Schools Chancellor Joel Klein sits with UFT President Michael Mulgrew at the DOE's new teacher orientation today.
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and UFT President Michael Mulgrew at the DOE's new teacher orientation today.

An as-yet-unhired Teaching Fellow ambushed Schools Chancellor Joel Klein today, charging that it is unfair for the city to recruit new teachers and then deny them jobs.

Arah Lewis, a 28-year-old new teacher, stopped Klein as the chancellor left LaGuardia High School this morning after speaking at the city’s annual new teacher orientation. Lewis was hired this spring to join the city’s Teaching Fellows program, but then the city closed its teaching ranks to most new hires in May.

“To be here and to hear you speak is wonderful,” she told Klein. “But it’s also kind of a slap in the face.”

Lewis explained that she had found a middle school in the Bronx, MS 337, whose principal wanted to hire her as a math teacher. But the principal, Andrea Cyprys, can’t offer the position until the hiring freeze is lifted, something Klein warned recently isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

On the verge of tears and surrounded by other new teachers, Lewis protested to Klein that her situation is unfair.

“I don’t know an organization that would go out and recruit people and expect them to change their lives and then say you can’t work here,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Klein quietly listened to Lewis’s complaints and gave her his business card, asking her to follow up with more details. “We understand the issue,” he told her.

Outside the school, Klein said the hiring freeze is regrettable but likely to continue. “I don’t make the rules,” he said. “If I did, everything would be different.”

The ban requires principals to fill vacancies from a pool of teachers already employed by the city but who currently lack actual teaching positions. Members of this group, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve, lost their positions when their schools were downsized, reconfigured, or shuttered.

The hiring freeze shuts out hundreds of teachers who were recruited to the city by organizations such as Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows program. The city has said many of those teachers would be able to find positions in areas that are exempt from the freeze, such as special education and science. But unlike in previous years, the city said it would not pay the salaries of teachers unable to find positions in schools.

So far, Teaching Fellows have received only a stipend for their summer training, according to Ann Forte, a spokeswoman for the department.

Lewis said that she turned down a spot with Teach for America in Philadelphia earlier this year, not knowing that New York’s Teaching Fellows would soon face the freeze. Until the hiring ban is lifted, she said, she has committed to work full-time as a substitute math teacher at MS 337. But she will earn just $155 a day and lose the health insurance she would receive if she were hired full-time as a Teaching Fellow there.

Forte said principals can hire per diem substitute teachers if no member of the ATR pool is assigned to their school. To ensure that principals don’t use long-term substitutes as a hiring freeze workaround, the department will monitor how principals are using the per diem budget line, she said.

For her part, Lewis said later that she was satisfied with her exchange with Klein, even though it didn’t net her a job. “I think he told me all he could,” she said. “The look on his face was very genuine.”