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.


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.

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: 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.

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.

Back To Work

But the beat goes on, da-da-dum, da-dum, da-da.

On November 15th, I submitted some pretty standard onboarding paperwork for the NYC Teaching Collaborative program. Little did I know about the enormous headache getting ready to play out in front of my very eyes…

After over a month of practically hounding the folks at the DOE’s Office of Personnel Investigations, I was finally cleared to report back for substitute teaching. I knew this because I woke up the other morning to a barrage of automated phone calls from SubCentral trying to solicit me for a sub job. To be clear, the only investigation this was in relation to was the background investigation that every DOE employee goes through. Why they just couldn’t pull my 2020-21 background investigation from when I became a substitute teacher eludes me, but alas…

The timing couldn’t have worked out better, because I was pretty thoroughly disappointed with the DOE at that point, such that I was ready to give up on teaching altogether and turn my sights to a job in the city government or some other sector.

The greatest sting of this entire ordeal was that there wasn’t even a particularly good reason as to why my paperwork got held up and brought my sub work eligibility to a stuttering halt. The response I got from OPI basically amounted to a “We apologize for the technical glitch it the system, it has been corrected.” To add insult to injury? My mysterious OPI contact ended their terse, long-awaited reply by cautioning that the same thing might happen again.


This kind of stuff makes me wonder if I should have listened to the handful of teachers I’ve come to know over the last year who cautioned me to stay away from teaching (at least in the NYC DOE). Maybe this is my trial by fire into the appointed/licensed ranks of DOE teachers — only the stubborn steadfast will survive. I admit that I do love a good challenge. I’m no stranger to navigating crippling red tape and administrative bureaucracy. It would, however, be splendid if i could take on that red tape and bureaucracy without being out of a job for a month because the DOE couldn’t get my paperwork in order.

My teaching journey may be in its infancy, but I’m determined to make it as an educator in the NYC Department of Education.

What About the Substitute Educators?

The outlook for substitute teachers in the face of school closures is grim at best.

It goes without saying that it is very hard for schools to find substitute educators this year. I personally know of several attempts to procure subs at a school I recently worked that have been unsuccessful. Full-time teachers are losing their preps in a never-ending game of teacher Tetris, in which school administrators scramble to arrange coverages for different classes. COVID cases are sharply rising in New York City, and Mulgrew confirmed that the city is currently closing a school per week. I don’t know if a school closure is imminent (definitely impossible under de Blasio, not sure off the top of my head how Adams will respond), but I do find myself wondering about the uncertain future for subs during a time of possible remote learning.

I’m not one to perpetuate the rumor mill (there are currently hushed whispers and fears of schools going fully remote again), but there is good reason to keep an eye on the current citywide numbers. There is a DOE memo being circulated advising schools to make sure that digital classrooms are ready to be rolled out, but the Office of the Deputy First Chancellor has advised that this guidance is not in regards to an expected citywide closure. The email seems legit to me, but it is just a screenshot being circulated amongst UFT members. I have zero trust in the DOE’s Situation Room at this point, as we stare down the barrel of increasing numbers and classroom/school closures.

What happens to substitute teachers and substitute paraprofessionals when their schools shut down? Unfortunately it seems that the majority of us are left out in the cold. The only exception I can think of are 1:1 paras or substitute teachers assigned to be a course instructor rather than providing a temporary coverage. School closures are absolutely detrimental to per diem subs who faithfully serve their schools in a number of ways, including lunch duty, lunch period coverages, and more.

A per diem sub in New York City makes $199.27 for each day of service, and receives no benefits. If a school transitions to remote learning for two full school weeks, that substitute loses out on $1992.70 in income. School closures force subs to turn to other sources of money, and possibly not coming back to a school upon reopening as they seek assignments in classrooms and schools that remain open.

I’m not proposing that subs are paid to sit on their tuchuses during a school closure, but rather that the DOE and individual schools become more thoughtful and creative with how subs could be used in the event of a school closure. Assigning subs to help with tasks such as grading multiple choice/short answer assignments or helping to create learning materials for other educators would go a long way towards keeping subs employed and lessening the stress on full-time teachers. Furthermore, subs come from a rich variety of backgrounds, including business, technology, and many other areas. I myself have a background administering student programs on a college campus. It’s a tremendous loss for schools when subs are out of work due to a closure. I’m fairly certain that schools can still offer remote assignments, and I hope that others consider advocating for such an option in the event of a school closure.

Every day I log onto the NYC UFT members Facebook group and see my fellow educators bemoaning the difficulty of finding and retaining substitute teachers and paras. When will we take a good hard look at ourselves in the mirror and so something to support the most needed and most vulnerable members of our union and school system?

On Ambition and Administrative Bureaucracy

Who could have imagined that my professional ambition would be my administrative folly…

Almost a month ago, I wrote about a bizarre hiccup with my DOE paperwork that led to me temporarily being out of work through no fault of my own.

