Among the new new-teacher pool: some who sat out job search

A teachers union source surprised me recently by pointing out what the source described as the “dirty little secret” of the Absent Teacher Reserve pool.

The reserve is the group of teachers who will become the main hiring source for principals now that Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has announced a freeze on hiring outside teachers.

It includes teachers who lost their positions at schools that either down-sized or closed, but failed to find new positions, and so remain on the Department of Education’s payroll without holding an official job.

The teachers who remain in the ATR pool are a minority; many teachers who found themselves “excessed” out of schools found new positions quickly, according to a report about the pool. The teachers who did not find new positions seem to be left out for a variety of reasons. Some simply could not get a principal to hire them, despite making major efforts to find jobs. Others remained because they were doing precisely the same job they had been doing before they entered the pool, but, affordably for principals, off of the school’s payroll. (The central Department of Education’s budget covers the salaries of ATR members.)

Another group of teachers, however, the source told me, sat tight in the ATR pool out of a kind of defiance. They simply did not apply for new positions.

The story is supported by figures collected by The New Teacher Project, the nonprofit that hires and trains new teachers and studies teacher job markets around the country. The group found that more than half of ATR teachers who remained without jobs as of December of 2008 had never applied for any jobs through the online Open Market system and never attended a single job fair. That’s 723 out of 1,367 teachers who were in the ATR pool at that time.

Teachers union president Randi Weingarten has emphatically insisted that the members of the ATR pool have been slandered by the Department of Education and The New Teacher Project. At the start of the school year, she organized a press conference with several ATR members who spoke about extensive job searches that turned up nothing.

And in a recent telephone interview, Weingarten told me that not hiring ATR members is a “waste of talent and money.” “A waste of talent and money!” she exclaimed again, for emphasis.