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Saturday, September 29, 2012


NYC ATRs, Stand up together!

Learn about the DOE's myths about the ATRs and the realities about the ATRs. Share ideas on surviving the process.
Discuss bridging the gap between the status quo
and what action we can take together to change our situation.

Come to the GEM/ATR Committee's general meeting: Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 5:00 p.m.
at the Skylight Diner (meet in the back)
402 W. 34th Street and 9th Avenue.
Please RSVP to

Monday, September 24, 2012

What's worse: the Rubber Room or the ATR?

Our resident gadfly, Philip Nobile, sent the following email to Amy Arundel, who is the UFT's liason to the teachers of the ATR.  To the best of our knowledge, Ms. Arundel has not yet replied.  

Tom Bennett, my Brooklyn District Representative, told me that ATRs must perform any duties that regular teachers perform. Since C-6 assignments vary from school to school, it’s hard to know whether some ATR orders violate the contract. 

Chaz’s current blog post on ATRs had this comment from an ATR:
If a principal tells me to answer phone -file - copy or do cafeteria duty, I politely say NO and that I will grieve immediately. Then I go back to the teacher's room and take out my book. It has worked every time because it is the LAW! Atrs are letting themselves be abused even more than we are!! Don't let them abuse you - just say no.
Do you agree? 

An admirable chapter leader further commented on how he/she protects ATRs: 

I'm a chapter leader in a small school in the Bronx. One thing that I make sure is to inform the members, even the ATRs, of their rights. I check the ATRs' program to ensure that none of their rights are violated. When the rotation of ATRs begin in October, I speak to the ATR(s) and tell them about their prep, lunch and professional periods. If I see something wrong, I immediately go to administration to have it corrected. It is the responsibility of the chapter leader to protect the members. I don't know how chapter leaders do it in a large comprehensive school, but in a small school there should be no excuse from the chapter leader.
Bill Kalogeras at Automotive is the only CL who treated me similarly in my travels last year throughout Brooklyn/S.I. Why hasn’t the UFT drawn up an advisory to CLs on how to handle ATRs? Or have I missed it?

In the good old days of rubber rooms, we not only had elected reps (liaisons) and monthly meetings at 52 Broadway, but Randi produced a brochure on our rights. 

Can you explain why ATRs in good standing get less respect than accused members in the past?


Sunday, September 23, 2012

ATR Predictions

Here are two important predictions about the future of the Absent Teacher Reserve:

1. NY 1 predicts that there will not be a buyout agreement between the DOE and the UFT for ATR teachers.  Read about it here.

2. Chaz, the intrepid publisher of the Chaz's School Daze blog, predicts that the ATR will not be going away any time soon. Click here to read this and other predictions from Chaz's crystal ball . 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Invisible ATR

Here is the latest in the on-going tale of one of our most popular contributors, Dumped ATR. 

Here it is again. I should call myself "Formerly Dumped, now Invisible ATR."

When I was about seven, one of my favorite songs was the goofy, "Monster Mash." Between that song and daily doses of "The Count" on Sesame Street, I perfected a cheesy Dracula voice that I used at birthday parties and recess. Who knew that some fifty years later, I'd become a true denizen of the after-life--a veritable ghost.

At the school to which I have been assigned, there was a vacancy in my very own subject area. There are two of us ATR's at the school, in fact, who are in this license. The schedule which the "Vacancy" would fill included a very raucous last period class. Since visitations by different persons each day would have opened the doors for these students to be difficult for a whole new unsuspecting person each day, my supervisor decided that one person should cover that class consistently until a teacher was hired. This was said to me--or perhaps across me--as I find it hard to imagine that a person was really looking at me and discussing a job I was qualified for and was soon going to cover, without offering me, at least, a courtesy interview. Since I am a ghost with a license who tends to take visible form as directed, the class was summarily printed on my schedule. 

Actually, they are a bright bunch of kids. Upon advice from a colleague, I decided to take the class as if it were mine. I put the kids in assigned seats, taught my lessons, assigned homework and handed back graded classwork. By day three, we were in a kind of rhythm. I told the supervisor on the second day that I enjoyed the class and explained what my holiday assignment would be. I also mentioned that I would grade it and hoped it would be taken into account in their final grade. At that point, I was informed that a candidate had been selected. When we returned from the four day holiday, a brand new teacher had, in fact, been hired. 

The students in the class are not happy. They don't understand why I'm not their teacher. The new teacher can't handle them. (They are very bright and they can challenge your every move. You just need to be very structured.) Some of them gave their assignment to the new teacher and some to me. I'm trying to find the teacher so we can talk about if it will be considered for their first cycle grades. 

At no point did my supervisors come see me teach. It would have been an easy way to see if I could handle the job--especially as I had to create my own structure. I wouldn't have the benefit of teaching a "demo lesson" in which students might be more courteous because they had been asked to be good hosts to the visiting teacher.

Claude Raines in a scene from a 1933 movie
adaptation of H.G. Wells's novel, The Invisible
It's one thing to say that we are using "fair market" tactics to select teachers, but when you practically treat a person as invisible, there is nothing equitable going on. In the end, the consistency that was necessary until a teacher was hired was abandoned once they brought the new person in--a few days were more important than the semester. The students' interests were as invisible, I think, as I was.

