A Humble Stipend Increase

A stipend increase is one step in the right direction to create a more equitable alternate certification program.

Every month, I look forward to an email from NYCTC with an unassuming subject line – Important Information Regarding Your Stipend. This email comes around just a bit after the middle of the month, generally signaling to Collaborative Partner Teachers that our monthly stipend checks have been mailed out. It usually takes a few more days for the physical checks to make their way to us, and I know my fellow Partner Teachers and I breathe a collective sigh of relief as we replenish our humble finances. It is said that you don’t go into education for the salary/earning potential, and this sentiment rings particularly true as we make our way through the program.

There was, however, an additional section of the email. The Collaborative program notified Partner Teachers that we would be receiving an additional $1,500 in our stipend, resulting in an extra $500 in our April, May, and June checks. My first reaction to grin and joyfully punch the air. This was promptly followed by a shrug.

Suppose that every Partner Teacher completes 8 hours of work per day related to Field Experience. That’s 40 hours of work per week and 160 hours in an average month. Some quick napkin math shows that the hourly wage (with the increased stipend for the last few months of the program) works out to about $9.37, while New York City’s minimum wage is $15/hour.

Is the stipend increase appreciated? Yes, it most certainly is. At the same time, no worker should have to work a full-time job and wonder if their financial situation is tenable. One of the main reasons I was able to join the Collaborative was because I could live with family while I completed the field experience component. Many of my cohort members are in a similar position. Perhaps a future iteration of the program will bump the stipend up to $2,000 for each part of the program and maybe even include a monthly unlimited MetroCard for Partner Teachers.

I’m still just as excited to be a part of this program as I was when I first interviewed and accepted my spot. I hope that the program continues to change over time and strives to create an equitable experience for Partner Teachers. The future educators of the NYC Department of Education produced by this program deserve no less.

Nomination/OPI Limbo Redux

In which I would like to avoid a potentially frustrating set of circumstances that would be no fault of my own.

In late January, the DOE advised principals to make sure that student teachers and Collaborative partner teachers were processed for a Person Not on Budget (PNOB) nomination in Galaxy. This nomination will allow partner teachers access to DOE systems such as a DOE email account, the DOE Google Workspace, InfoHub, and others.

I noticed the nomination pop up in my Applicant Gateway portal about a month ago, and frankly I’ve been terrified of clicking on it after what happened with my substitute teaching nomination when I first sent in my paperwork to join the Collaborative under a “Roster Evaluate” nomination. The short version is that I couldn’t sub for a month while my work status hung in limbo. After just over a month of futilely trying to get ahold of the Office of Personnel Investigations regarding the status of my paperwork, I received a relatively brief email apologizing for a “technical issue” that had been resolved.

My fear turned out to be not totally unfounded, as I know of a cohort member who experienced the exact same error going from Roster Evaluate to PNOB nomination as I did going from Per Diem Substitute to Roster Evaluate. Thankfully this colleague’s time in OPI limbo was much shorter than my month-long furlough.

I’m not sure what happens when the Department of Education processes secondary or even tertiary nominations for new employees, but there seems to be room for something to go wrong with nominations not playing nicely in the system. It’s not exactly an uncommon process. Plenty of substitute teachers pursue full-time positions, substitute paras secure full-time positions, etc. Maybe there’s more to the nomination process that I’m not aware of, but it makes zero sense for an employee in good standing to have their work eligiblity paused because something goes wonky in the DOE’s systems from an HR/candidacy standpoint.

I’m not sure that the PNOB nomination even does anything for me since I’m already in the system with a DOE email and access to to other systems that we use in the department.

Needless to say that I would like to avoid another fiasco similar to what I experienced in November 2021. I completed the required actions in my Applicant Gateway portal to get the PNOB nomination processed — time will tell how smoothly things go. Surely my third time going through the nomination process will be a bit smoother, but you never know what’s going to happen in the DOE.

NYCTC Stipend Woes

Money isn’t everything, but it’s still kind of important.

I want to preface this post by noting that I am quite proud to be a member of the NYC Teaching Collaborative, and I recommend the Collaborative and the Collaborative’s sister program (Teaching Fellows) to friends and colleagues for whom I think these alternate certification programs are a viable pathway to classroom teaching. That being said, it’s not a complete surprise that a program operating at this scale across schools in New York City might have an occasional snag along the way.

