With Teacher Stipend Program in Full Swing, Some Say No Thanks

For New Haven teacher Leslie Blatteau, pulling extra hours-to meet with colleagues about curriculum and provide additional support for her students-after the final bell rings is business as usual.

As the district continues to roll out the $54 million it will receive in Teacher Incentive Fund grant money-for stipends of up to $5,000 for teachers that take on tasks such as tutoring and facilitating professional development- she and other educators feel that the “business” part of that phrasing is becoming overly emphasized.

“It implies that teachers don’t already do extra, and that we have to be paid to do it,” Blatteau said during a phone interview. “Today I did more than twenty letters of recommendation for seniors going into college. How are you going to commodify that? I’ve worked with the student council-how do you commodify that?”

That’s what at least 31 people-those who signed a Change.org petition that began circulating weeks ago pledging to not apply for the Teacher Incentive Fund stipends-want to know.

“There are hundreds of teachers who already willingly give their time and energy after school,” wrote New Haven teacher Jennifer Drury on the comment thread. “Financial incentives will diminish that. People will eventually come to believe, ‘well, they don’t pay me to stay after school’ and they will stop staying after school.”

The total amount offered to New Haven by the grant money will cover a 5-year period, with teachers just starting to receive partial $2500 stipends that will double next year, according to Justin Boucher, who supervises 52 new teacher facilitators that cover focus areas ranging from English Language Learners, (ELL) to classroom management. Other positions include curriculum facilitator and “super tutors”. An open proposal process, which allows teachers to suggest and/or apply for roles that they come up with, is expected to expand the program even more, Boucher said. The district currently has more than 100 applications for this area alone.

“There’s been an overwhelmingly positive response,” Boucher said during a phone interview. “The teachers have appreciated the extra training for their careers.”

That’s another area where opinions have differed-those turned off by the stipend program have said that it paints teaching as a stepping stone.

“We must not be swayed by the “lucrative” opportunities for “upward-mobility”,” Drury wrote. “Teaching is not a step to something good-teaching is good. We must reject the idea that teaching is the bottom-that there are higher rungs on the ladder. And we must reject the notion that teachers are in it for the money.”

But Boucher has a different take. Dissenters like Drury are right about teaching, and that’s the whole focus of the program, he said.

“The mission is to support classroom teachers continuing to teach,” Boucher said. “Historically the way to advance your career has been to move into leadership roles, when they would rather be in the classroom.”

The stipend program was first proposed by the Career Trajectories Committee, a subcommittee of the Talent Council-composed of both teachers and administrators-according to Boucher.

“I think I understand,” he said regarding opposition to the initiative. “I don’t necessarily agree with every part of it. There are a lot of teachers that feel it’s [teaching] an end to itself, and that it should be a value on its own, and for my part I agree with that. [But] the philosophy behind the grant is there needs to be an opportunity to interact with the entire system.”

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