The budget-crunched DOE could save millions of dollars by helping teachers who are currently in the Absent Teacher Reserve find permanent positions instead of hiring new teachers to fill open slots, UFT President Randi Weingarten argued yesterday afternoon at a press conference to launch the union’s “Let Us Teach” campaign.
The campaign is a response to the growing number of teachers without assignments — there are more than 1,400 — and a sustained attack on those teachers by The New Teacher Project, an organization the DOE has hired to recruit, screen, and place new teachers in the city’s schools.
Joining Weingarten were eight ATRs — for the most part, teachers who were excessed when their positions were eliminated because their schools closed or were downsized — who say they have tried desperately to land a regular teaching position without success.
“All I want to do is teach,” said one teacher who lost her job last year when the school for pregnant and parenting teens where she taught was closed. Contradicting the chancellor’s claim that many teachers in the reserve choose not to look for work, the teachers at the press conference all said they had applied for dozens of jobs, both through the DOE’s centralized hiring system and outside of it, and had rarely even been offered an interview.
Instead of helping teachers whose positions were eliminated find new jobs, the DOE has created financial disincentives for principals to hire experienced teachers, who command higher salaries, and incentives to keep use ATRs as staff as long as possible, because the DOE picks up a portion of their salaries, Weingarten said.
As a result, she said, more than a thousand experienced teachers are spending their school days as substitutes and hall monitors. Their positions are not secure and they can be moved from school to school and open position to open position at any time, destabilizing schools and demoralizing teachers.
Margaret Bianculli, an excessed teacher who works at Beach Channel High School in Queens, said students and other teachers think about her, “Why were you taken out of your classroom? You must have done something wrong.”
Gregory Hinckson, also working as an ATR at Beach Channel, where he taught math for six years, said students who had hoped to have him as a teacher this year have asked him why he no longer has his own classroom. “The kids are the ones suffering greatly because of this,” he said.