While I'm upset to learn that teachers don't expect anything more from their union than a raise worth just a few percent, there are certain parts of the new UFT contract that I actually like and am looking forward to seeing once it is (probably) ratified today. These are qualified acknowledgements, and I'll try to qualify each one of them the best way I can, but they're acknowledgements nonetheless. Today, I'll take a look at the $5,000 differential for working in hard-to-staff schools
That differential, which pays $5,000 to teachers who continue to work in "hard to staff schools" addresses a problem that has been a part of NYC schools for a very long time. It is a fact of NYC education that young teachers, who have not yet learned their craft, start out in "difficult" schools and, as they learn, move on to 'easier' schools (I remember being a bit startled when Podair mentioned it as a problem way back in the 1960s). This leaves the "difficult" schools in a perpetual state of instability as they staff their classrooms. Teachers are the backbone of any school and if that backbone is constantly changing and in a continued state of 'not yet ready for prime time' (as many young teachers are), any hope for the stability of the school evaporates.
The solution to this over the past decade has been to recruit "microwave teachers" from TFA or the Teaching Fellows program. That these folks stick around for a year or two, then leave, has actually made the problem much much worse as it has institutionalized the instability instead of taking it away.
The sad thing is that these schools typically serve some of the students with the highest potential for success that our city has. Some of them may require greater academic attention than others, but that academic attention will never occur if these students proceed through twelve years of public schooling in a perpetual state of learning from brand new teachers. This dilemma of staffing schools will not overcome the effects of poverty or of governmental policies that ignore it. But when the issue is satirized in the Onion with such headlines as, "Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?", any sane person should see that the problem of bringing experienced teachers to students of hard to staff schools must be addressed.
Just to be clear: must-be-addressed.
This stipend for $5,000 is not nearly enough of a differential to fix this enormous issue that our students face. It isn't, for example, enough money for one experienced "super teacher" to go into an environment that, at first, may not possess the most ideal teaching conditions. It may, however, be enough for teachers who currently teach in these schools, teachers who would otherwise be moving on when their skills develop (and who currently are) to do something they've never done before: Not leave. That process alone -not leaving- might be enough for a core group of young teachers to grow in that environment and give the school the chance it needs. As they mature and develop the stability that more experienced teachers have, the school culture will grow and mature with them. And being part of a school culture that knows how to create a positive environment for children is of great benefit to them.
Bottom line: The $5,000 differential, which pays some teachers more money to work in some schools, is not a solution. But it does, finally, address a problem and may, in fact, be a game changer.