NYC DOE Nomination Limbo IV and a Resolution

I was fully prepared for this post to be my fourth entry in what seemed like an ongoing struggle to get my hiring paperwork processed through the DOE. Just to quickly recap, I was hired for a full-time teaching position. It’s my second job in the DOE, but my fourth nomination due to how the DOE sets up some of its other processes, like the Roster Evaluate to join the Teaching Collaborative and get placed at a Teaching Academy or the Person Not on Budget (PNOB) nomination that ties someone to a specific school in Galaxy. Nomination is DOE lingo for the hiring process – paperwork, fingerprints, background checks, all that jazz. It turns out that passing a background check and having a demonstrated record of good service isn’t enough for the DOE’s bureaucratic overloads. Candidates have to undergo the background nomination process for any new position.

I’m in good standing with the DOE from my time as a substitute teacher, but I’ve jocularly accepted the fact that my file number is cursed. Every darn time I’ve gone to the background investigation step in Applicant Gateway, I’ve gotten stuck there for an disgustingly long length of time.

Interested readers who know my frustrations all too well will recall that the OPIINFO email account is the only way advertised in order to reach. I mentioned in a previous post that a little Google magic and using the DOE’s Outlook directory allowed me to quickly figure out some of the folks that work behind the scenes at OPI. I don’t think they were terribly thrilled that I reached out to them directly, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

After rehashing this same story on four different occasions, I’m happy to say that I’ve been finally hired as a full-time teacher as of about a week ago. As long as I remain in my current position of special education teacher (and I intend to do so), I’m glad that I won’t have to deal with Applicant Gateway, background investigations, or OPI for the foreseeable future.

New hires get a congratulatory email when they complete the hiring process in Applicant Gateway, and I couldn’t have been happier to get that email. While this entry marks the end of my nomination saga, I know that future candidates will continue to experience the same difficulties that I did (I know of 4-5 subs and Teaching Fellows who had the exact same issue). Perhaps the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality (TRQ) can look more closely into the matter alongside their OPI colleagues to ensure that future candidates don’t have to endure what so many of us had to endure.

Past is Prologue: NYC DOE Nomination Limbo III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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