By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
Lauren Linkowski actually had a job lined up—or thought she did. After earning a master's degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania, Linkowski landed a job teaching English at M.S.324, a top-rated middle school in Washington Heights. A Westchester native, she was counting down the days until she could move closer to her friends and family.
M.S.324's principal, Janet Heller, had told Linkowski not to leave her job in Philadelphia because New York City's hiring system technically wouldn't open for another two months. But with a commitment from Heller, Linkowski was feeling confident about her prospects. Then, at midday on May 6, the same time that Pellman was walking into Bronx Latin for her interview, Linkowski opened an e-mail from Heller with bad news. The hiring freeze was on, and the deal was off.
"I definitely freaked out for a few minutes," Linkowski said. "I called my mom, and then I was immediately on every job website." She's now living with her parents, substitute teaching in the Chappaqua schools, and teaching an English class to adult students at the College of New Rochelle.
When the freeze hit, Heller says, "I was disappointed, but I did not panic." She had started the hiring process early and had four months before the first day of school to figure out how to navigate the restrictions. When a teacher who had planned to leave decided to stay because she could no longer find part-time work in a city school, Heller's vacancy filled itself.
Had that teacher left, Heller had other options: "I had two other people in the wings who were working in another school who wanted to transfer." Hiring one of them would have left another school with a vacancy—one that would be more difficult to fill if that school didn't have M.S.324's stellar reputation. If the hiring freeze continues, as department officials say is possible, underperforming schools could see their best talent drawn away by more established schools forced to hire within the system.
That's what happened at the Brooklyn secondary school where Ariel Sacks teaches English. (She spoke on the condition that her school not be named.) According to Sacks, teachers attracted to her school's small size and progressive vision filled most of the vacancies this year, but her principal couldn't fill three spots, two of them hard-to-staff math positions. Two weeks into the school year, the city sent three ATRs from a shuttered high school to take over the open classes.
"We were basically forced to take on teachers who themselves couldn't find other jobs," Sacks says. "They didn't choose to be at our school, and our school didn't choose them."
The result, she says, was chaos, as the unprepared teachers floundered and the administration, seeing them as a temporary stopgap, didn't invest time in training them. "The classroom was chaotic, in a way that is not usual even with a lot of our subs," says Sacks. The principal ultimately pulled the ATRs from the lead teacher spots. They're now working as substitutes, and other teachers at the school have reshuffled to cover the teacher-less math classes, which are only just now getting under way for the year.
Heller likewise hasn't been impressed by the quality of teachers in the ATR pool. After reaching out to 20 ATRs who were qualified to fill her empty positions, she says, "I interviewed 12 and wouldn't have hired any one of them. Only two did the interview like a real interview. The rest treated it like a joke deliberately."
The DOE's financial woes, meanwhile, is only expected to worsen in 2010. "The budget is not getting any better next year," Department of Education Chief Operating Officer Photeine Anagnostopoulos said flatly outside a recent City Council education hearing. As the state tries to close a $3 billion budget gap, budget cuts appear inevitable. Governor Paterson has already proposed $223 million in mid-year cuts to the city's schools, but even if the legislature refuses to cut school aid in the middle of the year as it did last year, cuts are likely to appear in schools' 2010–2011 budgets.
The people responsible for figuring out how many new teachers the city needs already predict that next year's teacher job market will look about as grim as this year's did. An early snapshot of the city's data on teacher retention shows that more second- and third-year teachers are staying in the system than in previous years, largely because of the recession, leaving even fewer vacancies for new teachers to fill.
"We anticipate at this point that our needs will be more limited than they have been in past years, except for perhaps this year," says Vicki Bernstein, the department's executive director of recruitment and teacher quality.
Bernstein, who oversees the Teaching Fellows program, says the program will likely admit around 700 fellows next year, the same as this year and half as many as in 2008. As was the case this year, most will be trained to teach special education, the area where the city has traditionally had the most acute need.
Jemina Bernard, the director of Teach for America's New York region, says she's waiting to see the outcome of teachers' contract negotiations, as well as how deep the state budget cuts will be, before deciding how many new teachers TFA will send to New York City.