Pool teachers not unwanted, just underutilized

Any suggestion we don’t teach is blatantly false

I’VE BEEN AN EDUCATOR IN BOSTON public schools for more than 30 years. I am a high school biology teacher, who holds a graduate degree from Harvard. I spent three years as a new teacher developer, one of 12 chosen from across the school district to mentor first-year educators.

What has kept me motivated over the more than three decades I’ve spent in Boston classrooms is the importance of helping high school students understand the world around them. My whole career has been about making schools better for underserved kids.

I am also one of those so-called “unwanted” teachers that have been vilified over the past months, first by anti-public education groups and then by select media outlets. It has been falsely alleged that we “do not teach” – implying we don’t go to work each day serving BPS students. That is blatantly false. All pool teachers go to work each day on temporary assignment. In fact, school principals must bid and compete to retain teachers on temporary assignment because we are heavily in demand. We go to work like every other teacher, guidance counselor, or school nurse. The only difference is we are not on long-term assignment to a specific school.

This fall, members of the Boston Teachers Union ratified a new two-year agreement with the district. During negotiations, we fought for and won important gains for our students and their families. Some used this as a moment to mischaracterize those of us on temporary assignment by promoting a false narrative that we are being paid while not teaching.

The truth is we are experienced, working teachers who have found ourselves without a permanent school assignment despite being qualified and achieving proficient evaluations or better. For some, it was a lack of open positions after returning from maternity leave. Others end up on temporary assignment due to budget cuts or school “takeovers” that indiscriminately put teachers in the pool regardless of their performance.

Before becoming a temporary assignment pool teacher, I spent seven years teaching biology at Brighton High School. Brighton had three different principals during my time there. Chronic under-investment was compounded by budget cuts. Hands-on learning in science classes like biology was out of reach for many Brighton students, because the money just wasn’t there for equipment. For example, the one sink I had in the classroom could not be used because it drained into the history teacher’s second floor classroom.

Many Brighton students faced steep odds when it came to academic success, even though they worked hard. There was no shortage of challenges, but there were also plenty of dedicated teachers. When Brighton was targeted for state takeover for being underperforming, every teacher — including me — went into the temporary assignment pool, regardless of our performance reviews or success as teachers prior to arriving at the underperforming school.

At 64 years old, I am now on temporary assignment and seeking a long-term assignment. Purely because of my age, I may be less appealing to administrators than a mid-career teacher who could spend a decade or more in their school. A number of older “pool teachers” face this same predicament: being stranded by a temporary assignment system that does not place adequate value on our experience. I know administrators look at my age and wonder how long I’ll be there. In one interview, I was asked how long I expect to continue working. Qualified teachers like me are not alone in facing this kind of illegal age discrimination in the workplace.

I am currently teaching on temporary assignment, as all “pool” teachers do. I am assigned to a great and caring school, Urban Science Academy. I’ve been lucky that our principal saw the value of my years of experience and carved out classes for me. I have a full plate and contribute to the school, teaching students the subject matter that I know and love. It is insulting to me when the media falsely reports that those of us who are on temporary assignment are “not teaching.”

Meet the Author

Garret Virchick

Teacher, Boston Public Schools
Like so many of my fellow temporarily assigned teachers, I’m committed to educating and empowering students, and finding the best ways to support my school, regardless of where I find myself next year. Teachers on temporary assignment are not unwanted; we are underutilized.

Garret Virchick has been a teacher for more than 30 years in the Boston Public Schools.