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.

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 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.

How I Got My Start in the NYCDOE

How I went from flinging coffee to flinging knowledge.

I recently watched a video feature by the New York Times, documenting a New York City school that reopened during the pandemic. It wasn’t my first time watching this video, but the wave of emotion still felt pretty fresh.

I came into the DOE in December 2020, just before COVID vaccines were available, and it was abundantly clear that the city and individual schools were still trying to figure out how to teach and support children during this new normal of ours.

My first foray into the DOE was a one day assignment at an elementary school in the north Bronx. I had just declined a long-term opportunity, knowing that I wanted the opportunity to ease myself into the DOE and being at a school. The school seemed impressed with my work, as I was invited back for a few more days, and eventually a week. By the end of that month, I had an offer from the assistant principal to stay on as a long-term substitute teacher, co-teaching a blended remote ICT class. This was during the time of hybrid online learning and student cohort pods. While the class had an assigned general education and special education teacher, it did not have a dedicated online teacher who met with students during their cohort’s remote learning days.

I mentioned that seeing this video was an emotional experience. I think that was largely in part due to me having had so many of the same conversations with my co-teacher and students. There was an unrelenting umbra that loomed over the school as we did our best to create a positive and enriching environment for these kids while facing fluctuating positive case numbers, concerns about sick family members, and more. The students were scared, and I was too in many ways.

I was probably a substitute teacher for about 8 months before I started to seriously consider teaching as something that I wanted to pursue professionally. As summer 2021 quickly flew by, I had just finished my first long-term assignment at the elementary school and really enjoyed working with the city’s first iteration of the Summer Rising program. I learned about alternative certification programs like the New York City Teaching Fellows and the New York City Teaching Collaborative, but I had brushed the idea off long enough that I missed the deadline to apply to be a 2021 NYC Teaching Fellow. Not wanting to make the same mistake again, I expeditiously submitted my application for the 2022 cohort of the Teaching Collaborative as soon as it had opened.

Some teachers told me not to pursue the idea of teaching in the NYCDOE. I heard the same arguments ad nauseam: comments about how teaching wasn’t the same and how it’s changed so much since they began teaching. Some educators I spoke to were more apathetic, expressing that they only had X more years to go or that they spent their working life teaching, and it was all that they really know how to do. It’s not hard to find educators with negative perspectives on the NYCDOE and teaching. I certainly don’t expect to love every minute of every day as a classroom teacher, but I’m hopefully that the positives will outweigh the negatives.

When I applied for the Collaborative, I set one firm condition for myself: I would only teach as long as I thought it was enjoyable. I didn’t want to become jaded like other teachers that I spoke to, and I resolved to make the most out of my experience in the NYCDOE.

I came to the DOE after becoming incredibly disillusioned with my previous career path (higher education student affairs) and an eight month stint at Dunkin’ during the height of the pandemic. I’m not quite sure what this new chapter in my professional journey will have in store, but I’m excited to see where it’ll take me.

NYC Teaching Fellows vs Teaching Collaborative

Two of the more well-known alt cert teaching programs in NYC have more in common than not.

Applications for the 2023 cohort of the NYC Teaching Collaborative are open, and I was happy to hear that several substitute teachers that I’m in touch with are considering pursuing their teaching certifications to teach in the NYC DOE. There are multiple alternate certification pathways for educators who didn’t follow the traditional bachelor’s in education to initial teaching license pipeline, and two of the more well-known alt cert programs in NYC are the Collaborative and the NYC Teaching Fellows.

Both programs fall under the purview of the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality (TRQ), and they’re actually fairly similar in how they’re structured. Both programs have a series of Skill Building Sessions, that allow teacher candidates to practice essential skills to be successful in the classroom. Teacher candidates in both programs complete a field experience in a NYC school while also preparing to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in education, all while working on the state certification exams, required workshops, and more that go into obtaining a transitional B teaching certification.

The biggest difference between both programs is how the program timelines are structured. Collaborative Partner teachers have weekly skill-building sessions spread throughout the spring semester while completing 4 months of field experience at NYC schools. By necessity, the Fellows condenses this timeline so that preservice training (PST) takes place during the DOE’s summer term.

If I had to pick, I would say that the Collaborative offers a better field experience for teacher candidates. Getting to spend 4 months learning and growing as an apprentice teacher was a hugely beneficial experience. I was able to gradually take on more responsibility for the classes that my Collaborative Coach was teaching, and the experience felt truly meaningful. I felt well-versed in lesson planning and facilitation by the end of my field experience, and even felt like I developed a decent tool belt of classroom management philosophies and strategies to build on. PST for the Collaborative was stressful in a different way that I imagine the Fellows’ PST to be, although I believe that candidates in either program more than earn their keep in their preservice experience.

