’m feeling pretty ready to incorporate these tools and ideas into my teaching practice. Our faculty talk a lot about modeling strategies, tools, and other things that we can tangibly take into the classroom, and the faculty that I’ve worked with so far have all been great.

For those that are curious about how we ended up at our respective graduate programs, NYCTC Partner Teachers are able to rank their top 2-3 graduate school preferences based on the universities that partner with the DOE for each subject area. The program says that most participants get their first choice of grad program, and that seems to track pretty well with what I’ve observed and heard from others in my cohort. I don’t think I knew of anyone who got their third choice based on the grad school preference survey.

I’ve enjoyed the feeling of being back on a college campus again. Before the pandemic, I was finishing up my first masters degree in higher education and student affairs at Indiana University. As an undergrad and graduate student, I held various roles on multiple campuses, with almost all of my responsibilities falling under the umbrella of residential life and working in university residence halls. It does feel somewhat strange to be back on campus as only a student and to have no other responsibilities. One nice thing about being at Hunter is that I appreciate having access to facilities like lounges and study areas whenever I’m on campus. It’s nice to know that while I’m on the Upper East Side there’s always at least two places I can go to without an expectation of spending my money (the other being a New York Public Library branch).

As I wind down my last of the three summer classes (study of learning disabilities), I’m putting my finishing touches on an IEP group project, working my way through the NYSED autism workshop curriculum, and completing a course reflection assignment. On one hand, I’m excited for a short break between grad school and the start of the school year. Once the school year starts I’ll see how I do balancing teaching full time and going to grad school at night. On the other hand, I find myself ruminative. I find myself thinking about the aspects of my journey that have lead me to this point, and I find myself thinking about the students that I’ll be meeting and teaching in just over a month.

I’m under no delusion that my first year in the classroom is going to be flawless. If anything, I’ve heard that the first year is the hardest part of one’s teaching career. Whatever comes my way, I’m going to do my very best and take it all in stride.