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.

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.

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.

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.

On Ambition and Administrative Bureaucracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated Per Diem Language on the UFT site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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