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 code.org 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.

Reflecting on SBS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaking the Dust Off of Emacs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One More Month of Field Experience Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

Substitute Teachers and the DOE’s Summer Rising Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Multi-Subject CST and EAS Exams

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

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

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

Content Specialty Tests

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

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

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

Educating All Students

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

COVID Emergency License

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

Final Thoughts

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

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