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.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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