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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Waiting Game, in which the ATR Teacher Encounters Newly Minted Teaching Fellows

    by Life in Limbo             

That was the lasting impression from this encounter.

During a recent interview, I was asked to wait in an office for a period of time while the principal met with other candidates and her network leader. I hadn’t been reading my book for long before I was joined by two teachers, both looking very eager and excited about the prospect of a teaching position. Both looked to be in their mid-twenties. Naturally, we began talking, as people who are thrust together in a room are wont to do. This in spite of my promise to sit and keep my mouth shut. 

They were completely aghast that I have just completed fourteen years of teaching, nine of these as Reading teacher. The female of the two, whom I will call “New-A," naturally asked where I was currently teaching and what the job was like. I explained that I am an ATR and how I ended up in this position. New-A responded, “Why don’t they just place you in another school? Why do you have to go through all this if they have to pay you anyway? It doesn’t make any sense.” 

I responded with a laugh; “You are working for the DOE, New-A, stop expecting things to make sense.” I went on to explain my real theory that the Open Market is not about placing ATR teachers, but really set up to frustrate them so they quit. The real agenda is to get the senior teachers off the payroll so that they can be replaced with cheap newbies, like, well… like you two. At least until you start making some money. Then they’ll throw you out, too. 

I don’t think they quite believed me. They seemed to be skeptical of the need for a degree in education (New-B said, “As long as you know your subject, you’ll be o.k.”). New-A said, “So many teachers are so bad and they just sit around and stay because they can’t do anything else. If you stay in teaching that long it must be because you can’t do anything else.” 

The conversation then turned to the school at which we were waiting to be interviewed. This school is one of the most troubled in the City. It is the only non-screened school in the area, which means it gets the “leftovers” after the other schools have selected the better students. It is in an area rife with poverty, gang violence, and every other social ill you can imagine. I have friends who teach in other schools in the area who say that this school is where they send the kids who get kicked out of their schools (and their schools ain’t all that great, either). There is little parent support. There has been a parade of principals over the years and most of the kids are functioning at level 1 or at low level 2. The building has a history of being out of control, with constant fights and teachers being assaulted. 

While I liked the new principal we had met with, and think she had the right ideas for beginning to move the building forward, I said to New-A and New-B that I couldn’t IMAGINE coming into a building like this with only five weeks of training. In addition, New-A mentioned that she was “certified” (or whatever newly minted Fellows are) in Special Ed, but was interviewing for a general Social Studies position. With her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. 

Well, New-A, fresh from a well-known college and out of school for a whole six weeks, said, “Well, I feel very confident and well-prepared with the five weeks of training I have gotten. I think the DOE really went out of their way to prepare us for anything and I think I can handle any situation they put me in.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I thought, “Honey, you have NO IDEA.” So I said, “What did they tell you to do if a student grabs your behind?” She looked at me blankly and said, “What? Oh, kids will never do that! I doubt that will happen; I can be pretty tough.” And then she flipped her layered and highlighted blonde hair back and shrugged. She went on to say that if anything like that happened she would go straight to administration and insist that the child be removed immediately and placed in another class. Ok, I thought. Good luck with that. I have a feeling that, if she is hired, that this school will be the first place she will have ever encountered minority people that she doesn’t have to tip. 

New-B, the guy, now chimed in. He said, “I look forward to working in a really tough school. It gives me a chance to be a change agent. I will do whatever it takes to reach these children and break the cycle and help them be successful.” (Images of the Borg from Star Trek flashed before my eyes – he’s been assimilated!!) He was very big on the “opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the kids” and “being a positive role model.” 

I asked New-B, “What if they resist you? I have been in schools like this, and it’s a tall order even with two Master’s degrees and years in classrooms like these. How can you do that with five weeks of training?” He said, “They taught us that the key is planning and keeping it positive and building relationships with the kids. I will make them like me and then I’ll have no problems. Make the learning fun.” 

He went on to say that if it’s too hard, he’ll just finish his Master’s degree and move on to something else as the economy improves. He doesn’t see teaching as a lifetime job, anyway. Maybe teach for a couple years and move up to administration or start a charter company. Nice. 