In contrast, the Fellows gives their candidates about a month work of hands on classroom experience in summer school. I think it’s safe to say that any classroom experience is helpful for a teacher candidate, but I’m not sure that summer school is as beneficial as working in the classroom during the “regular” school year. On the flipside, Teaching Fellows don’t have to suffer nearly as much of a financial blow as Collaborative Partner Teachers do, given that the Fellows takes place during summer school.

In the grand scheme of things, both programs are more alike than not. We’re even given the same packet on the job search process, including a list of eligible schools that we’re able to take jobs at. The main difference between both programs comes down to how PST is structured. I enjoyed the extended field experience of the Collaborative, but the financial situation ($6000 paid across 5-6 months) was a sore point for many in my cohort. Many of us only made it work by living with family or a partner, savings, and working a second job. Was it worth it? I thought so. At the same time, the Fellows program provides a far more compelling option if, like the vast majority of New Yorkers, teacher candidates can’t afford to live in poverty for months.

I heard from an in-service teacher that the Collaborative’s program was created to address a concern about quality of training offered by the Fellows’ month of PST. I don’t know if there’s an actual basis for this claim, but it certainly makes sense to me. I couldn’t imagine squashing my 4 month field experience down into the month or so that Teaching Fellows get, but I do wonder how much someone that’s brand new to the classroom can actually learn in a month.

Either way, both programs have proponents and detractors alike. I myself had a good (not great, but also not terrible) experience in the Collaborative. By DOE standards, good/decent isn’t too bad once you’ve heard horror stories of principals who’ve successfully derailed the livelihoods of early-career educators, i.e. a discontinuance. A quick Google search of the programs will bring up some not-so-flattering anecdotes (particularly for the Fellows). There may very well be some truth to them, but I think everyone should do their own due diligence, including speaking to current and former program participants alike.

The Collaborative gave me a pathway to teaching; to do work that I find a tremendous amount of professional and personal satisfaction in. I’ll always be appreciative of that, and I truly hope that both programs continue to grow by listening to participant feedback and seeking to do the right thing for teacher candidates in our most high-need license areas. The program worked fairly well for me, but I know fellow Partner Teachers who were downright miserable and/or frustrated with their experience.

Past is Prologue: NYC DOE Nomination Limbo III

I am once again asking the DOE to not butcher my hiring paperwork.

If past is prologue, I’m not sure why I’d be terribly surprised that my rotten luck with hiring/onboarding paperwork with the DOE has reared its ugly head again.

I’m looking forward to starting my full-time teaching position in the fall. As with all new hires, I need to complete the Applicant Gateway process, background nomination and all. For those following along at home, this is now my fourth DOE background investigation. The other three were for my previous nominations: substitute teacher, Roster Evaluate (onboarding for the Collaborative), and Person Not On Budget (PNOB) so that I could have access to some tech systems during my field experience.

Until very recently, my teacher nomination was stuck in the background investigation step. No big deal, I thought. It’s peak hiring season for teachers and it’s not unusual for these things to take a bit longer. I shrugged off the fact that it had only been just shy of two months since I cleared my last DOE background investigation. I sent a quick email to OPI, hoping for some assurance that nothing was wrong with my candidacy.

Four to five business days passed, and I was ready to send a follow-up email to OPI. As I fired up Outlook, I took a look at SubCentral on a hunch, only to receive the following message upon attempting to log in: Your account has been disabled please contact your districts HR department.

I’ve only ever seen that message once before, and it was only six months ago that a similar paperwork hiccup prevented me from working as a substitute teacher. I knew I was in good standing as a sub, and that I was approved for the DOE’s summer pool of sub teachers. Again, something wasn’t quite adding up. After missing out on a month of income the last time this happened, I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. I emailed the Office of Personnel Investigations (OPI), hoping for an expeditious response. OPI sounds like a scary thing to deal with, but they’re the folks who oversee background investigations for the DOE.

The problem with getting in contact with OPI is that there’s officially only one way to reach them — contacting an email that responds with a generic auto-reply. Their own auto-reply and conventional business etiquette suggest that the sender should expect 2-3 days for a response. That certainly wasn’t the case for me back in December, as I distinctly sending approximately 4 emails spaced throughout the month. I still find it somewhat amusing that after a month of trying to get ahold of their office, I was able to get a response the day I used some Google-Fu and the DOE Outlook directory to find out who exactly was in charge of OPI and emailed this person.

