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Saturday, April 23, 2011

An Open Letter to (former) Chancellor Black

Dear Chancellor Black,

     Last Tuesday I arrived at school thirteen minutes early. I was greeted by Joe, the teacher who handles coverages. “Hey, Joseph. You're Ms. M. today. Sixth grade.”
     No, I am not a substitute. I am an ATR. The N.Y. Post calls me a “non-teaching” teacher.

     I have ten minutes to prepare for thirty-one sixth graders. Choking on dry Shredded Wheat, I pull out a worksheet on percentages and a book entitled Greek and Roman Medicine.
     At 8 o'clock my class arrives. I know this class well because I am occasionally assigned to assist their teacher, Ms. M. She is one of those passionate young teachers I know you would like to hang on to, Ms. Black. Do you know what Ms. M. says about me? Mr. Moses is a passionate, experienced teacher that the system ought to make better use of.
     I begin with a lesson on converting percentages to decimals and using proportions. By 9:30, we move on to a lesson entitled “What are Statistics?” After defining the term, I read aloud a passage about public baths in ancient Roman; the students take notes. Then they create charts called “Ancient Roman Baths by the Numbers.” They add illustrations. My favorite is by Anisa, a girl in Pakistani garb that is both modest and dazzling. Her illustration shows two pools, one for men, one for women, with just the bathers' smiling faces bobbing above the water.
     After lunch it is time for computers. Some students use their laptops to work on a reading program called Teenbiz; others are researching topics for a non-fiction report.
     Princessa, a girl who mysteriously missed two weeks of school earlier this year, needs help finding information about famous people from Boston. As we examine a page about Paul Revere, Princessa asks if I have a computer and printer at home. I answer “yes” naively, while thinking about what Princessa's home might be like. Before I know it, Princessa has gracefully lassoed me into printing for her a Boston Celtics logo on my home computer.
     My day ends with a lesson on historical fiction. As an example, I make up a little story about George Washington leaving his office to ask Martha what’s for lunch. The students write stories about people visiting the Roman baths in 211 C.E. One story, by Tosha from Guyana, is about Marcus and Calpurnia who meet in the exercise room and fall in love.
     The N.Y. Post says that I am a “non-teaching” teacher whom no principal would trust in front of a blackboard. Today this non-teaching teacher taught math, statistics, reading, art, computers, literature and writing—on ten minutes preparation.
     Believe me, Chancellor Black, I would love to have a class of my own, but the deck has been stacked against me and hundreds of other ATRs.
     Please: Let us contribute. Let us be part of the solution, not an undeserving scapegoat for the problem. Let us teach!

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