By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Much could depend on the outcome of the UFT's latest contract negotiations, which began last month. Teachers, city officials, and labor experts are speculating that the city will try to negotiate a time limit for how long teachers can remain in the ATR pool. The city says the reserve teachers—who are guaranteed a full salary—are costing the system millions of dollars that otherwise could be used to bring in new teachers who principals want to hire. Already, the DOE is pressuring ATRs harder than ever to find jobs, for the first time requiring them to interview at schools with openings in their field and to attend job fairs. Those who don't are subject to the department's disciplinary process. Chancellor Klein has said repeatedly that he would like to see a time limit placed on the hiring process, giving ATRs nine months to a year to find a new position before being terminated.
"The entire ATR situation is the result of a failed management strategy," says Dick Riley, a UFT spokesman. He insists the union is no happier about the ATR situation than the city is: "The DOE was aware that as it closed schools and cut back programs, veteran teachers would become available for new assignments, yet it continued to recruit new teachers. The result has been that some newcomers did not get the jobs they had been led to expect, and many veteran teachers are now working as substitutes."
For now, the city is proceeding with slimmed-down teacher recruitment. In years past, the city sent recruiters around the country to scout for new talent, while ads for the Teaching Fellows program appeared on subways, in newspapers, and on the Internet. Next year, it's likely that the only Teaching Fellows ads you'll see will be online.
The Teaching Fellows program accepts only as many teachers as the system expects to be able to accommodate, and indeed the number of Teaching Fellows who haven't found positions is just 47 out of 700. (Those unplaced teachers are getting extra training, along with $250 a week and no benefits, until the end of this month, when they'll be dropped from the city's payroll.)
Bernard says TFA will likely send a large percentage of its corps members to charter schools, which control their own hiring and so are not affected by the freeze. "I imagine demand will continue to be high on that side," she says.
To say he's concerned about next year is "putting it mildly," says John Ewing, president of Math for America, an alternative certification program whose teachers undergo a year-long training regimen. Though the majority of the program's fellows suffered through the hiring freeze, the few stragglers who didn't have jobs at the end of summer were placed in the ATR pool, an exception the city made because of the fellows' lengthy training. Ewing expects to have 60 new teachers to place next year, and while he hopes the city will exempt math teachers from the hiring freeze, he's not banking on it.
"We pledged to the fellows that we'll do whatever it takes to make sure they don't get left out," he says. "This is a program that's meant to invest money and time and effort into the New York City public schools. But if we can't find jobs for them for whatever reasons, we will find jobs elsewhere."
"Elsewhere" includes the greater metropolitan area, where Ewing said he's quietly spreading the word about Math for America so that next year, other districts will know about his fellows.
"If New York City really wants to have a first-rate school system, then they have to let the first-rate in," says Ewing. "I don't think we're going backwards yet, but I think there's the potential here for slipping backwards very rapidly. That would be a real shame."
Some principals who are looking ahead to next year don't like what they see on the horizon, either. According to Sacks, her principal interviewed nearly 40 members of the ATR pool for three vacancies at the school, but said the interviews were uniformly terrible. If the hiring freeze persists into next year, she says, "I would think that my principal and other principals in that situation are going to recruit more aggressively from other schools."
For Pellman, there was a glimmer of hope in July, when the city lifted the freeze for most science teachers, though not for biology teachers. Pellman got back in touch with Bronx Latin anyway, but the job had already been filled. And so she spends her days working at a Starbucks in midtown Manhattan, doing the same job she did when she was trying to make ends meet as a student.
She remains ready to take over a city classroom the day she's allowed to. Back at the apartment she shares with her fiancé, she keeps a notebook full of ideas about how to gain control over a classroom where the teacher has left in the middle of the year. She also follows along with the city's new standardized science curriculum, imagining what she would be teaching if she had students. And she is making sure her colleagues at Starbucks know that they might have to cover her shifts, "in case I have to jump up and go start teaching," she says.
"I'm trying to stay optimistic and hope that things brighten up," she says, "because some day, they're going to need new teachers again."