While I cannot blame New-A and New-B for taking advantage of the Teaching Fellows program, I have to say that it is a slap in the face to all of us, ATR or not, to think five weeks of pedagogical “boot camp” can replace years of experience and multiple college degrees. These two seemed like very nice kids,but they were just that – kids (and no, I am not THAT old). They were so unaware of the issues facing teachers in a City classroom that I feel it is downright cruel to hand these two a classroom key and say, “Go for it!” 

Part of me is concerned for them. The other part wants to start a pool and take bets on how long it will be before they curl into the fetal position, sucking their thumbs in a corner while the kids swing from the light fixtures. I say Thanksgiving. Anyone else in?


  1. I bet Columbus Day!!!!!!!!

  2. Reading about New-B just made me spew chunks.

  3. I'll wager Rosh Hashanah (end of September)!!!

  4. I guess NYC-ATR never was a first year teacher...

  5. Anon 11:58, I was a first year teacher. I just had a degree in education and some supervised teaching under my belt before I was allowed to fly solo in a classroom. And I was certainly not so smug as to think I could do the job from the get-go without the advice and help of teachers who were much more experienced than I. I am forever in debt to those who helped me survive my first few years.

    On another note, given the hiring freeze and the ATR issue (rumors say there are over 2000 teachers without classrooms), there shouldn't be ANY first-year teachers, period. These two shouldn't have been there at all. If five weeks training is good enough for neophytes with no education background to be "certified" to teach in shortage areas, why not offer 5wk of training to ATRs, who have already demonstrated satisfactory teaching skills, and allow the ATRs to fill the shortage area positions?

    I'll tell you why. They don't want us placed. They want us displaced so they can continue to use us as punching bags in the media as they try to overturn seniority rights, and they want us so stressed and frustrated that we quit. Otherwise, training us (or granting waivers -Cathie Black got one to be Chancellor. Certainly that lowered the bar enough that a Reading Teacher can be "waivered" to teach SpEd or ESL. No worse than a newbie Fellow) to fill in areas of need is a no brainer. Heck, it's what's done in the private sector that all these business types love to talk about.

  6. Life in Limbo, thanks for mentioning the issue of waivers to prevent licensing issues. When I was first excessed, I had only one certification, which was Reading; but I had taught 5 straight years as a classroom teacher, always satisfactorily. When the Reading department was downsized, I should have been granted a waiver to continue teaching a classroom. Instead, I was excessed, and spent 3 years looking for a job, with a scarlet letter R on my forehead--R for Reading teacher, for whom there are not more than a handful of openings in the entire city.
    I was 1,000 times more qualified to teach a classroom than Cathie Black was qualified to be Chancellor, but she received a waiver and I did not. Perhaps it's because she's 10,000 times richer than I am?

  7. You know, these TFA/Fellows kids are fed so many lies, which they believe, in the beginning.

    I met some 25 year olds on a Queens subway, who recruit for TFA, and complained to them that their program peddles hubris. Their members are just going to leave after 2 years, well before they have an opportunity to become effective educators. One responded that many stay in education as administrators. AFTER 2 YEARS OF TEACHING, they feel qualified to supervise teachers? Do other countries think this way? Is TFA/the Fellows program imaginable in any other functioning nation-state?

    It all makes sense -- I don't think Michelle Rhee taught for more than three, herself. She's barely 40, herself, and sold as god's gift to the ed world.

  8. I started my teaching career as a NYC Teaching Fellow. The difference I perceived between my self and my colleagues was that I actually wanted to teach as a lifelong career (but had been a sociology major in undergrad). I remember the 5 week bootcamp, and even though I had little classroom experience, I knew it was a bunch of nonsense that would never help me navigate the world I was about to enter. Fast forward six years later: I am still teaching, but now am considered a dinosaur. I am stuck in a school with a witless, vindictive administration but I was unable to find a job through the Open Market ( I think my years of service and union ties are to blame--principals talk!). I wish there was some way to beat some sense into these new TFA/Fellows. You will not always be new and cute. You will not always engage all students. You cannot cure poverty, disinterest, and lack of parenting. You will get older and make more money, thus rendering you useless and "bad." If you only think of this profession as a stepping stone to something "better," then you are wasting our children's time our ATR colleagues' time. Go back to the drawing board. Or go to law school.