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Once-hopeful teachers grapple with a sudden kink in their plans

Among those who could be most affected by the new teacher hiring freeze are teachers who haven’t yet set foot inside a city classroom.

The group includes nearly 1,000 college seniors, recent graduates, and career-changers who had been accepted to Teach for America and the New York City Teaching Fellows programs, which select and train uncertified teachers and then help them find positions at city schools. It also includes potentially hundreds of other experienced teachers with unofficial job offers for the fall in hand, at least two of whom have already severed current jobs and a lease in preparation for the move.

All of their plans to teach at city schools in the fall were thrown into question yesterday when school officials announced that principals will have to give preference to teachers who are already on the public school system’s payroll when hiring from now on. School officials are encouraging these teachers to hold out hope for finding a spot, but the teachers say they are skeptical.

Teach For America and Teaching Fellows participants are still being invited to train this summer, but unlike in the past, they are not being guaranteed a paycheck if they don’t land a job in a school. School officials are also telling experienced teachers who had been promised places at schools for the fall to hold out hope, but at least one such teacher said yesterday that he feels left in the lurch.

Chris Timberlake, a fourth-grade teacher in Hampton, Va., thought until last night that he had nailed down plans to begin teaching in the city this fall, along with his wife, who is also a teacher. “We had always wanted to move to the big city,” Timberlake told me. “We wanted to be the change agents, and this was the year we were going to do it.”

After applying to teach in the city, Timberlake and his wife were both accepted into a new program, called TRQ Select, that was meant to create a pool of new teacher candidates that have the Department of Education’s stamp of approval. School officials kept them in the loop about openings, and Timberlake said the department even covered plane fare to fly his wife, a highly coveted earth science teacher, into the city to visit schools.

Last Friday, Timberlake was offered what he described as the teaching job of his dreams, a position at PS 84 in Queens, where in addition to his regular teaching responsibilities, he would start up a theater program. His wife also got a job offer last week, at a Brooklyn high school that she loved the first time she visited, he said. On Monday, they signed resignation letters at their current schools and let their landlord know they would be leaving their apartment this summer. Last night, they learned about the hiring freeze and saw their plans fall apart.

In the last few months, Timberlake said, he and his wife have shelled out well over $1,000 each to take three tests leading to New York State certification, get fingerprinted by the DOE, apply for their teaching licenses, and drop everything to fly to the city when principals offered them interviews.

“It’s a lot of grief, money, and time that feels like it’s been wasted,” he said. “Now I don’t know what we’ll do. I just don’t know.”

School officials told me that Timberlake and his wife shouldn’t have thought they had jobs locked up, even before the hiring restrictions were announced. “No formal offers should have been made,” said Ann Forte, a schools spokeswoman. Forte said the department requires applicants to be processed centrally before they can be added to a school’s payroll, and it is too early in the year for that to happen.

Timberlake said that when he finally spoke to someone in the department’s human resources office late today, he was told that his best bet is to hunt for positions at new schools, which are still permitted to hire up to 50% of their teachers from outside the system, and to stay in touch with the principals who had expressed interest in hiring him. When the restriction are lifted, those principals could hire him, Timberlake said he was told. “That is, if they haven’t already filled the position with someone from the pool” of existing teachers, he said.

The advice he got was similar to that given yesterday to people who have been offered Teaching Fellows positions. In a letter sent yesterday to accepted applicants, which I obtained, the head of the Teaching Fellows program encouraged recipients not to stop looking for a job in the city schools.

“These restrictions do not impede your ability to continue to network with school hiring representatives and pursue vacancies that may become available at a later date,” Bernstein wrote.

Both Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows program accepted about half as many applicants as they did last year, according to Larry Becker, the DOE’s top human resources executive. Teach for America is anticipating a cohort of 250 new teachers, he said, down from 500 this year and also from the 350 that TFA told alumni in January that it would hire this year. The Teaching Fellows program is set to have a cohort of 700, down from 1,400 this year.

