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.


Reflecting on SBS

Community matters in education, I’m glad I found a community with my SBS peers.

Members of my SBS group had an in-person meetup after our last class. It was so nice to see everyone beyond a computer screen!

A few weeks ago, I finished up my last skill-building session (SBS) that made up a pretty significant component of my pre-service training in the Collaborative. SBS essentially was a credit-bearing weekly class, where we got to learn about and practice the various skills needed in our practice as educators. The Collaborative does a good job outlining SBS on their website, but the class focuses on skills like lesson planning, supporting diverse student populations, equity in teaching practice, and more.

In years past, SBS met in a traditional classroom setting that Partner Teachers would report to after finishing up field experience at our respective teaching academies. Due to the pandemic, SBS was facilitated digitally via Zoom.

SBS was my first introduction to the Collaborative’s PST program, as it preceded the beginning of field experience by about two weeks. During these two weeks, we attended daily SBS sessions and learned/practiced some of the most essential skills needed to enter the classroom as a Partner Teacher. I remember having an irrational fear that my SBS instructor would be some sort of educational drill sergeant whose job it would be to mold us into fearless pedagogical machines. I even replayed training scenes from films like Jarhead and Mulan in my head. Turns out that my fear was completely misplaced. My SBS coach was an incredibly passionate, supportive educator and genuinely cared about our development as future teachers. I also connected with a small group of peers from the program over the course of the last 5 months — all of whom I know will be wonderful educators.

I thought that SBS was organized incredibly well. It led with high-yield concepts such as lesson-planning and building relationships that empowered me to hit the ground on day 1 of field experience to create meaningful learning experiences for my students. The sessions followed a regular sequencing that worked really well for establishing a sense of routine — a daily do now that set the stage for the topics, an introduction to and discussion of how a topic or strategy can be used in the classroom, followed by the opportunity for us to practice the concept ourselves and to give/receive feedback from peers. It was rooted in theory and research about strategies that work well in the classroom, but they felt so practical. On more than one occasion, I found myself leaving SBS on a Wednesday, applying a new skill later that week, and finding some new growth or breakthrough with a student that came from applying material learned in SBS.

I don’t think there’s any way to get around the fact that SBS is going to feel like a drag at times — and I say this as someone who gets overly excited at the prospect of receiving a new textbook or course syllabus. When you end up in the middle of March writing weekly papers and going to SBS, all while continuing to go to field experience on a full-time basis, it eventually starts to wear you down a bit. On top of the weekly papers, March is also right around the time that we were setting our sites on gateway #2 — the second formal observation of the program.

I’m particularly grateful for having found such a strong sense of community within my SBS group. From regular small group activities and discussions to 1:1 chats to ask questions, laugh, or vent with a classmate, it really was the people I got to work alongside that made SBS such a rich and impactful experience for me.

I wasn’t a perfect SBS participant. I definitely slacked on the readings once or twice, and I felt like I didn’t have the most profound perspectives to offer in regards to the readings or topics on a given day. Still, some peers found value in my ramblings, and I suppose that there’s value in that.

Shaking the Dust Off of Emacs

Who wouldn’t want to compose most of their text in a program from the 1970’s?

It’s been a while since I’ve messed around with emacs, an extensible, customizable text editor that can literally do anything under the sun.

The summer term at Hunter College began about two weeks ago, marking the beginning of my return to grad school. With it being the start of a new chapter in my academic journey, I thought it would be a great time to revisit my productivity tools.

I’ve previously used Google Drive, which is a great all-around tool for notes. The interface is good enough, generally easy to use, and Drive makes files pretty easy to edit and share. Google Drive is an amazing collaborative tool, and I expect most of my teaching work in the fall will be based around Drive, including lesson plans, lesson slide decks for students, etc.

A few years ago, I dabbled in statistics and computer science when I was a graduate student at Indiana University. In the process, I learned enough Python and R to rekindle a long-forgotten love that I had developed for technology.

