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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 CFR 778.318(b)

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

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

On the Other Side

Never forget where you come from.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is much work left to do.

8/22 UFT Town Hall Notes

Highlights

  • 5 free COVID days due to positive test. Documentation required beyond that.
  • No more health screenings and in-school testing programs.
  • Everyone gets 4 home COVID tests/month. More if needed.
  • Contract is up soon, many city unions already are with no new contract.
  • Teachers’ Choice is the same as last year for all titles. ($250 for teachers).
  • Teachers to get a stipend for setting up Google Classroom.
  • The UFT is developing a Members’ Hub similar to the Chapter Leaders’ Hub; hope to roll out before Thanksgiving.

Town Hall began at 2:03pm.

Hoping everyone is enjoying some time off. Take these last few weeks to get some of that mojo back. Hope that everyone has some kind of relaxation and enjoyment this summer. Update on issues with the city before school starts. Another town hall during the first two months of school. Remember that our contract expires in the middle of September. Hoping for a solid 40-45 minutes to take lots of questions.

Working all summer on the cuts that we’re dealing with. Insane that we’re having school cuts. Constantly in negotiations over things like exemptions and accommodations, COVID protocols.

Thanks to everyone who is advocating and doing the work. Situation makes no sense .This mayor has more money than any mayor previously, using this rightsizing rational due to enrollment loss. Enacted complete use of Fair Student Funding. This formula was designed under Bloomberg. Many Bloomberg admin are back in the DOE and following a strict per pupil allotment. DeBlasio understood it wasn’t the right way to fund a school. Need to take into account base cost; forces schools to do things like remove art and music. SPED is a big problem with FSF. Certain children need more services. We’ve been cited for being out of compliance with IEPs; principals getting squeezed through their budget.

DeBlasio had a committee to change FSF to address issues. Because of COVID, it was never finalized, and the DOE didn’t like the changing of FSF. We’re frustrated with the DOE thinking they’re there to be served by us. Sick of hearing it’s impossible to do this. Try walking into a classroom and seeing the work we’re doing. Banks going forward with FSF; we’re also a part of that committee. Lots of advocates and frustrations. Don’t know where the school cuts are going to land. State leaders upset because they gave NYC more money than ever had. We have to keep the pressure on them. Testified this morning at City Council. Comptroller Lander confirmed $4.3 million dollars in federal money not yet spent. We need a plan to get the support that our schools need. This mayor’s educational platform was to blow up the bureaucracy and support schools. We’re going to keep fighting on the budget cuts. City Council just passed a resolution to rescinding all cuts.

Class Size legislation in Albany. Keeping pressure on the governor. Many of us are there to talk to her about class size. Of course this mayor won’t support lowering class size. We have the budget to support it. There are provisions so that schools that are overcrowded won’t be hurt. To the DOE: You must lower class size, but also have to implement a plan for overcrowded schools. Repurposing spaces, annex spaces, etc. It’s a thoughtful, good piece of legislation. John Liu has been a strong advocate for the bill.

Contract – still in effect. Most city union contracts have expired. MLC is all talking together about raising the level of intensity. The city isn’t broke; has more money than ever before. You can hear from the mayor’s comments that the city is about to go off of a financial cliff. Not dealing with the fact that they need to get their workers contracts.

Talk of teacher shortage/negotiations. Always a shortage of SPED, STEM, foreign languages, but now what’s happening in the rest of the country is starting to happen in NYC. As VP of ALT, Mulgrew also travels to other areas. Living in NYC is an expensive undertaking. You want the best teachers working with our children, help them afford to live in NYC. The contract is only one piece. Also trying to develop housing programs. It’s tough to live in the city. We have a 500 member negotiation committee. Every chapter, every title is represented. Meeting again after we get back to school. No concern from the city because our contract is still in effect. Some career and tech stuff happening, dyslexia training nothing like how the mayor has been speaking about it. UFT offered the DOE a plan, but the DOE disregarded. We’ll monitor throughout. Nothing really happening on the educational side with the DOE.