Back in the present day, I’m sitting at my computer, ever so slightly irritated that this same problem has presented itself again. I could have emailed OPI again, but wasn’t feeling like playing their email waiting game within such a short timeframe of having previously addressed the exact same issue. I typed up an email to OPI, and copied the emails of several DOE employees from that office.

I haven’t received a response or any acknowledgement of my email, but within 24 hours of sending this, the problem was fixed. My background investigation that had been pending since mid-June went through and I was able to log into SubCentral again. I worried that it might have been a bit over the top to directly email their executive director and deputy director, but I assuaged my guilt by reminding myself that it was the right thing to do given the consequences of this “technical issue” as it was obtusely described by an OPI representative.

My hope in writing this blog post and other similar to it is not to complain, but rather to document some of the logistical challenges that I’ve faced during my time in the Collaborative. I hope that future Teaching Fellows and Collaborative Partner Teachers who might end up in a similar predicament are able to resolve things a bit quicker than I did.

I haven’t even started my teaching position with the DOE yet, and the Department’s track record with routine paperwork isn’t looking too promising. Here’s to a brighter future with minimal paperwork headaches.

Thoughts on Moderating a Facebook Group for Educators

Managing a social media group is thankless but fulfilling work.

I moderate a private Facebook group that is open to any substitute teacher and substitute paraprofessional within the NYC Department of Education. We recently admitted our thousandth member to the group! While it might seem like a trivial milestone compared to groups that are much larger than ours, I’m proud of the community that so many of our active group members have fostered. Most of what I do as a page moderator is on full display for anyone to view, but there are some additional pieces behind the scenes, such as group member concerns, reported posts, housekeeping stuff, etc. This short post includes some of my thoughts on the experience so far.

We’re a group of highly educated adults. There are a lot of degrees, teaching credentials, etc. collectively held by the members of this group. We also represent everyone from newly hired/certified teachers to retirees. Everyone (myself included!) has opinions on different things, and I deeply appreciate that the group maintains a pretty cordial atmosphere without the need for a moderator to intervene.

Do what’s best for the members. When the vaccine mandate kicked into effect, the group was getting flooded with requests to join from appointed teachers who wanted to fish around to find subs for the school. I took a hard stance against letting appointed teachers in willy nilly, because that’s what the group wanted. A group poll later led me to create monthly job polls where anyone in the group could share job requests without clogging up the main stream.

It’s important to think about the purpose of the group. As ardently passionate as I am about topics and issues that pertain to per diem educators in the DOE, it’s not a group that one casually spends time perusing like a hobby or interest group. Members generally check the page when they have a question or if some new information is released by the DOE or SubCentral. People visit this group to access information, and I hope that the flow of the group helps them to get that info in a timely manner.

The goal is not to be likeable. This one is related to the previous point. I like to think I’m on good terms with most folks in the group. I’m generally one of the more active posters/commenters, and I always like to help folks find factual information with sources whenever I can. My goal is to get people correct information to help them know what’s going on with renewal, summer school, etc. I’ve been called rude and mean on a few occasions, which I’m totally fine with. My goal is not to be likeable, my goal is to be helpful. I often drop links that contain info to someone’s question and/or briefly echo common questions that have been answered before. Someone just yesterday told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about as a “pandemic sub” (being relatively new to the DOE), and I got a chuckle out of that. Probably my most favorite comment that I’ve personally received so far.

Group members need to feel a sense of ownership in the page. I generally don’t do things without polling members of the group and/or talking to folks and seeing what they’re interested in.

Always find new ways to improve the experience for members. It seems like Facebook is always rolling out new features, and it’s exciting to try them out to see if they improve the experience that group members have when they visit the page. I’ve recently found that pinned/featured posts and hashtags are really helpful tools to help group members find what they need. Summer Rising/school is a hot topic right now, and group members can find info that they need wither by searching in the group or by simply using the #summer2022 hashtag that will pull all related posts within the page.

This group holds a special place in my heart, and I appreciate that I’ve had the chance to play a role in shaping the experience that group members have when they visit the page. I hope that the page continues to grow, and maybe we’ll even hit our next thousand member milestone in a few months!

What is to be Done? Improving Substitute Teacher Working Conditions in the NYC DOE

A fellow substitute teacher recently asked me for my thoughts on how NYC Department of Education substitutes were treated/compensated during the pandemic. Instead of just exchanging a few messages with this person, I thought I’d prepare my thoughts a bit more cogently in this digital space.

