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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Good News, Bad News

DOCTOR: I have some good news and some bad news.

PATIENT: Okay, Doc.  Let me hear the good news first.

DOCTOR: The good news is that your chances for survival are much better than we thought.

PATIENT: That's great, Doc. So what's the bad news?

DOCTOR: The bad news is that you were only seriously ill in the first place because of my poor diagnosis and criminally negligent treatments. 

No, that is not very funny.  But it is an accurate metaphor for a good-news story that appeared in Monday's New York Times SchoolBook.  The Old Gray Lady reported that the number of teachers in the ATR (Absent Teacher Reserve) has fallen to its lowest point in several years. A year ago, there were 1,139 teachers in the ATR; this April, there are only 831.

Both the DOE and the UFT credit the decrease to the agreement, reached last summer, under which ATR teachers are reassigned each week to a different school.  As the Times puts it, "the game of musical chairs" has allowed teachers to meet a wide range of principals, thus exposing them to a larger variety of job opportunities. 

So what's the bad news?  That none of this was necessary.
*It was not necessary to remove so many teachers from their original positions.  Most of them lost their positions because the Mayor decided to close their schools due to poor performance--performance that has much more to do with mayoral neglect than with teacher incompetence.

*It was not necessary to sentence these teachers to the ATR Purgatory. The Collective Bargaining Agreement--signed by the Mayor, the Chancellor, and the UFT--stipulates that teachers in excess "must be placed in vacancies within [their] district to the fullest degree possible" (see Article 17, Rule 4).  With both class sizes and teacher attrition rates rising rapidly, the DOE (and its frequent accomplice, the UFT) could have killed three birds with one stone by placing the vast majority of excessed teachers in vacancies within their districts.  

*It was not necessary to subject teachers to the indignity of weekly reassignment in order to acquaint them with a wide range of principals.  The DOE could have relied on the job fairs that it held for several years, and it could have made them meaningful for experienced, excessed teachers.  Instead, those who attended these fairs saw many empty tables that should have been occupied by principals, and many young Teaching Fellows, who should never have had a chance for a job as long as qualified, veteran employees were still looking for positions. 

And so, dear colleagues, we congratulate those of you who have found new positions.  Best wishes for a long and healthy career.  And take our advice: find a better doctor. 

Picture credits:


  1. I so agree with you and next year look for the same thing, except I bet there will be close to 2,000 ATRs with the 24 turnaround schools and the other schools that are closing.

  2. I thought this article was very shallow. They really should speak to some teachers in the ATR pool if they really want to know what is going on with us. Those teachers which were hired, were hired provisionally and we really need to wait to see how many will be held over until next September and get a appointment to a school. My guess is more will return to the ATR pool, retire or quit before getting appointed. I guess the DOE and the UFT have no problem with the weekly assignments. I wish someone would tell us how we are going to get rated at the end of the year. The UFT will of course barely react and get steamrolled when U's or ineffectives are passed out like candy to the ATR teachers in June.

    I have not met many principals in the 24 schools I have visited unless I go to their office and introduce myself. They do not care about who we are and look at us like they would a day-to-day sub. None of the 24 schools have had a vacancy in my subject area. Also, one of the librarians who is an ATR mentioned there are 72 librarians in the pool. Are new libraries being opened up in these new small schools?

    1. If you are an ATR in Brooklyn like me you are being rated by those field supervisors. Right now it's not looking promising.

  3. Additionally, how many of those ATR's left the system, either to an early retirement or quit the system altogether? I know of ATR's who just could not take the weekly commute, the insecurity, the lack of real teaching situations, the abuse, the horror of facing students who have had no real teacher for weeks or months and take it out on the ATR (the flavor of the week). So I question the numbers.

  4. an ATR and Im under provisional contract. Back to ATR starting June. There will be many more ATRS next year when all these turnaround schools dump teachers

  5. I just had my formal observation this week. I do not understand how observations are held during a testing week. Also, I want to know how come only Brooklyn is the only borough doing formal observations? Field supervisors in other boroughs are not doing formal observations. This is not fair. I feel like the DOE has it out for Brooklyn ATR’s.

    1. There are no field supervisors in any other borough. Just Brooklyn. We get rated and the other borough ATRs get no visits no observations and satisfactory ratings