My stats coursework was a watershed moment for my productivity, because it was during an introductory statistics course that I discovered R Markdown, a fantastic tool for gathering notes, data, code, etc. all in one place.

R Markdown is a type of markdown language, meaning that plain text can be converted to a number of elements, such as bold or italicized text, links, and more. The beauty of markdown languages lies in their simplicity. Without wading through GUI menus in Word or Google Docs to implement various types of formatted texts, I find it much easier to get my notes and thoughts directly from my head into a digital file. Markdown streamlines the writing process exponentially for those who take the time to learn it, although I recognize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Many will prefer the familiar GUI’s of Microsoft Office or Google Drive, and that’s completely fine.

Using R Markdown in RStudio was a huge step in the right direction for my productivity, but it still was bogged down by some of the same problems as other GUI editors — it wasn’t always clear how to do certain things, and every time I move my right hand to move the mouse or tap the touchpad I lose just a bit of my efficiency. I know it seems trivial, but the time needed to move a mouse, click on the screen, and return to a typing position really do add up. I later realized that .rmd files could be prepared in plain text files– perhaps I will try experimenting more with the format one day. I sometimes suffer from being enticed by multiple options to get a task done, that I’ve sometimes stopped myself from getting any work done at all. I’ve used emacs these last few weeks, and I’m committed to this workflow, at least for now.

I wanted a text editor that can be whatever I need it to be, and that can also grow with me over time as I learn more about it’s features and the myriad of ways to customize it. I was never a power user by any means, but I worked through the emacs tutorial a couple of times and looked over a cheat sheet enough to realize how powerful of a tool it can be.

As I settle into the term, I’m going to use this summer to experiment with a note taking workflow based on org mode, an emacs mode that streamlines a lot of organizational tasks, such as note-taking, various documents, to-do lists, and more. I largely use org mode as a note-taking system, but there are plenty of other awesome things that I hope to learn over time.

Unfortunately, I’m fairly certain that I’ll never get to share my interest in emacs with future coworkers — teachers who live pretty happily in Microsoft Office and Google Suite tools. Not everyone wants to work inside of a program that looks like a terminal shell from the 1970’s, and that’s totally fine. In the meantime, I’ll likely use emacs for my own use, copying and pasting text wherever it needs to go.

Attending MORE’s New Member Orientation and My First General Membership Meeting

In which I learn more about MORE caucus and the political landscape of the United Federation of Teachers.

Note: All thoughts expressed here are my own as a relatively new member of MORE They do not represent any positions held by the caucus or other members.

It’s a beautiful day in New York today. I hopped on an express bus to head downtown to Union Square for a new member orientation held by the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE) — a caucus of teachers within the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). I arrived pretty early, which gave me the chance to stop by a delightful little coffee shop nearby for one of my favorite drinks, an iced lavender latte.

I first joined MORE about a year ago, after I was connected with a member of the caucus. This member’s views on education and social justice seemed pretty congruent with my own, so naturally I was pretty excited to learn more about the caucus. My involvement with MORE up until this point has unfortunately been pretty limited, but that began to change recently when I got involved with supporting the United for Change coalition during the recent UFT elections. This is MORE’s first new member orientation and meeting in-person since the COVID pandemic began, and I’m glad that I had the chance to learn from activist-educators with a similar political compass as my own.

I thought the meeting went incredibly well, and it was inspiring to learn from other educators that represent a wide range of career paths, union/caucus involvement, and organizing backgrounds. I’m particularly thankful to a few members who took the time to chat with me about starting my career as an educator and for the advice they so freely gave to me as an aspiring unionist and special education teacher.

Topics of discussion from the meeting included the creation of two additional positions within MORE to support the caucus’s work, the launching of a membership recruitment and organizing drive, and a debrief of the recent election results and thinking about what a way forward for MORE looks like in the political landscape of the union. One thing that I think was clear after the election debrief is the need for our caucus to reflect on what our role should be in union electoral politics. Members of MORE represent a conglomeration of left-leaning political orientations, and I suspect that views on the value of electoral politics decreases as one goes further and further left. I’ll leave my thoughts on that for a different post.

