October 17, 2008
Many of the United Federation of Teachers’ recent grievances against the Department of Education have centered on the way it treats senior teachers. Now, brand-new teachers are demanding the union support them, too. The main agitators come from a group of more than 150 new teachers who are slated to lose their jobs at the beginning of December if a school doesn’t hire them.
The teachers are mainly new hires for the Teaching Fellows program, an alternative certification program that is like a New York City version of Teach For America. The DOE says it’s typical for some brand-new teachers not to have placements at this point in the year. But some unplaced Fellows said they worry that this year, with budgets tight, they could be left out to dry.
Even worse, they they worry that not only will the DOE not support them, but neither will the union.
The teaching fellows are in a similar boat to the pool known as the Absent Teacher Reserve, experienced teachers whose jobs have been eliminated and who have not been hired by another school. The difference is that if the inexperienced fellows can’t find permanent positions, they will be let go completely. The reserve teachers will sit on the city payroll.
The union has been working hard to help ATR members — even filing an age discrimination lawsuit on their behalf this spring — but the teaching fellows cause has been left more untouched. So about a dozen or so of them protested Wednesday outside the UFT’s delegate assembly meeting, trying to get support. In doing so, they stood side by side with the ATR teachers.
The UFT made some gestures of support. A top union official, Michael Mendel, said the UFT is supporting the new teachers in addition to the ATR’s. “Vacancies open up every day,” Mendel said, and certified teachers, both ATRs and teachers who have never taught in the system, should get the first crack at them. (Teaching fellows are considered certified once they complete a summer training program.)
The union also included a clause about teaching fellows to a resolution vowing to support ATRs. The resolution vows that the union will “pursue all contractual and legal options to stop the DOE from laying off” new teaching fellows. New fellows signed a commitment form when they accepted their job offers agreeing to Dec. 5 as a deadline by which to land a position or be fired.
But some fellows told me they still aren’t convinced that the union will stand up for them. “We won’t believe it until we see the action,” said one fellow who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “This could get lost in the shuffle.”
Melody Meyer, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said she doesn’t remember unplaced teachers ever taking to the streets before. But she said the number of unplaced new hires is actually fairly typical compared to the same time during previous years when “fewer than five” teachers were terminated at the deadline. “The vast, vast majority of those teachers get hired by principals,” Meyer said.
The number of newly hired teachers needing jobs has in fact been on the decline since the start of school. Four weeks ago, on Sept. 21, the DOE told the Daily News that 229 new recruits hadn’t yet been placed; at the same time during the 2007-2008 school year, 211 teachers needed jobs, according to Meyer. As of yesterday, 157 centrally hired teachers hadn’t been offered a position in a school, Meyer said; of those, 139 are Teaching Fellows, 18 are traditional recruits, and one is a Teach for America recruit.