I joined the DOE in winter 2020 as a per diem (substitute) teacher. Since then, I’ve held three long-term teaching gigs: 3rd grade, high school math, and as a stint as a building sub where I got to facilitate activities for K-5 students while teachers took their lunch and prep periods. I got to explore websites like Chrome Music Lab and with a range of elementary school students, and we had a pretty great time.

I want to start by being completely honest. I don’t think that substitute teaching should be anyone’s primary source of income, at least for an extended period of time. The demand for substitute teachers is delicate, and I don’t think that the abundant opportunities that have been available since the pandemic began are at all indicative of what substitutes should expect over the next few years as things return to ✨normal✨.

I subbed for about a year before I realized that 1) I really enjoyed working in New York City public schools and 2) The financial reality of subbing (and the lack of benefits) was not tenable for me, nor is it sustainable for many substitutes. That being said, I don’t know everyone’s financial situation, aspirations, etc. I know some substitute teachers who are happy to supplement their household income while they raise a kid or for whom subbing is purely extra spending money. I’ve connected with subs who have aspirations in music, art, and other creative outlets. Some subs are licensed educators biding their time while they try to break into their first teaching position in NYC public schools.

So onto the compensation piece. I won’t completely out my political orientation in this digital space, but I firmly believe that people shouldn’t have to worry if they’ll have access to healthcare, healthy food, humble recreational activities, etc. Unfortunately, we’re quite a ways from what I believe our system of governance should look like. In the meantime, we’re stuck with whatever scraps compensation the DOE decides to throw our way. Accordingly, I’m going to be reasonable in my assessment what can actually be done within how the system currently operates.

Per diem subs get a set daily stipend of $199.27 for each day of service rendered to a school. Our contractual workday is 6 hours and 50 minutes, inclusive of a duty-free lunch. Doing some quick napkin math, the occasional per diem rate works out to somewhere in the ballpark of $27/hour. There is technically a higher-rate of pay available to subs on long-term assignments. It typically works out to about $100 more per day — about how much a new teacher would make for a day of service. I mention this long-term status with a caveat that they’re nearly impossible to get due to how subs earn them.

There are two kinds of long-term status that are generally available to per diem subs: Z-status and Q-status. Z-status mean that a sub is covering the program of a teacher for 30+ consecutive days. It sounds straightforward enough, but a few things have to happen in order for subs to receive a Z-status designation: the job has to be entered into SubCentral as a continuous job lasting 30+ days, the SubCentral job has to reflect the name of the educator that the sub is covering for, and the sub must complete 30 consecutive days of service without missing a day. Missing a day means that this 30 day clock resets, and the sub would have to achieve a 30 day school day streak in order to achieve Z-status again. There are also Q-status positions, which to my understanding are based on vacancies. Z-status should happen automatically when schools hire subs the right way in SubCentral — they unfortunately seldom do in my experience. Many principals hire subs as “long-term subs”, but what they’re really saying is “We want to hire long-terms subs to take on full-time teaching duties, but without the corresponding pay.”. Q-status is equally tricky because principals have to nominate subs to hold a regular (Q-status; 5BA or 5BP appointment). There are far too many parts of this system that depend on the goodwill of school administrators.

So if I had the power to influence DOE policy, what would I change? I think the following items are perfectly reasonable things that substitute teachers and allies could advocate for:

  • A retroactive stipend to compensate for days missed due to COVID. I think that sub teachers who completed at least 85 days of service during the 2020-2021 school year should receive a retroactive stipend of $1934.70. Subs who completed at least 85 days of service during the 2021-2022 school year should receive a similar stipend of $996.35. I based these figures on the amount of pay a substitute teacher would have missed for 10 days of quarantine during the 2020-21 school year, whereas the quarantine period was later shortened to 5 days in December 2021. I honestly don’t know a single sub who didn’t get COVID at some point, and we were really the only staff members in a school who moved around multiple groups of kids while everyone else was in their cohort and class pods.
  • Increasing the occasional per diem rate by $75-$100. This moves the per diem rate closer to the take home pay of a new appointed teacher, but it’s also worth noting that this bump in pay would likely go towards essentials such as medical care and dental.
  • Implementing a differential in pay for years of service and level of educational attainment. Long-term assignments currently pay subs for salary steps up to 4B, which is based solely on how long someone has worked for the DOE. I think that the DOE should honor the longevity of occasional per diem subs as well, even if they don’t take on long-term assignments.
  • Establishing a payroll classification for subs who may rotate classrooms on a daily basis, but stay within the same school community for an extended period of time. In the eyes of the DOE, long-term sub status only really matters when you’re covering for an absent teacher (Z-status) or a vacancy (Q-status). I submit that there’s a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge that is gained when subs spend time at a specific site, especially in regards to the relationships that we build with students. Perhaps we’ll call it B-status (B for building!).
  • Require schools to file a form attesting what the nature of a sub’s position will be. If a school intends to hire a sub to facilitate a class for the remainder of a semester or school year, they should have to attest this acknowledgement in a form filed with SubCentral and DOE HR. This addresses my earlier point about substitute teachers being cheated out of long-term pay. I’d go a step further and say that this step should be automatically required for any sub that completes 30+ days of service at a school regardless of their assignment. It adds an element of transparency that currently does not exist in the process and would make it much more feasible for subs to win a pay grievance if it ever came to that.
  • Creating a grace period as it relates to missed days and maintaining Z-status. I understand that Z-status is a long-term service designation, but it seems incredibly callous to lose Z-status just for missing one day. Instead, subs should be required to complete 30+ consecutive days of service to initiate Z-status, but also accrue Cumulative Absence Reserve (CAR) days in the same way that appointed teachers do.