I wasn’t involved with the formation of United for Change as a slate in this year’s election, but I did get marginally involved much later in this year’s election cycle. I won’t pretend to know the finer pointers of caucus politics within the union, but it is something that I hope to learn more about in the future. By agreeing to form a coalition, the groups that made up United for Change agreed to collaborate around UFC’s five points: smaller class size/improved staffing, fair pay, no corporate interests in education, rank-and-file empowerment, and community, safety, & equity.

I think other caucuses would agree with MORE that UFC’s five points are certainly worth fighting for. I can also see how different caucuses and other groups within the UFT would differ on how exactly to achieve those goals.

Are election politics the way to achieve the vision for a social justice-oriented and militant unionism that MORE espouses as a caucus? I don’t think so. I think we have decide if the optics of electability play a part in practicing MORE’s Points of Unity. One of the great things about a caucus like MORE is that there’s no party line to toe. Members can (and are encouraged) to debate topics and issues that are important to us.

From the first day that I joined the DOE as a substitute teacher, I was excited and proud to become a member of the largest local union in the country. I knew nothing about the political landscape at the time, but I’m excited to learn more and engage with the vision of social justice unionism that so many of my colleagues in MORE share. I don’t know exactly what the future of our union and schools can or should look like, but I’m excited to explore the possibilities.

Where’s the Contract Negotiation Survey for Per Diem Members?

It might just be a survey, but little vignettes like this speak volumes about which members our union values.

The UFT is up for a new round of contract negotiations this year, and the 400+ member negotiations committee has had at least one meeting that I know of.

Last week, the UFT sent out a survey to members, asking for preferences on a number of topics, including length of the school day. There was, however, a minor snag with this process — I don’t know of a single dues-paying per diem member who received the survey.

I know, I know, I can hear some of the responses — how some would say it’s such a trivial detail, or perhaps some think that the results of this survey and/or the eventual contract negotiations have no impact on per diem members. On the contrary, I’d argue it’s quite a big deal.

As per diem members, our working conditions are tied to what is negotiated for appointed members. For example, substitute teachers receive a daily prep period and a duty free lunch. Our work day is fixed at 6 hours and 50 minutes (including lunch). When full-time teachers received a yearly 2-3% raise from 2018-2021, I was pleasantly surprised to find that we enjoyed the same increase in the per diem rate. Even if we don’t get benefits like paid holidays or the UFT’s Welfare Fund, some of the most central components of our job are shaped by what comes of the new teacher contract.

Putting aside grandiose reasoning and our paltry benefits, per diem members should have a say and a voice in the contract negotiation because it’s the right thing to do. Every dues-paying member should have a say in something as important as setting priorities for the upcoming contract negotiations. A shortage of substitute teachers and substitute paraprofessionals has been one of the most pressing logistical challenges that the DOE has faced since the pandemic began. Who better to offer insight on per diem workers than the per diem workers themselves?

At the time of writing this post, the recent UFT still elections are still fresh on my mind, as is the case with so many of my brilliant colleagues and union activists who supported the United for Change slate. As abysmal as voter turnout was this year (and historically in general), I can’t shake the feeling that our union caucuses need to do a better job engaging and mobilizing per diem members who are unceremoniously lumped together under the functional category for the purposes of ballot distribution and results.

I’m not sure how much of a difference the per diem member bloc will make in future UFT elections, but it will still be a noticeable chunk of votes for whichever caucus(s) realize that they need to make per diem members feel like a priority and not an afterthought. I don’t think either Unity or United for Change did a particularly good job of it this year. At the same time, I’m still kicking myself for not doing more on my own to organize around the challenges that per diem workers face.

