Mid-Autumn Check-in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 CFR 778.318(b)

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

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

On the Other Side

Never forget where you come from.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is much work left to do.