Last fall, changing human capital conditions left a small number of new Teaching Fellows being paid by the DOE, but without positions at the end of the calendar year. It took a legal fight before the department could get them off its payroll. That problem will not be allowed to reoccur this year, Becker said yesterday, because the department will not start paying Teaching Fellows until they land positions in schools. For those whom the hiring restrictions prevent from getting a job, Becker said, “We will have a small program that extends through the fall where we keep them occupied.” One possibility, he said, is that unhired Teaching Fellows might student-teach for “some financial remuneration.”

Instructions for teacher hopefuls are posted now on TeachNYC, the department’s hiring Web site. The full letter sent yesterday to accepted Teaching Fellows is below.

CLARIFICATION: The DOE does not fly prospective teachers to the city, as Christopher Timberlake said his wife was, a DOE spokeswoman told me. The spokeswoman, Ann Forte, said the department invites TRQ Select candidates to the city but does not pay their way, except by giving them one-day Metrocards so they can visit schools during their stay.

We hope you have taken the opportunity over the last few days to review the recently published terms of the June 2009 Fellowship. If you have not done so already, we encourage you to complete enrollment in the Fellowship by electronically signing the Fellow Commitment Form on the ‘Home’ tab of your My NYCTF page. I am writing today with important information about becoming a Department of Education employee this coming school year.

As you may have heard, Chancellor Joel Klein announced today that due to likely budget reductions principals must follow new guidelines when hiring teachers for the 2009-2010 school year. Under these guidelines, at this time principals can only fill vacancies with teachers who are currently employed by the Department of Education. (There are some immediate exceptions to these hiring restrictions: Principals may consider new candidates for vacancies in bilingual special education and for up to half of the vacancies in schools that are opening this year or have opened in the last two years.) As budgets are finalized over the summer, these hiring restrictions will be lifted for those subject areas and geographic districts where the need to fill vacancies is not being met by the existing workforce. The primary implication of this policy is that new teachers cannot be formally hired into any school-level vacancy unless and until the restrictions are lifted.

We want to reassure you that these hiring guidelines do not affect your status in the Fellowship, nor do they change the hiring process and timeline previously communicated to you. More specifically:

Your acceptance into the Fellowship remains valid and there is no change to your status in the June training cohort, your subject assignment, or borough assignment.

In anticipation of budget reductions and a consequent reduced hiring need, we have significantly limited the size and subject areas of the June 2009 cohort as compared to prior years.

Accepted Fellows have been assigned only to those subject areas and geographic locations with the highest projected vacancies. These are the areas where we anticipate there will still be a need for new teachers and where hiring restrictions are likely to be lifted.

These guidelines limit the early hiring of new teachers; however, in general, a later hiring timeline for new teachers is consistent with past trends. While we believe most Fellows will secure a position at the start of the school year, we have created an opportunity for individuals without positions in September to remain in the Fellowship through the fall term.

As the Office of Teacher Recruitment and Quality is helping manage the implementation and targeted lifting of the hiring guidelines, you will have access to real-time information regarding when and where principals can consider new hires.

These restrictions do not impede your ability to continue to network with school hiring representatives and pursue vacancies that may become available at a later date. The Placement Support team will continue to facilitate school-based interviews and you may be invited to networking events. We also encourage you to begin networking with Fellows and connecting with schools. Toward that end, we have recently posted several resources under the ‘Job Search’ tab on My NYCTF, including the Job Search Action Plan, which will keep you on track as you begin to research positions and schools. For more information about the job search process and hiring landscape please refer to the Guide to Becoming a Department of Education Employee.

If you have any questions about the job search or hiring restrictions, please do not hesitate to contact our placement support team at or 718.935.4147.

I thank you again for your continued commitment and interest in the Fellowship and look forward to welcoming you in person on June 15th.


Vicki Bernstein
Executive Director, Office of Teacher Recruitment & Quality

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