Our struggles do not happen in a vacuum away from other worker struggles within our union. I recently became aware of the growing movement of DOE occupational therapists and physical therapists advocating for a better contract. Members are also becoming more aware of paraprofessional compensation and how woefully inadequate it is with a high COL city like New York City. True worker solidarity and action happens when we support and uplift other workers and show genuine care and awareness for what they’re going through.

Anyone who has known me since I started working for the DOE knows that I love to get on my soapbox about how per diem members of the UFT are treated every day. If there’s one thing I got from working during the pandemic, it’s realizing how integral per diem members to how the DOE functions each and every day. I could lambast the UFT time and time again, but true change really does begin with small, incremental steps.

All of that is to say that there’s a contract negotiation survey going around, and I think it’s pretty crappy that per diem members weren’t included on the mailing list. Per some info that’s been floating around in the UFT Facebook group, survey links shouldn’t be shared with others, as the emails seem to be uniquely generated. The UFT says that anyone who didn’t receive an email should call 212-331-6311 to request a link, and that the deadline to submit the survey is Thursday, May 19.

I often say that I want to see per diem workers better represented by the UFT. Being completely disregarded by my union over something as simple as a survey doesn’t leave the best taste in my mouth.

So you want to be a long-term substitute teacher?

Long-term sub gigs can be a great experience, but make sure to ask the right questions and do your research.

The first thing you need to do is to read this page from the UFT’s website: https://www.uft.org/your-rights/salary/diem-service. Specifically read about Z and Q status, and prepare to ask your school’s administration about these classifications.

Enter per diem substitutes. Prior to the pandemic, opportunities for substitute teachers weren’t nearly as abundant as they are now. The need to bring new subs into the system was so great that the DOE waived the nomination process in 2020. Onboarding new substitutes en masse wasn’t the perfect solution, but it was good enough to keep adults in buildings and supervising kids. This rang especially true as blended hybrid learning modalities created a need to increase the number of educators in the department, and many educators were working remotely due to the pandemic.

It’s a scenario that I’ve seen play out many times over the course of the pandemic — schools are desperate to have educators serve as babysitters run classrooms. The problem is that there’s a teacher shortage and there aren’t nearly enough educators to go around. Alternate certification programs such as the NYC Teaching Fellows and Teaching Collaborative are doing their darnest to get warm bodies qualified educators in the classrooms, but it seems that supply just can’t keep up with demand.

So, what happens when you agree to be a long-term sub (30+ days covering the same assignment or program)? 9/10 times in my experience, it doesn’t end particularly well for the sub. They take on vastly increased responsibilities that include grading, family outreach, and lesson planning without a bump in pay. The work is thankless, and just not worth it for $199 a day (plus everything else that inevitably gets taken home as well).

Before anyone considers taking a long-term substitute teaching assignment, there are a few things that should be confirmed with a school administrator (ideally in writing/via email). They’re perfectly reasonable things to ask, too:

  • Will this position be entered into SubCentral under a single job code for the duration of the assignment?
  • If I’m covering for an educator that is out for some reason, will their name be indicated on the assignment?
  • Will this position be Z or Q status eligible?

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, I say run like hell in the other direction. Even getting these things in writing isn’t a guarantee of how things will play out, but it’s nice to have in case you end up having to grieve through the union.

Working as a long-term substitute teacher can be a great experience, and my own experience as a substitute nudged me into K-12 teaching as a career path. However, it’s a slippery slope to having more work dropped into your lap. I ended up completing almost an entire long-term assignment before I was aware of Z and Q status provisions. Ultimately, I had to grieve my pay through the union. My endeavors were successful, but the process was incredibly long and drawn out. I documented every part of my experience meticulously, including: updating grades, parent/family outreach, Class Dojo engagement, and more. When I filed my grievance, I submitted a PDF of 200 pages (mostly my Google Classroom stream and Zoom logs from that class), establishing very explicitly that I was acting as a long-term teacher covering the same program for 30+ days.

