Jennifer Tiongson won Teacher of the Year for her work in Dickinson High School (DHS) in 2013.
Not only was she an art teacher, but she was the music and art coordinator at DHS, the Jersey City Public Schools art coordinator, and a NJ representative for national Youth Art Month. Suffice it to say, she was one of the good ones. And also, one who got away.
As teachers become increasingly scrutinized, I thought it would be a good idea to speak to some of the teachers who’ve chosen to leave – and find out why.
Here’s what Jennifer Tiongson had to say:
MK: Why did you choose to stop teaching in the JCPS?
I decided to leave the public schools for a number of reasons.
For several years it became harder and harder to focus and accomplish my main job, which was teaching. In 2013, we were told we needed portfolios for our year end observations, which were such a joke because there are only 5 administrators to evaluate 250 staff and teachers 1-3 times per year.
I completed my portfolio for the Danielson and no one ever looked at it. The following year I printed out my Instagram page and said this is what I did this year and I received the same good evaluation.
Then we got a new principal who was from outside our district. I was the first person he issued a warning in writing to because he perceived an email (which I did not know could have tone) as nasty.
I refused to kowtow or be in fear of retribution or poor evaluation. His first evaluation of me was on a Monday morning at 8:30 am. He asked for my lesson plans, but he was not supposed to. I was not required to have the plans until the end of the day because teachers are supposed to prepare them during their prep periods. He wrote that I did not have my lesson plans in my evaluation.
I was also written up for being absent 2.5 days by January. (School year starts in Sept.)
I was never a teacher for the paycheck, and I really did not want to be in any other school in the district, so I technically retired.
MK: What are you doing now?
I took an opportunity offered to me by my daughters private elementary school to teach part-time. I have also spread my wings and started writing educational materials for art supply vendors to supplement my income.
MK: What’s the difference between working in a public versus private school?
The biggest differences are:
- I was told that I was hired because I know what I was teaching and I know what I was doing. I was trusted and treated as a professional instead of trying to constantly prove to administrators that I know what I am talking about and teaching.
- There’s a lack of red tape. If I need supplies, I go to the principal and I am allowed to order instead of going through sixty people and signatures.
- The students are the same except that the discipline and support of teachers in the norm. I only had one administrator in my whole career in the public school who backed me when it came to discipline.
MK: How were you compensated for your work? Were the wages commensurate to your perceived value?
At the private school, I was able to negotiate my own salary, as well as other things as compensation, which I would never have been able to do in public schools. I make less money than I did in the JCPS but my daughter can come to the school for free, and there is so much less bullshit.
Administrators don’t have meetings about nothing because there is a real value placed on the teacher’s time. In the public school, if the contract says 10 monthly after school meetings, that’s what they’re going to do, even if there’s a blizzard outside.
Ironically, I’m clearing only $75 less per paycheck than I was when I was at JCPS making 25K more.
I will continue to have a pension and I still have medical benefits that are better. My union dues (I am part of a lay educators union) are $14 dollars a paycheck.
MK: How important was the financial/compensation to your decision to move?
I still have to work more than one job, but I did that when I taught in public school too. I was a department coordinator, I wrote curriculum in the summer etc.
Jennifer Tiongson has a BFA in painting from Pratt/NJCU, chose the alternate route for teaching through Saint Peter’s University, and is currently getting my MFA in painting.