When I accepted my offer to join the NYC Teaching Collaborative, one thing that the program made very clear was we should prepare for an incredibly frugal financial situation until we begin our full-time teaching jobs in September 2022. Our base program stipend is $1000 per month, and anyone that lives in the Big Apple knows that $1,000 doesn’t go far at all. Based on a limited sample size, I’d hazard a guess that the majority of my fellow cohort members and I are only able to make the finances work out by being able to live with our families for the duration of the program.

No matter what our circumstances are, it goes without saying that each of my cohort members and I are stretching every dollar as far as we can go. Prior to joining the Collaborative, I worked for the DOE as a substitute teacher. I was able to put enough of a savings fund aside for the duration of the Collaborative program so that I was able to supplement my program stipend so that it was similar (but not quite the same) as my full-time subbing income.

Let’s take a look at the stipend that partner teachers make during pre-service training (January – June):

Not included in the projected stipend was a $500 technology fee that we had the opportunity to express interest in. The purpose of this stipend was to offset the cost of obtaining a laptop, paying for wifi, etc. since the skill building sessions for the program were set to be facilitated online as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The messaging around this stipend wasn’t particularly clear, as communication from the program went from “complete this form if you want the stipend” to “we’ll let you know if you received it.”

The hiccup with the stipend was that it didn’t come as expected. In fact, no one really knew when to expect the stipend at first, and we even lost at least one (possibly a few more) cohort members who had to leave the program since they did not receive their initial stipend.

It’s perfectly reasonable that we didn’t receive the January stipend by the end of the month. Afterall, “real” jobs typically lag about 2 weeks from days worked to payday for workers on a biweekly pay cycle. The snafu, however, was that we were completely in the dark about when to expect the stipends to arrive. To further complicate things, there is no way for Partner Teachers to enroll in Direct Deposit (why this is the case eludes me, as the checks I get from the Collaborative are identical to those I received for substitute teaching and per session). Eventually, we received this anticipated calendar for stipend disbursement:

I want to emphasize that this isn’t at all an unreasonable timeline. It was a bit disheartening that we were several weeks into preservice training before stipend logistics were clarified. The above table was shared in an email from the program dated January 28th, 2022, but it would have been nice to have that finalized in the preservice training guide that we received in late November or early December.

No one goes into teaching for the money, but it still makes me sad hearing through the grapevine that we lost at least one cohort member due to largely financial reasons. While I am no financial or payroll guru, I can’t help but wonder if there are any ways that this process can be improved for future cohorts.

Starting Cohort 10 of the NYC Teaching Collaborative and SBS-I

In which I formally begin my journey as a pre-service special education teacher in the NYC DOE.

I wrote this post as I was wrapping up my second week of the Collaborative, but it fell to the side for a bit as I got busy with skill building sessions (SBS) and starting my field placement. The program began in mid-January with SBS’s, and the field experience component began on Friday January 28th with orientation.

It’s been an incredibly busy two weeks. On Monday January 17th, my fellow cohort members and I attended the welcome event for the NYC Teaching Collaborative’s 10th anniversary cohort. This event officially marked the start of our journey as Partner Teachers (PT’s) in the program.

Logistically, the program begins with two weeks of skill building sessions known as SBS-Intensive. These two weeks consist of daily weekday sessions from 5pm – 7pm, where we attended sessions facilitated by a Lead Instructor who is also an educator in the DOE. The sessions have continued since then, gradually sinking down to two days and lastly one day per week with an extra session. The program front-loads many of the essential skills a new teacher needs, such as building relationships with students and giving clear directions, and looking back I think that my foundation from SBS-I gave me a solid foundation that I continue to build on in my field experience.

At the time that I applied for the program, PT’s were originally slated to begin graduate school in January ’22. However, feedback from previous program participants reflected that juggling grad school alongside the SBS’s and field experience proved to be quite a lot, and I suppose the program is trying to alleviate some of that stress by holding off on grad school until after we finish these components of the program. It was later confirmed that our cohort is slated to begin graduate coursework during the summer session of universities across the city — I myself will begin the MSEd in Adolescent Special Education – Generalist program at Hunter College in late May.

