A veteran contributor, Dumped ATR, reflects on her first day back to school, and back in the ATR.
Why don't they mention the pain?
When Kander and Ebb wrote the song "Why don't they mention the pain?" for Chita Rivera's autobiographical cabaret act, they were giving a veteran and a star a moment to be both comic and honest about the difficulty of performing even for someone talented and fortunate in her career. It is tremendously ironic for me to invoke this song in discussing the substance of my conversation with other ATR teachers on this first day of school. But, I remember what it felt like to hear this song: to look into Rivera's eyes and feel the physical and spiritual torture that comes from trying to succeed as a dancer.
Five ATR's showed up at a medium-sized high school in Queens. Two of us had done leave-replacements last term--and all of us had filled in for another teacher more than once. We were all in our forties, with over twenty years of experience. We should have been able to get our rooms ready, make copies for the upcoming days' lessons, touch base with colleagues about their summers, etc. Instead, we attended meetings with the faculty who shared their concerns and congratulations. We tried to be helpful and offered our advice too eagerly to people who don't know us in an effort to show our knowledge and usefulness. At lunch, however, we talked about "the pain." The times we expected to be hired and weren't. The school supplies we bought for classes we weren't offered, after all. The many times we blended into the wildness and the chaos of schools in which we didn't know students' names.
The supervisors who made use of our energies, who lent their phone numbers to our lists of references, who were thankful, but did not make us permanent staff, may not have been thinking of us this afternoon. But, we were thinking of them--of their demands, and in some cases, their gall. The supervisor who threatened to put a letter in a file, and then tried to "pull us from the rotation"--use us an ATR for a few weeks without even the dignity of a provisional hire for a leave replacement. The supervisors who went out of their way to try and keep us and couldn't. The students we would probably never see again.
It's especially difficult to have spent a good part of your professional career having tried to make a difference in students' lives, and now find yourself "disappearing" almost as soon as you begin to teach classes of kids. I don't know where most of the students I taught in a leave-replacement two years ago went to college. Principals don't invite you to graduation--they have more pressing things to do, but you still wonder what happened--did the kid who was struggling to pass math ever score above a 75, or is she heading for remedial math in college? If you do find out that the latter is the case, you feel guilty. Of course, other people taught that student after you moved on. But you will never be sure that you got any one part of your lesson right--did the skills stay with that kid in September? People are busy with the kids and demands in front of them, and so are you.
I have managed to stay in touch with some colleagues and that has been wonderful. But, as I went to my assignment today, I missed what I might have shared with the people I worked with last spring as a leave- replacement for someone who is now back. What did they decide to do about that 11th-grade curriculum question? I'm still thinking about it--sure, I've texted back and forth, but I'm way behind the conversation. It's like tweeting to players on a sports team after the regular season is over--they are in their playoffs. The question is no longer the same.
And they know I wish I were there. And that it's painful. But, I mention this for my colleagues who are in pain and who may not be acknowledged by anyone. And for all of us for whom the pain is also cumulative.