Naturally, I’m a bit frustrated that the matter hasn’t been resolved. I find it quite ironic that I’m only in this pickle because I wanted to further my professional growth by obtaining my special education teaching certification. Had I kept on working as a regular per diem sub, I could have kept my head down and been working for the last three weeks. Alas…

A few thoughts that I’ve had as I sat around reflecting on bureaucracy in the DOE:

  • It’s unclear to me how the City expects teachers and schools to be back to business as usual while HR Connect remains locked away behind an impenetrable barrier of 2+ hour waits on the phone to maybe speak to a representative. I’ve noticed more of my DOE colleagues attempting to report the issue to 311 and or the Department of Labor — I’m inclined to think this might be a necessity.
  • I like to conduct official business in person whenever possible, especially if conducting the aforementioned business plays a pretty significant role in my livelihood. Unfortunately DOE HR Connect has decided that the only appointments being taken in person are for new hires who need to be fingerprinted. Language on the website makes it very clear that anyone else that shows up will be turned away.
  • I need to speak with a staff member in the Office of Personnel Investigations (OPI). Apparently the only way to contact this office is through a single email address. I have sent two emails across the span of a month (and recently a third that I’m sure will get lost in limbo as well). I thought that the folks at SubCentral might be of some help, but they appear to be giving me the cold shoulder as well. Does no one in the administrative catacombs of the DOE know how to answer email?

I recently sent my third email to OPI. I have little hope at this point that I’ll receive much in the way of a helpful response, although I do hope that this matter gets resolved soon. Until then I’ll relegate myself to shaking my fist at the sky like the “old man yells at clouds” meme and typing out my thoughts into the digital Pensieve that is this blog.

Updated Per Diem Language on the UFT site

Clarifying language around long-term substitute teacher compensation means little without meaningful structural change to protect these rights.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the UFT has recently updated language on its website for per diem pedagogues. The language defining per diem service, Z-status, and F-status had been there since I joined the DOE last year, but the language pertaining to Q-status eligibility is a welcome addition. Interested viewers can read through the full text linked above, but I thought this excerpt was worth pulling out:

Full-term regular substitutes, commonly referred to as “regular subs”, are non-appointed teachers who are employed on a full-term basis in one school, covering one assignment. Full-term substitute positions are discretionary positions created and filled by the principal, based on special assignments or coverage needed for a teacher who will be going on an approved, long-term absence.

It’s important to note that Q-status has been a payroll classification for substitute teachers for a while, but I could never seem to find any solid information on this classification. CL’s and UFT reps I spoke with gave conflicting answers, and the only obscure reference to Q-status I could find was in a page 4 of a DOE/UFT(?) FAQ document dated March 24th, 2020 as schools were shutting down.

Q Substitute Teacher: Substitute teachers who are covering a vacancy or long term absence (e.g. LODI, extended leave) will continue to cover the teaching assignment until either the teacher returns or the vacancy no longer exists. They will be compensated consistent with contractual provisions regarding Q status

Unfortunately the inclusion of concrete language outlining the rights of long-term subs means little if school administrators will do what they can to avoid granting subs the title and benefits that we deserve for long-term work:

  • There is zero accountability for schools to hire subs under the appropriate 5BA or 5BP classification, leaving many subs who act in long-term capacities (lesson planning, delivering instruction, grading, etc.) while remaining on O-status (default per diem sub pay). Subs can file a salary grievance with their UFT borough office, but face an incredibly drawn out process and the possibility of being “blacklisted” at a school that they enjoy.
  • Schools employ deceptive practices to keep substitute teachers on O-status. I am one of many substitutes who had my SubCentral job ID changed monthly while I served at a previous school. Why would this be the case? It gives schools reasonable grounds to assert that substitute teachers didn’t check off the “30 consecutive days of service” requirement to earn Z-status or Q-status.
  • I’ve heard from others that Z-status eligible positions automatically begin accruing long-term benefits on the 31st day of service, as long as the substitute teacher is listed as covering that absent teacher. For example, if my SubCentral assignment showed that I was covering Ms. Smith for 31 consecutive days, my understanding is that Z-status kicks in automatically. If a principal or payroll secretary were deceptive and entered the same long-term position as a “vacancy”, the Z-status would not kick in at all.
  • Q-status is not automatic in the same way that I believe Z-status is when entered appropriately into SubCentral/payroll. Q-status designation depends on the goodwill of principals and payroll secretaries to enter appropriately into the system. In my limited experience in the DOE, the aforementioned goodwill is actually quite hard to come by…

Adding concrete language to the UFT website is a minor blip in the grand scheme of what needs to be done to recruit and retain a pool of quality substitute educators. As long as the DOE and UFT allow schools to patently cheat subsitute teachers out of compensation that we deserve in exchange for long-term assignments, the City will continue to struggle retaining quality substitute teachers.