Because skill-building sessions started two weeks before field experience, it worked out in my favor that I was able to continue serving as a substitute teacher because the school day didn’t clash with my afternoon obligations to attend SBS from 5pm-7pm. Those extra two weeks of subbing allowed me to add a solid chunk of change to my savings account — quite important given that we have a program stipend of $6,500. Partner Teachers were originally budgeted to receive a $6,000 stipend, but the Collaborative decided to award everyone a $500 technology stipend since many aspects of the program are virtual this year.

I came into the program knowing that a lot of things would be pre-determined for us, namely: the teaching license that we would earn, the graduate program that we would be attending, and the site where we will be completing our field experience/student teaching. For me, all three of these happened to work out in my favor. I expected/wanted to be assigned Students With Disabilities (7-12) Generalist as my license area, and I’m pretty happy with my grad school placement and field experience site. That being said, not everyone was as thrilled as I was. The Collaborative does have an appeals process for each step of the program, but they make it pretty clear that appeals are only granted for extenuating circumstances.

As I write this post, I’ve wrapped up two weeks of the SBS-Intensive part of the program, I had orientation at my field placement today, and I’m excited to hit the ground running on Monday to see where this journey will take me. When they called it SBS-Intensive, they really meant the intensive part. I learned a lot during these two weeks of daily sessions, and I feel like I have a solid foundation that I’ll continue to build on throughout my time in the program.

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.

sigh

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.

A Tale of Two Nominations

A minor paperwork hiccup leads to an unexpected inconvenience.

In the fall of 2020, I began serving as a per diem substitute teacher in the New York City Department of Education. It was an interesting time to say the least — we were still in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, with no clear signs at the time that the end was really in sight (or even a vaccine at that point). I’ll save the story of how I got into substitute teaching for a different post, but it could be said that I got into substitute teaching at a “good” time in terms of job prospects. Subs were (and still are) desperately needed across the city, and I knew that job opportunities would be plentiful.

I was surprised by how straightforward the application process was. All it required on my part was some reasonable paperwork and a trip down to 65 Court Street for fingerprints. The nomination process that had been in place prior to the pandemic required aspiring subs to network with school administrators in the hopes of securing a coveting nomination to teach. One pleasantly surprising change to the onboarding process was that the DOE’s central substitute processing office granted nominations automatically without extra effort on the part of the candidate. So anyone with a bachelor’s degree, who could pass a background check, and had a pulse were ushered right into the ranks of DOE substitute teachers.

Fast forward to November 2021. Earlier this year I applied for and accepted a spot in the NYC Teaching Collaborative’s (NYCTC) 2022 cohort. For those that don’t know, the NYCTC is a sister program to the more widely known NYC Teaching Fellows. Both programs ultimately serve the same goal: prepare teachers in high-need teaching license areas to serve in high-need schools. The onboarding process had been proceeding swimmingly until the morning of Friday November 19th. A school administrator at my current long-term substitute teaching assignment pulled me aside before the start of the school day.

It seemed that I had completely disappeared from my school’s list of assigned substitute teachers. I was locked out of my own SubCentral account and all efforts to try adding me to the school’s substitute teacher roster failed. Further investigation showed that I had been ineligible to substitute teach as of 11/16/21. What could have happened? I was in good standing with the DOE, and I had received no notice from the Office of Personnel Investigations regarding any ongoing investigations.

To make a very long story short, my current nomination as a substitute teacher wasn’t playing nicely with my new nomination to join the NYCTC as a pre-service teacher. I was slightly relieved to learn that the Collaborative staff member I spoke with had heard of this scenario happening to other candidates, and I happened to connect with a fellow member of the program who was experiencing the exact same thing. The DOE said that current subs are eligible to serve in our current roles until January 28th, but this on-boarding kerfuffle seems to have thrown quite a wrench into things.

So where does this leave me? I’m basically out of work until my new background check clears in my Applicant Gateway portal. Hopefully it resolves within a week, but you never know how these kinds of things will play out in the DOE. The nitty gritty of the nomination process is still pretty gray to me as a relatively new initiate to the DOE. All I know is that I’m out of work for the time being, and I look forward to using this unexpected vacation to get my blog up and running.

Thanks for reading,

Joe