The occasional per diem rate (approximately $199) is just that — a rate for substitute teachers who occasionally come into schools to provide additional coverage and support. We have a right to a higher rate of pay for long-term work, and it only cheapens that value of that right if we shrug our shoulders or pretend it’s not that big of a deal.

If substitutes want school administrators to take our contractual rights more seriously, it is imperative that we stand up for them as a collective and loop the union in whenever concerns arise.

One More Month of Field Experience Left

I have just shy of a month left in my pre-service training experience, and I’m definitely in crunch mode.

I can’t believe it’s been 3 months since I began my NYC Teaching Collaborative experience. Partner Teachers have just shy of a month of the field experience remaining before we transition to summer coursework at our respective colleges and universities.

Partner Teachers got to enjoy a long weekend, as we had off on Monday in observance of Eid el-Fatir. To say that this long weekend was much appreciated is an understatement. Many of us are tired — absolutely drained.

While I was somewhat productive today, most of that productivity was spent on things that I really should have taken care of during the earlier parts of pre-service training. It’s not a good feeling to be starting going back to grad school in a month and still have outstanding requirements such as missing immunization records, transcripts, etc. Old me would have just shrugged and admonished myself for being a slacker. To my credit, there are a lot of things that Partner Teachers are juggling at any given moment. The current workload revolves primarily around finalizing our unit plans/teaching portfolios and the daily lesson plan grind.

I realized early in my field experience that I would never completely clear my queue of work. There will always be SBS classes to prepare for, daily lessons to plan, attending to the various workshops, exams, etc. required for certification. I think that a juggling analogy fits really well here. Some balls are made of rubber and others are made of glass. The rubber ones can hit the proverbial ground hopefully just once, bounce up and be fine.

Luckily I was able to take care of everything and I’m officially enrolled in my summer courses. It’s going to be a hectic seven days until my teaching portfolio gets turned in, but the end is in sight and I’m feeling ready to take on this last chapter in my Collaborative field experience.

Substitute Teachers and the DOE’s Summer Rising Program

Summer Rising has been an interesting logistical feat. It’s also not representative of what NYC DOE substitute teachers should expect in terms of summer job prospects.

The employment application for New York City’s 2022 Summer Rising went live a few days ago. Substitute teachers in particular seems to be quite excited, as it gives many hope that per diem educators can maintain their income from the DOE by taking jobs during the summer.

The problem with substitute teachers and Summer Rising is that many of us worked the first iteration of the program — which came at a time when we were still in the thick of the pandemic, with vaccine access still being rolled out and no access to antiviral treatments for COVID at the time.

The Department of Education made it pretty clear for most of the spring 2021 semester that per diem substitute teachers would not be able to work Summer Rising. I remember emailing SubCentral myself early in the spring semester and getting a generic response that the DOE didn’t anticipate hiring substitute teachers for the summer. Substitute teachers were roped into things at the very last minute, sent to schools all across the city, and most schools didn’t even know we were expected to report for work. On my first day of Summer Rising, I spent 1-2 hours sitting in the office lobby waiting for the site to figure out how to utilize the 2-3 subs that had been sent from SubCentral. I didn’t blame this school at all, but there was a massive communication failure on the part of the DOE.

The program turned out to be a staffing disaster. The DOE flip-flopped on its capacity to accept students, pivoting from a set program size with a wait list to preparing to “serve all students interests in a site’s program.” This guidance was given to principals mere days prior to the start of the program, and it’s no surprise that many sites subsequently faced a staffing logistical nightmare.

I don’t like coming off as a pessimist, but I think it’s important for us to also be realistic about what to expect from the DOE. We’ve seen how the Department treats per diem workers and we should know what to expect by now, for better or for worse. Do I hope that per diem teachers have the opportunity to work summer school? Absolutely. But per session money doesn’t differentiate between a licensed teacher and an uncertified substitute. Substitute teachers historically have seldom had the opportunity to teach summer school, and we should exercise great caution in basing our summer expectations on the first iteration of Summer Rising.

