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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ATR teacher researches animal intelligence

Look! Nimbler than a chimp! Stronger than an elephant! Stealthier than a rat!  It's NYCATR's Philip Nobile, reporting from Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn.

The magical ATR algorithm carried me to Boys and Girls High School in Bedford Stuyvesant last week. With 2000-plus students, a 44% graduation rate, 73% attendance, 83% of 9th graders reading below level in 2010, and an F on its 2010-11 report card (down from a C) B & G is on the verge of a breakdown, perhaps too big not to fail in the narrow eyes of the DOE. 

It is unfair to rate the school from just five days in an abandoned Special Ed Bio Skills class, but here I go: F for fiasco. 

The students told me that their original teacher moved to a different section of the school at the beginning of the marking period. Since then it’s been sub after sub (maybe ATR after ATR) with no quizzes, tests, homework, or grades. 

Ms. Bozeman, an “academic community” supervisor, met me on my arrival Monday morning and escorted me to a large, unadorned, windowless room on the fourth floor with a blackboard instead of a whiteboard or smartboard, the sort of place that says when money is short black special ed kids take the worst hit. I asked her for lesson materials. She said that she would bring me some, but she never came back. 

On Tuesday, I tried to get my hands on lessons before school started. No luck again. The office that Ms. Bozeman shared with an A.P. named Ms. Williams was locked. 

On Wednesday, both women were in early. Ms. Bozeman introduced me to Ms. Williams who seemed unaware that I was covering the class. I requested a lesson for the second time. Nothing was ready, but Ms. Bozeman soon dropped off a clutch of stapled worksheets. When I passed them out, the kids complained they had done them before. Sure enough, on top of a file cabinet I found a bunch of the same set filled in by the same students from the previous week. Apparently, Ms. Bozeman neither bothered to collect this classwork, nor did she make a single inquiry about what I was teaching or how the students were doing. 

In this festering anti-learning environment, the discipline code was strangled by an endless loop of obscenities, harassment, fighting, bullying, insubordination and music from smuggled-in, aluminum wrapped iPods. The F-word, N-word, and the S-my-D imperative, even from girls, dominated the nonstop chatter. Several girls in one class wore revealing tops and some occasionally fondled themselves. A fiercely oppositional boy who called me “whitey” and “asshole” resisted removal by two aides, Ms. Bozeman, and Ms. Williams, relenting only when a security agent appeared. 

As a sub, I had almost no control over the mayhem and hesitated to intervene physically. The last time I broke up a fight at Cobble Hill High School I was framed by an emotionally disturbed special ed boy, his lying para, a hostile principal and a sleazy OSI investigator. Consequently, I spent three years in the rubber room before gaining a pro se acquittal on corporal punishment. (NYSUT refused to defend me because I insisted on accusing the investigator of corruption.) 

On Thursday, despairing of help from my ostensible supervisors, I improvised a lesson plan drawn from PBS Nature and NOVA programs: 
AIM: Are animals intelligent?
Do Now: List the three smartest animals you can think of.
Activity: Explain why these animals are smart. 
Next, I presented and the class discussed the 10 most intelligent animals followed by a mnemonic device to test their memory of the list.

The results were very mixed, but my engagement reduced the tension and related nonsense. Two boys who paid attention succeeded in repeating the 10 animals in precise order: chimp, dolphin, orangutan, elephant, crow, pig, squirrel, pigeon, octopus, rat. 

Since Friday was the final day of the marking period, the kids requested a movie. Why not, I thought. On Thursday night I found a suitable sequel to the day’s lesson--a documentary about exotic pets in the U.S. titled "The Elephant in the Living Room." On Friday morning I sought Ms. Bozeman’s approval, but once more, neither she nor Ms. Williams was around. To my delight, the first period class became engrossed and watched the film without a peep. 

But before showing the film on my laptop, I decided to send a message to B & G’s administration via student evaluations of the course, which received four Fs and two generous C-pluses in the 1st period. Herewith the verbatim replies: 

►What I learned in this marking period in this class was nothing. The reason I say nothing is because we always have a different teacher every week as we never have time to learn anything. This class to me is an F. If we have a teacher that would stay for the whole six week of the marking period maybe I could learn something. 

►F: What I learned this marking period was nothing because every week my class and I have a different teacher. So its actually possible we have no time in learning. 

►F: The last six weeks in this class I learning same thing from diffent teachers but I have to say I still learnd nothing because they teach us nothing that have nothing to do with scince. 

► I only learned about the 10 smartest animals and my grade is an F bcuz I only came here this week. 

► C+: What I’ve learned semester in this particular science course is the different kind of cells and functions. I’m able to identify the differ type of organs and put them from least to greatest. 

► C+: What I learned in this science class is the organs and functions. I also learned the different between them to organ. Now when somebody ask me what the different I will have the answer for them. 

A family emergency forced me to leave the school after 1st period. In my rush I did not have time to hand in the short-circuited evaluations. But I will email this post to Principal Bernard Gassaway, whose title includes “Chief Child Advocate.” 

Since ATRs have almost nothing to lose, we should consider rating our weekly assignments as a service to the DOE.

Photo credit:


  1. What a shame! I think I will save my sick days for when I am sent to this school! Disgusting!~ Do you if any other ATRS were there?

  2. sounds like the school that I was at last week. 4 ATRs have been paraded before a 3 sections of sophomore English! The kids have learned nothing and by now they are completely out of control. I sure wouldn't want to be their permanent teacher at this point. The kids have no reason to trust that they will ever have a permanent teacher. Hey its only English. What a great example of the DOE policy of Children First. On a side note many many schools are covering up their vacancies by making teachers teach 6 classes. 3 classes in a subject = a program. Once again the ATRs are being screwed and ignored.

  3. Good idea. I strongly support grading the schools.

  4. Great post. This crap is happening all over the city.

    Education Mayor = BS. Ten years of closing schools and destructive, child-abusing policies. And, the moronic editorial board at the Daily News states, "there is more work to do".


  5. Great piece. Clearly this ATR plan is benefiting kids no more than it benefits teachers. The sheer idiocy of this plan boggles the mind, and this piece shows that better than most.

  6. Im in the In house suspension room at my school all day long

  7. ditto for me...we are just fill in staff...use where needed. when money is tight pay the most to do less? Bloomie thought this was a good idea? hard times...they want us to go rather than teach...makes no sense.

  8. Great idea Philip. Keep doing this rating stuff and they will send you to the top schools to keep you quiet.

    This is a golden opportunity for ATRs to fight back by exposing the shams that go on. With so many ATRs reporting from so many schools we have a chance to expose the DOE for what they have done.

    We will be moving on to the next steps in organizing ATRs by announcing the next meeting and potential actions within the next few days.

  9. I was stuck in the inhouse detention room last week. Monday was light wait til the end of the week. Is it the School of International Studies in BKLYN??? That school is a joke.

  10. awesome account of the real behind-the-scenes disfunction of the "new and improved" DOE. bernard gassaway was the superintendent of district 79 a few years ago. he is an incompetant *&*(&*&%&. he supposedly retired, but i guess he couldn't stay away from the nice F status paycheck that he so rightfully deserves!

  11. Good work. I also endorse this weekly review of the DOE nonsense. Lesson plans are a joke everywhere and it is difficult to manage a group of kids you just met with nothing relevant to do. Have been lucky so far and had pretty good experiences in the 4 schools I have visited. Next week to Leadership and Public Service on Trinity so I can hang out all week with the OWS crowd.