COVID. The country has decided to live with COVID. We don’t negotiate with the DOH, we follow their guidance. Missed opportunity that there wasn’t a willingness to sit down and talk about moving the schools and system forward.

A few thousand received notice of possible excessing in June, between 600-700 actually excessed. Not losing a job, but there is currently not a position in the building they were at.

Frustrating last couple of years. Maybe I’m (Mulgrew) a bit jaded from dealing with other states, especially Florida. The attacks on teachers, unions, public unions are so intense. This administration seems to not be able to move on anything except for convincing others that the city is broke. What happens in NY is important. Some states are trying to push vouchers, online learning. Recent legislation in FL where teachers can be sued/arrested/prosecuted for discussing any sexual (identity) issues. Can’t believe this is happening in the United States. Yes we’re frustrated with the mayor and chancellor. They come and go, we’ve always been here. We protect our children. Hiring is down. Currently 1,100 new people coming in our system. Do what we do: embrace those people and help them out. Remember your first year. It’s going to be tough. Make sure you’re helping them out. Welcome them. It’s important that we are treating each other with the support and respect that we expect others to show us.

COVID. Basically following the CDC guidelines. In-school testing will not be in place. Every member of a school community will get 4 monthly home tests minimum. More tests will be available. 5 day quarantine for positive test no CAR days. After 5 days, need to supply medical documentation. Wear mask for 5 days upon return. Health screening is no longer in place. Anyone who had a full year medical or religious exemption, the DOE will recognize those exemptions. More information coming out for those in that group.

Accommodations. Anything related to COVID is a regular (reasonable) accommodation. COVID stuff now dealt with under the regular accommodations process. Will need to supply more up to date paperwork.

Leave b/c of vaccination status. DOH is not rescinding the vaccination mandate. In conversations with the Department of Ed about if someone chooses to get a vaccination before the 5th, they’ll be treated as if they’re on a regular leave and have full rights to their position. After Sept. 5th, access to employment, but no guarantee of returning to the employee’s previous site.

Retirements not particularly up, they’re in the usual range. Folks aren’t waiting for the end of the year to retire. Steady trickle of retirements each month. Hiring is low. Take the idea of the CL hub, and create a similar thing for all members. Plan to roll that out before Thanksgiving. Ability to quickly communicate with everyone; very important in this day and age. It’s hard to get straightforward information from any source. People don’t need this frustration in their lives. Last year, everyone was paid for the Google Classroom. This year, there will likely not be partial classroom closures. based on the CDC guidance and where we’re going. Still going to have staff members and children who are out with COVID. The DOE isn’t thinking about paying people to set up their classrooms. Are you really going to allow schools to say that they don’t get an asynchronous option during illness? Talks to implement the same process as last year.

Quick pitch for the Labor Day parade on Saturday 9/10. We’re going to set up on the street with food, rides, and stuff before the parade. Bring your children and have a good time. Just us and CSA on that entire block.

This is a tough job, but a great profession. What we do isn’t easy. There are a lot of loud voices on both sides of the political debate. We need to start pushing the message about elevating teaching as a professional field. What happened during COVID has put teachers in a much better light. Took this pandemic to make that happen. The city re-gave authority back to the superintendents. Very disorganized and all over the place. Superintendent’s are supposedly in charge and their job is to support and hold principals accountable. Not sure how it’s going to work out. Always more about what they think versus going to schools, talking to members, clinicians, therapists. We need to push, we’re going to go hard at them. This school year should be somewhat like what we’ve had in the past, but we’ll never go back to the past. Public education is about the opportunity that we have as a union to push the message out there.