Employment applications for this year’s program are due on May 23rd, 2022. Whatever is or isn’t in the cards for per diem teachers, we’ll see what happens when the DOE figures out its summer staffing needs. Until then, I encourage substitute educators not to get too excited about summer employment prospects until we hear straight from the horse SubCentral’s mouth.

The Multi-Subject CST and EAS Exams

I’m still not sure that teacher certification exams are a predictor of success in the classroom or knowledge of content, but I passed…so yay.

The New York State Teacher Certification Exams are a requirement for the transitional B teaching certificate that Teaching Fellows and Teaching Collaborative Partner Teachers apply for near the end of pre-service training. Admittedly, I don’t know what correlation exists between my performance on these tests and my ability to be successful as a classroom teacher, but they are a necessary hoop that all teacher candidates in the state of New York must jump through. The tests are very successful in padding the pockets of Pearson and whittling away at my humble NYCTC program stipend, but I’m not sure those are the explicit goals of the exams.

At the time of writing this post, I’ve passed all three of the required multi-subject Content Specialty Tests (CSTs) for the students with disabilities (7-12) generalist license. I took the Educating All Students (EAS) exam yesterday morning and thought it went pretty well. I’ll have my results in a month. In the meantime, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts while the experience was relatively fresh in my mind.

Content Specialty Tests

The Content Specialty Tests (or CST’s) measure the knowledge and skills required of teachers to be successful in their license areas. Math teachers take the math CST, biology teachers take the biology CST, and so on. It’s pretty straightforward, with the exception that students with disabilities (SWD) generalist candidates take a multi-subject CST that assesses our general competency across literacy/ELA, math, and arts & sciences. Despite having very similar names, there is a different multi-subject exam sequence for each grade band. I’m an SWD grades 7-12 generalist candidate, so I took the 241/244/245 exam sequence.

I don’t have much to say about the multi-subject CST, other than it felt like I was taking the ACT again, but interspersed with some questions about teaching pedagogy. I remember telling myself: “Just take the tests so you know what to expect.” I was fully prepared to take the tests again, as I was really curious to see what the multi-subject math exam would be like. Things worked out in my favor, as I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I passed all three exams on on my first go.

Some people don’t fare as well, and that’s okay. I think each candidate should do what’s best for them, whether that looks like purchasing study guides on Amazon or even paying for a personal tutor. The peace of mind and confidence might be worth the investment. NYSED doesn’t care what you get on the tests or even how many times you take them — they literally just look for a passing score posted to your TEACH account.

Educating All Students

The EAS exam measures the foundational skills needed to teach diverse student populations, such as students with disabilities and English language learners. I thought the test was pretty straightforward except for an annoying occurrence where two answers could have fit the scenario pretty well depending on the needs of the student. This is especially true for special education and ENL populations, which can seldom be distilled down to a multiple choice answer. The test had three written response questions that I really enjoyed because I felt like I got to address an actual problem and to provide a rationale for it. I think anyone with experience working in a school setting (substitute teacher, paraprofessional, etc.) will fare pretty well on the EAS, although some review might be needed in certain areas. I’m much more familiar with special education through my previous work as a substitute teacher and current field placement, but I did have to brush up a bit on the concepts for supporting ENL students.

COVID Emergency License

The emergency COVID-19 certificate was implemented by NY state during the pandemic, when access to testing centers was greatly limited. The idea is that any candidate who completed all requirements for their teaching license except for the certification exams would be certified to teach and given a two year window to complete the exams. I know of a few cohort members who are planning on postponing their CST and EAS exams and opting for the COVID emergency license, but I think the prudent course of action is to complete the exams now and only have to deal with NYSED once for the transitional B license. Some are okay with redundancy — more power to them, I suppose.

