I just received a text, one of those texts/events that marks a "before" and "after" in your life. The text? Here it is.
This text marks another benchmark in the very personal battle to secure tenure and seniority rights for any secondary educator in New York who fills the role of "computer teacher" or "technology facilitator.
In 2011 I was informed by my district that I was being laid off after 11 years of service as a computer teacher, because as a TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment who was tenured English 7-12) I had acquired no seniority time in my tenure area. Unbeknownst to me was that because of a horrible loop hole at NYSED. I did not know that seniority and tenure were different. Most teachers don't unless something like this happens. According to NYSED you must work 40% of your time or more in your tenure area to accrue seniority. But in a confusing twist, NYSED also states that any teacher who possesses appropriate certifications (in my case-a secondary certification) may serve in the role of Educational Technology Specialist or Computer Literacy Teacher.
I was a tenured teacher, in fact there several teachers in my department (English) who had less time than I. I never knew this could even happen. Apparently many of my administrators did not either. We were all stunned, and I was heartbroken, this district was my home, I loved it. (I still do, great people, great district!) I couldn't foresee a life without being there. My second child was only 10 months old when I was notified, and I carried the insurance for the family. I was devastated, confused, sad and ashamed.
One of the things that bothered me the most was the simple fact that it is wrong to engage a teacher in good faith as a TOSA and then claim they have no seniority. It's just wrong, and I know many "Computer Teachers" and "Educational Technology Specialists" who are working out of tenure area, BECAUSE NEW YORK STILL HAS NO TENURE AREA FOR US.
Yes, that's right, most of us work under an academic tenure area, Computer Science often falls under Math, many others of us often work under the "Media" tenure area. There is no tenure area for computer teachers/educational technology specialists. Not to mention the number of us who are also wrongly tenured in the "Technology" (aka: "Shop") area. All of us, (TOSAs) who are aware of this quagmire try to fly under the radar, because if cuts must be made, we could be the first ones to go. That is NOT what tenure was designed for. Two of my colleagues also lost a year of seniority each because they too had been in the computer lab for a year and not in their academic areas of certification.
In my case school districts are left little choice. When faced with millions of dollars to cut out of their already stretched budgets (Thank you Governor Cuomo) a school district will automatically look at the seniority of its staff for cuts. I thought I had eleven years, I was told I had none.
NYSUT came to the rescue (Thank you to all my colleagues who pay dues) My effort to right this wrong went to Commissioner John King, who, I guess was so busy campaigning for the common core that it took him well over a year to read the petition (which I believe he never actually did) and then incorrectly cited areas where it had no merit. In essence, King stated we didn't appeal correctly, which we did, but then again I shouldn't be surprised.
First Win- we appealed the commissioner's decision at the Supreme Court level (which is actually the first level) and won, and it was a beautiful victory. Supreme Court Justice Melkonian strongly ruled that King was wrong, and I did have protected tenure rights. The decision was worded firmly and clearly. My old district appealed, but King did not. The fact that Commissioner King did not appeal is basically a white flag, he was wrong and knew it.
Second Win- Next was at the second appellate division, this proceeding had five justices. It was pretty impressive to watch. I drove to Albany watch my amazing NYSUT lawyer in action. She was clear, articulate and the justices possessed every quality you would want in a person serving in such a role. My impression from the three cases I heard, was that the justices really cared about the teachers being discussed. Their questions to counsel were probing, meaningful and in my mind, just.
The ruling was beautiful
Third and Final Win I learned that most cases never make it to the third appellate division. A lawyer must request a case be heard at the third level and then be approved. Less than 5% of the cases that request a hearing are granted one. I anticipated an appeal to our win and was not disappointed. However, I received word today the request was denied.
It's done, I am still in disbelief, but it is done. The biggest accomplishment? We made really good law! Right now, a person can cite Cronk vs King and use caselaw to protect their seniority rights if they are teaching some aspect of computers like I was, out of tenure area.
I think it would be wise for NYSED to stop pushing the onset of computer based testing until we at least have a tenure area to secure the future of our computer/ educational technology teachers. These are the professionals who are often tasked with staying on the cutting edge of trends, while teaching their own course loads, all while providing professional development to their colleagues. How about we take care of the people who train others, including students, on how to take the computer based tests? Just sayin, cart before the horse and all that.
I am a technology leader, professional developer, teacher, parent and proud owner of an IEP. Let's talk about some fabulous learning experiences.