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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bing's Big Lies

     Jonathan Bing must be a very talented writer--in just two sentences he manages to spread four chunks of misinformation about the Absentee Teacher Reserve (ATR) in our city's public schools.     
     1) Bing writes that the ATR's do not have "permanent jobs." To the extent that any teacher's job is permanent, so are the ATRs' jobs.  They were hired, they did their work satisfactorily, and they were never fired.  What did happen is that they were "excessed," meaning that they were released from a particular school because it needed fewer teachers within a particular license area.  Considering that there are approximately 1,000 public schools in the city who could use these qualified and experienced teachers, one wonders why the D.O.E. has failed to place them in appropriate schools.    
     2) Bing writes: "State law dictates that the city spend $110 million a year" to pay the ATRs.  It is not state law that obligates the city to pay the ATR's their hard-earned salary; it is the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was negotiated and signed by Mayor Bloomberg and former Chancellor Joel Klein.  State law--as well as federal law, common law, and common sense--merely require the city to fulfill its contractual obligations.    
     3) Bing writes that the city must pay the salaries of the ATR's "indefinitely."  Wrong again.  Like all other teachers, ATR's can be terminated if they do not perform acceptably.  They are observed and rated by their principals just like all other teachers.     
     4) The biggest of Bing's Big Lies is that he refers to the ATR's as "teachers who aren't teaching."  ATR's are assigned to schools where they are given  daily or longer-term teaching assignments by their principals.  They usually don't have books, curriculum, class lists, or even a place to hang their coats, but they do have students to teach.    
     I know all of this because I am an ATR.  Mr. Bing could have known all this too, if he had bothered to do a little research.  

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!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lie of the Week Award #2

The second Lie of the Week Award is hereby presented to recently referred to ATRs as "laid off" teachers and as "teachers who lost their jobs."  This is a new one to me, and the people at should be complimented for the originality of their misinformation.
     The last time New York City "laid off" any teachers was in the 1970's, back in the days of "FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD."  What does happen all the time is that teachers are excessed; excessing takes place when a school needs fewer teachers in a given license area than it previously needed. Excessed teachers have not been "fired" or "laid off" because they have not done anything to warrant such action.    
     Excessed teachers may be placed by the Department of Education in any school within their district.  Until a few years ago, that is what the D.O.E. did.  Excessing was no more than a unpleasant bump in a successful teacher's career.         
     Although the D.O.E. still has the right to place excessed teachers within district schools, they have chosen in the past few years to create the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).  Teachers who are excessed become part of the ATR and are assigned to a school temporarily (usually for a year) where they report daily and are assigned to substitute for teachers who are absent.         
     My personal opinion is that this is not the most efficient utilization of talented personnel; it is obvious, however, that ATRs have neither been fired nor laid off, and that they continue to do the work that is expected of them.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lie of the Week Award #1

The Lie of the Week Award is proudly awarded to our "colleagues" of the Educators4Excellence group.  They commit their crime of misinformation in their recently released paper, KEEPING OUR BEST TEACHERS: AN ALTERNATIVE TO SENIORITY-BASED LAYOFFS.

The E-4-E people recommend that members of the Absent Teacher Reserve be among the first to be laid off, because being a member of this group is a "clear indicator" of deficient "teacher performance and student achievement."

Sorry, E-4-E, but it just isn't so.  A teacher can become an ATR in one of two ways:

     a) A school downsizes and must eliminate some staff.   The principal then excesses teachers with the least seniority within a particular license area.  That's how I became an ATR; my school needed to eliminate some staff, and I had the least seniority among the teachers (just two of them) who were working under a Reading license.  I challenge the E-4-E people to find anything in my file about poor teacher performance or student achievement.

     b) A school is closed by the D.O.E., and is then reopened as a collection of smaller schools.  These smaller schools must hire some of their staff from those formerly employed in the building.  Those who are not hired by the new schools become ATRs.  Are these unlucky souls deficient in "teacher performance or student achievement"?  Maybe a few are.  Most of them, however, earn salaries that are too high to be attractive to a principal who is starting a new school with a limited budget. 

Shame, Shame, Shame

    For once, I agree with the New York Post: it really is a shame that Mayor Bloomberg's proposed teacher layoffs would hit hardest at schools in the city's poorest neighborhoods.  
    You know what else is a shame?  It's a shame that an ATR that I know, who has a clean record, has been trying for the last two and a half years to find a permanent position in just about any school in Brooklyn, Queens or lower Manhattan--including in neighborhoods where local residents warned him it might be dangerous for him to work.
     It's a shame that this ATR applied for positions through the Department of Education's Open Market online system but often received no reply--even from schools that must be desperate for good teachers.  
     It's a shame that this ATR spent hours at DOE job fairs with no serious interviews to justify his time.  One principal told him to his face that she was not interested in him--because he was tenured!
     It's a shame that two other principals seemed just about ready to hire this teacher--until they called the Human Resources department and were told to hire someone else; one guesses that they were told to hire someone younger, untenured, and with a lower salary.  
     And yes, it's a shame that this talented ATR may finally get a position at a school in a troubled neighborhood only because a talented younger teacher--with less seniority--might be laid off.  
    I know all about this ATR, because he is me.  I also know that the biggest shame is that Mayor Bloomberg seems more interested in changing the way layoffs are carried out, and less interested in preventing them.

Rubber-Room Escapees?

       On March 12, 2011,  Michael Goodwin became the latest Post columnist to spread misinformation about our schools' Absent Teacher Reserve.  Goodwin wrote that most ATRs escaped 'rubber rooms' only to suck up salary and benefits somewhere else. 
       Mr. Goodwin, I am an ATR.  I have never sat in a rubber room and I do not "suck up" salary and benefits.  I earn my salary and benefits--by teaching.
    Yes, Mr. Goodwin, every day I report to a school where I am assigned classes to teach.  That is what ATRs do--because they are teachers.
     Rubber rooms were for teachers accused of wrongdoing.  The unemployment line is for teachers whose work has been shown to be grossly incompetent.  The Absent Teacher Reserve is for teachers whose original schools needed fewer teachers than previously.  These teachers become ATRs and continue to teach in a different school.
    Believe me, I would prefer to have a "regular" teaching job, but the deck has been stacked against me.  In the meantime, I fulfill my duties as an ATR, which is also a teaching job.