Final Thoughts

The tests aren’t bad at all. I believe anyone can easily pass them with some preparation, and that’ll look a bit different for everyone depending on their background knowledge and their comfortability with standardized testing. I’d like to offer a few tips based on my humble experience:

  • Stay calm.
  • Take the tests as soon as possible. It’s free to reschedule the exams as long as you do so at least 48 hours in advance. Each registration is good for one year.
  • Passing is the goal, not perfection. It doesn’t matter if it takes a few tries to pass the exams, or if you pass by a few points. NYSED just looks for a passing score to be posted to your TEACH account when they review your transitional license application.
  • Use the Brooklyn Education Center. I thought that the resources available through BEC were particularly useful. I can see them being really helpful for teacher candidates who are worried about the multi-subject math exam. $60 gets you access to one of BEC’s set of materials for 3-4 months. A pretty good deal in my opinion. I believe that BEC used to offer actual classes that candidates could attend in person, but have since pivoted to a self-paced model during the pandemic. They freely offer a PDF study guide for part 3 of the multi-subject CST, which I think is pretty neat.
  • Stay calm.
  • Be aware of the exam retake policies and the NYCTF/Collaborative expectations for submitting a passing score. All exams require a 30 or 60 day cooldown period before you can test again. You don’t want to end up in the awkward position of having to wait 30+ days while also pushing the program’s deadline to submit scores. It could also potentially jeopardize your ability to progress in the program if the state can’t issue your teaching license because you’re missing an exam. This is less of an issue for the program’s 2022 cohort due to the safety net of the COVID emergency license, but my guess is that this option will sunset after the September 2022 deadline.
  • Don’t sweat the details. The tests throw a lot of information at you, especially when reviewing different artifacts like teacher lesson plans and notes. The testing software includes a strikethrough and highlighter tool, both of which I found particularly useful.
  • Did I mention…stay calm? You’re going to do great!

Spring Break Reset

I really should write more. But first, coffee!

I’m sitting in a Starbucks sipping on a venti iced caramel macchiato. After what seemed to be a promising start to spring, we find ourselves facing a brisk high of 50 degrees here in New York City. Public schools are on spring break this week — a welcome reprieve from the daily grind of the Teaching Collaborative.

The field experience in and of itself isn’t the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But, when you look at the different components that we have to stay on top of — daily lesson planning, regular reading and homework assignments for the Skill Building component of the program, there are many components that need to be juggled. I’m learning loads, both in terms of time management, class management and the foundational skills that I’ll need to be in my own classroom come September.

My approach to field experience is pretty straightforward: Learn something new each day, and don’t be afraid to try something new. I treat everything as a learning experience, which I think is a requisite to be successful as a Partner Teacher in the program. A mentor once told me that it’s okay to make a mistake — the key is not to make that same mistake twice. That mantra is certainly one that I’ve taken to heart. From learning the content for my earth science course to trying out different classroom management strategies, I was surprised how much I learned from things not going as expected.

As far as the program goes, I’m in a really good place. I’ve accepted a full-time teaching position for the fall, have met or exceeded expectations in the first two gateway (formal) observations, and have completed most of the deliverables for Skill Building. The initial imposter syndrome has long since faded, and I feel comfortable calling myself an educator — although I suppose it won’t be official until NYSED issues my transitional B teaching certificate over the summer.

I started this blog largely as a self-reflective tool for my own professional growth and development. I also hope that future Collaborative Partner Teachers, applicants, or anyone interested in alternate teaching certification programs finds value in the blog. I have many more thoughts to share about the program, and I hope that I’ll get into a more steady blogging routine as school begins next week.

In the meantime, I’m going to finish up the books I’ve been reading (Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest and an edited volume called Teacher’s Unions and Social Justice), enjoy more iced macchiatos, and recharge my batteries before we go back to school on Monday. The final stretch of field experience is quickly approaching, and the end is in sight.