At the risk of sounding lazy, I was straight up tired after subbing through the pandemic. I had this bucket list of things I wanted to advocate for, but I was starting to feel my candle burn from both ends as the work I was doing (while incredibly fulfilling as a long-term sub), just wasn’t proportional to the compensation that I received for that work. While I successfully grieved back pay for one of my long-term sub assignments, it was a prolonged ordeal, and I wish that subs didn’t have to jump through so many hoops just to get things that we rightfully deserve. In terms of what subs actually need to do to advocate for better working conditions, I’d suggest the following:

  • Join the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Based anecdotally on what I’ve seen in the NYC DOE substitute teacher/para Facebook group that I moderate, I don’t think that we have nearly enough per diem members who are aware of the union. Some substitutes hold the union in incredibly low regard, which perpetuates the current status quo of how we’re seen as members.
  • Be aware of our contractual obligations. Many of these overlap with the rights that appointed teachers enjoy: the right to a duty-free lunch, a self-directed prep period, not teaching more than a certain number of classes back to back, etc. One of the most common things I’ve heard about substitutes having issues with at their sites is the workday length. Occasional per diem subs have a 6 hour 50 minute workday. If a school instructs me to report at 8am, I’m clocking out at 2:50, regardless of what PD, OPW, etc. might be scheduled. We do not have the same obligations as appointed teachers in that regard.
  • Escalate issues as needed. I’ve worked alongside some great chapter leaders. However, many just aren’t familiar with some of the unique issues that substitute teachers face (see Z/Q status above). Learn who your district/borough union representatives are, and don’t be afraid to utilize them as a resource.
  • Learn about and get involved with a union caucus. Similar to how multiple parties constitute the American political system, various caucuses make up the political landscape of the UFT. A caucus is essentially a group of union members who share similar ideas and philosophies about how our union should best serve its members and what the role of the union should be. I’m personally affiliated with the Movement of Rank and File (MORE), a social justice-oriented caucus. I encourage any union member to check out the United for Change coalition partners to get an idea of the different groups out there and what they represent.

I wish I had a more satisfying answer to address how I think substitute teachers should be treated/compensated in the wake of the last few years or (more importantly) what has to be done in order to advocate for those changes. As I mentioned before, I’m transitioning out of subbing and looking forward to starting my full-time teaching job in the fall. I’m also back in grad school and simply don’t have the bandwidth right now to dedicate as much time to these issues as I’d like.

That being said, anyone who knows me knows that it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut when I care deeply about an issue. The challenges and concerns that I raised in this post and previously on this blog won’t be addressed through the actions of a single person. Rather, they will be addressed through worker solidarity and nurturing a movement that not only prioritizes the collective needs of per diem educators but also intersects with other labor and social justice movements, such as the current labor movement driving unionization efforts at Starbucks, Amazon, and other companies.

Aside from my obvious interest in substitute teachers being treated better, I think that full-time educators also have a stake in the matter. Everyone wants the peace of mind of knowing that when they have to miss a day of school or take extended time off that their classes will be left in the hands of a competent substitute teacher. Improving the working conditions of substitute teachers goes a long way towards making sure that the DOE is able to retain subs who are competent at the job and minimizes the disruption to our students’ learning experiences.

We all have a vested interest in the DOE maintaining a pool of talented, capable substitute teachers. Our students deserve no less. I hope that this post in particular provides some actionable steps that per diem educators and allies alike can work towards.