[Missed the start of this remark. Mulgrew spoke to CollegeBoard representatives.]Teachers like PBL. Sometimes we have to follow crazy curriculum. Doesn’t work, but that’s how our evaluations are aligned. Projects work, and also in AP courses. CollegeBoard saw great strides for black and brown students. Let us do what works best for our children and provide the right support. Thanking everyone for taking the time to join the call. Hope that everyone gets some down time. Transition to questions.

Town Hall Q&A

Margaret Retiring CL: More of a suggestion. With the teacher shortage, can excessed staff be used to fill the gaps?

DOE couldn’t tell us how many teachers they need. When they say they’re out of SPED compliance, they can’t say how many therapists, providers, etc. they need. That’s a common sense idea, but the DOE has made sure that they can’t figure things out. We’ll do our best to keep track and move people. We’ll see where the need is and certain districts will be able to do it faster.

Allison: Are we still getting teachers’ choice? How much?

Yes, $225.

What happens to long-term subs who haven’t received a full-time position? Covering maternity/leaves for several years. Why aren’t the long-term subs getting positions?

Principal is in charge of the hiring (comparison to schools as like a franchise). This is one of the things we’re going to try to address. We’ve had long-term subs serving in the same position for two years. We’ve been angry at the DOE. Why aren’t you hiring these teachers? Hope to address soon.

Gertrude: Any more information about dyslexia program?

We’re going to (want to?) use literacy coaches to become city experts because dyslexia is within their wheelhouse. One hour program isn’t effective, never going to work. Need to ID and screen student; how do we train experts who then work with the teachers? The DOE threw up their hands because they don’t want to manage the program. They don’t want to manage 600 people; would rather tell schools to go figure it out.

Member Q: Elementary para: can I wear my mask?

MM: Yes, that’s okay.

Beth: Often on hold with HR Connect for 3 hours and getting disconnected. Trouble rectifying paychecks because I can’t get through to a person.

Write an email to msill@uft.org. We don’t run HR Connect. Have told the DOE that it’s a failure. They keep saying that they’re working on it. We don’t control HR Connect.

Melissa – Will PTC’s be remote. Can they be remote forever and ever?

Yes for this year. We’re trying for ever and ever. We’ve been in more contact with parents than ever before using the remote system. In the DOE’s interest too.

Alissa – Are booster shots going to be mandated?

No, have not heard from the DOH about mandate boosters. We don’t negotate with the DOH, they do their thing.

Amanda – On a medical/religious exemption and it goes through again this year, where do they report?

At this point, it’s basically the same setup we had last year. Some will report to buildings, others work from home. First need to get the exemptions/accommodations recognized. Expect it to run the same as last year.

Robert – I drive into work on W 50th St in Manhattan. Any thoughts on congestion pricing?

City workers should be exempt. Anyone that has to report to a workplace in that zone should be exempt. Just starting the process. A lot of us pay tolls, this thing is a mess. The process just started and we’re a part of it.

Karen – [Missed the question, something about the contract]

We’re one of the few city unions left with a contract still in effect. The mayor is telling everyone that the city is broke. We passed a reso that the time (length of day) can’t be negotiated. We are not swapping time for money. We need a raise.

Tashonna – We’re hearing about the influx of migrant children in the news. Are there any additional resources of provisions that are being shared?

We’re still waiting. The mayor made the announcement. DOE said we’re going to put together a support program for these students; we’re already short ESL teachers. No issues with helping, but here goes another announcement without a plan. Going to need serious services there to support families and students. We’ll get out info once we learn more from the DOE.

Member Q: in SI our borough office houses students. Any guidance on where members with accommodations will be going to?
MM: We are figuring it out.

Member Q: Is there anything in place if schools have a breakout of monkeypox?

MM: What our doctors have told us is that schools are not high liability/risk place for monkeypox. But if there is an outbreak we would work with the DOH quickly. But I have learned to say that nothing is definitive.

Member Q: Will members be paid for setting up Google Classroom? Will snow days be remote?

