meet the candidates

For some teachers, job hunt calculus includes possible buyout

Inside a Columbia University building, hundreds of teachers rubbed shoulders while chatting up recruiters from 80 schools.

A late-summer city teacher recruitment fair bustled with newly-trained Teaching Fellows and experienced teachers still looking for jobs yesterday.

But no one was lined up to talk to leaders from Food and Finance High School shortly after 4 p.m.

The school has top marks from the Department of Education and a graduation rate that far exceeds the city average. But the fair was less than fruitful, recruiters said, because they only have one position available: a social studies job that is subject to city hiring restrictions.

“All of these young candidates are coming in bright eyed, and yet there’s a freeze on history,” said Joseph Clausi, the high school’s recruiter and an assistant principal. “They come here with these great resumes, and we can’t even talk to them.”

His was among close to 80 schools attending the fair. Others, like Pelham Academy of Academics and Community Engagement, a Bronx middle school the Bronx Theater High School, and representatives from the New Visions Network of schools had lines snaking around the rows of booths set up in an auditorium at Columbia University.

 The city has been slowly lifting its three-year-old hiring restrictions, which have limited the numbers of new teachers who can compete for jobs with teachers currently in the city’s system. But there is still a hiring freeze on some teaching areas and subjects, such as high school social studies and regular elementary school positions.

The event was open only to city teachers hunting for new positions, as well as Teaching Fellows, Teach for America recruits, and teachers from outside the school system who had registered with the Department of Education. City officials told principals not to advertise the time or location, which were once posted on the internet but later removed.

Of the 500-some teachers who attended the fair, just under 200 were members of the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of teachers without permanent positions. The job fair holds high stakes for those teachers, because if they don’t find a job by the new school year they will be rotated to a new school each week as substitutes, sometimes performing office duties. Schools are required to interview those teachers, but they don’t have to hire them.

City officials said the ATR pool had grown “slightly” from the 830 teachers it held in June. But it is still far smaller than it was at this time last year, when there were 1,900 ATRs.

The city and teachers union have struggled to agree on how to treat ATR members, who stay on the city’s payroll even though they lack permanent teaching assignments. Last year, the solution was to eliminate the budget for substitute teachers and create the rotation system.

This year, the city may have another solution to reduce the cost of the ATR pool: the teachers union and the city are negotiating an ATR buyout option, which would allow teachers who have been in the ATR pool for a certain amount of time to leave the profession in exchange for a portion of their salaries. The option could take effect by September if negotiations succeed, but nothing is certain. Still, some teachers who have been in the ATR pool for several years now see it as a better option than staying in the job-hunting game.

“Everything I’ve taught [via the ATR pool] is outside of my license area. But the truth is, if I accept a new position, I’d be ineligible for the buyout,” One teacher who asked not to be identified and has spent the last five years in the ATR pool, said. “I might not take a position.”

She said she has been hounding union representatives for information on the status of the buyout negotiations, in hopes that they will be complete before she finds a new job. But she was pessimistic about her chances of finding a position anyway, because only a half-dozen elementary schools showed up and their recruiters gave her lukewarm responses.

“My resume says I started teaching in 1975,” she said. She believes those numbers have become a barrier to her job hunt because her salary is on the high-end of the spectrum. The way the city bills schools for salaries penalizes many senior teachers, who cost more than teachers with less experience.

“I brought everything with me today, my students’ scores, but they don’t want to see those,” she said, motioning to a thick file she carried in her tote bag. “They don’t value my experience here. The Fellows are invited, and they are cheaper than I am.”

A Manhattan high school math teacher who just lost her position because she was the least senior teacher on staff said she would not take a buyout offer if given the option.

“I wouldn’t do it,” she said. “I got into this profession because I wanted to teach in New York City schools.”

The teacher was looking for positions in Manhattan and Queens, and left the fair discouraged see that most of the high schools were from the Bronx. But she was able to schedule several follow-up interviews with recruiters.

Tom Miner, a Teaching Fellow seeking his first job as a high school physics teacher, said he felt hopeful about the job hunt because his license area is in high demand.

“Science is in need, and even within science, physics is more in need,” he said. “I dropped off two resumes, which was better than the last fair I was at.”

A minute later, a friend who is also a Teaching Fellow looking for high school physics jobs greeted Miner. “I guess we’re ‘frennemies’,” he joked.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”