MM: Got a text that teachers will be paid for Google Classroom setup just like last year. If we get a snow day, it will be…gotta come up with a snow day. If the mayor says that children shouldn’t go to school, we’ll be remote.

Member Q: Why can’t nurses come back and work part time?

MM: All about the pension stuff. This is something we’re going to revisit with the city. We still don’t have a nurse in every building. This mayor was one of the fiercest advocates for nurses in every building as borough president. We’re not going to stop. We need a nurse in every building. Maybe we can open it up to nurses who are retired and want to give some time to the school system.

Member Q: I’m one of the staff members who only received 3 vacation days. Will we ever receive the other 4 or is that settled?

MM: Most folks in that case were able to get their 7, but there were some under the arbitration who wouldn’t get all 7. Reach out to Michael Sill to confirm your circumstances.

Member Q: We had IEP meetings virtually on various platforms. Will that be the rule or exception?

MM: It worked better, but we’re still in discussions.

Member Q: Anything more than excessed teachers could be doing to find a placement since Open Market has closed?

MM: Open Market was previous extended (by a day?) Transitioned to the Excessed Staff Selection Site. Excessed staff can see vacancies.

Member Q: Parents weren’t allowed in the building last year without the vaccine. I’m in a building with low parent involvement. Do children’s family members still need to be vaccinated to come in?

MM: Parents required to provide proof of vaccination, but the daily screening has been withdrawn. Health and safety team is working on making sure that each school has a system for parents to provide proof of vaccination. The issue isn’t completely settled yet. Like usual, the Department of Ed is dumping the issue on schools.

Member Q: Asking for clarification about the budget process.

MM: The next step is the appellate courts to review this court case

Member Q: Staff members reached out to me. A member is now in collection (because of a COVID test that wasn’t covered?) What avenues are there to get that bill paid?

MM: At this moment, the MLC is going to have to make a decision about whether the city pays for the expenses or if there will be some kind of court case. The city said numerous times: We want all city workers to get tested.

Member Q: Will the DOE implement DESSA and will teachers have more times to complete the paperwork? Took a lot of time last year.

They’re going to continue DESSA. Being transparent: This is a waste of our time. You don’t do anything to help kids in crisis find a counselor. We signed an $18 million contract. Another reason why we don’t need the DOE.

Member Q: Developed an autoimmune disease due to COVID. Do we reapply or are accommodations extended to this year?

MM: Can apply now.

Member Q: Wondering about a potential buy out for senior members who didn’t qualify for 25/55.

MM: Don’t see anything at the state level, especially with upstate being hit hard by teacher shortages. Has to come from the state.

Member Q: Anything about getting our raises back? Ended on May 14th, 2021.

MM: Ended because that’s the last raise of the expiring contract. Will be updated with the new contract, but it’s probably going to be a fight.

Member Q: Many city school’s front doors are always open. Will doors be secured/locked?

MM: 50 schools are getting buzzers, but that’s a drop in the bucket.

Member Q: The news keeps saying that budget cuts are due to lower enrollment of kids in the system. Will it be the case that if numbers increase, that’ll be an argument for restoring the money?

MM: The thing that’s really causing the budget cuts is that they went to a strict interpretation of FSF from the Bloomberg years. DiBlasio was decent about funding throughout his entire term. The Adams administration went back. The state doesn’t fund NYC Schools on per pupil. This morning, I asked: “Where the hell is the money?” When they send less money to the schools, central gets more money.

Thanking everyone for taking the time. We’re going into a new school year. There are going to be great and frustrating parts of the year. We adjust and move. Because we’re professionals we make things work. No matter what happens, schools figure it out. That’s why I’m so proud to say that schools can handle it. They’re there with the children and taking care of them. Be there for the new staff members. They’re going to be great teachers and make a phenomenal impact. We’re here to support and take care of each other. Another town hall will happen around the end of October unless something comes up.

Have fun, be safe, and enjoy family and loved ones.

Town hall adjourned at 3:39pm.

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.

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.

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.