Tables and chairs attend latest ATR job fair

The Washington Heights 
Armory.  Add a few tables and
chairs and it will look just as it
did for the job fair on Sept. 19. 
On September 19th, the DOE threw one of its little shindigs in celebration of the ATR fiasco.  This latest job fair featured tables, chairs, a water fountain, restrooms, and not much else. Thomas Forbes, a veteran NYCATR correspondent, sent in the following:

    Anyone who had a chance to attend the job fair this afternoon saw it was a joke. I would guess only 5 schools showed up.   I even saw one pair from a school get up and leave shortly after 4:30 when they saw what a waste of time it was. I thought I would see people I knew, but I only saw one; not a lot of teachers there, maybe a couple hundred.   
Most everyone I spoke with were new ATR's and were really in the dark. I told all to check ednotesonline and become a member of the GEM/ATR group. I ended up talking with and answering questions from a small group of ATR's. 
As I left, I stopped by the UFT table and spoke with four of our representatives who were sitting there speaking to no one but themselves. As I drilled them softly about Union politics and issues, I was told not be sarcastic by one of them as the conversation progressed. I then ended the conversation and told them I was doing more to inform our members than they were.

A Teacher Reflects after a day of Professional Development

by Joseph Moses

Oh, Lord, let me eat a tasteless hoagie,
Or chomp upon a mildewed stogie,
Or slurp a bowl of overcooked perogie--
Anything, but no more discussions of pedagogy.  


The GEM/ATR Committee will meet TODAY, SEPTEMBER 20, at the Starlight Diner at 402 W 34th St. (SW corner of 9th Avenue), Manhattan, at 5:30 PM.

The committee will address ATRs’ concerns and how to accomplish these goals.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

NYC ATRs send warning to Chicago

The Chicago skyline

Chicago teachers have a new contract that will require the city to "hire back" 50% of any teachers that lose their positions due to school closings; in order to meet the quota, some teachers will be retained as part of a "substitute pool" (see here). In other words, the Windy City will have its very own version of Gotham's Absent Teacher Reserve.  

When the GEM/ATR Committee heard about this, they sent some words of warning to their brothers and sisters in Chicago.  The GEM/ATR communique is must reading for teachers in both cities. 

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Chicago Teachers Union,

The GEM/ATR Committee's advice on how to be vigilant in protecting the integrity of hiring pools:

1. We wish to warn you that, if left unchecked, Chicago Public Schools will probably hire new, inexperienced teachers, from organizations such as Teach for America recruits, instead of teachers from your hiring pool. We are saying this based on our experience in New York City. The administration uses budget formulas which powerfully incentivize principals to hire new teachers instead of the excessed teachers from the closed schools. Our administration then presents the fiction that the excessed teachers are undesirable/unemployable, when in actuality the administration just wants to hire new teachers over older teachers, because they cost less to the schools.

2. Again, from our experience, if there is no enforcement provision and there is no transparency on the issue of hires in your city, your BOE, just like ours, will not fully comply with their agreement. To avoid these problems, there should be a joint committee between the union and a board of education that is supposed to evaluate the actual performance of the agreement (which we supposedly have in N.Y.C.), AND that the results be regularly published so that union members can be informed, in order to mobilize union members to hold board of education leaders accountable.  In New York, ATRs --excessed teachers, are in the dark as to whether the agreement is being enforced. We have just learned through the media that our ranks stand at a record 1,800 teachers in the excess pool. (Just from casual conversations, many of us learn of positions that were open but were not advertised/posted, even though they are supposed to be advertised.) In other words, if you do not have enforcement provisions and consequences for the BOE, they will not fully follow the agreement.

3. Union leaders should be given timely information as to the performance of the agreement.  By timely, we mean specific deadlines upon which specific information is shared (such as the number of excessed teachers, which licenses, number of new hires, the licenses of the excessed teachers, and proof of advertising/posting of every filled position.)

4. If the agreement/contract is not followed by a board of education there should be consequences to the board, such as allowing more input from teachers and parents as to policy decisions. For example teachers picked by the union, or parents picked by PTAs, would be allowed to vote on board of education policy making committees.  To unelected boards of education, we would say: "You should have no fear of getting increased democracy in policy decisions, if you just follow through with the agreement."

In solidarity, the GEM/ATR Committee, of excessed NYC teachers. 

(For full disclosure, we are unrepresented dues-paying members of the United Federation of Teachers.)                             

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

1,800 Teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve

SchoolBook has published a report with some important numbers regarding the ATR, plus a few typical innacuracies and insults.  Notice, for example, how they write about the city trying to "get rid of" teachers in the ATR.  That goes in the category of insult, not inaccuracy, because it is, unfortunately, exactly what the Mayor would like to do with every single teacher in the ATR. 

The last recruitment event of this year’s hiring season takes place Wednesday, as the number of teachers out of work more than doubled to 1,800 over the summer. 

The job fair, at the Armory on the Hudson in Upper Manhattan, is by invitation only and teachers must register in advance. 

Education officials said the pool of teachers looking for permanent positions spiked after approximately 1,000 teachers lost their positions at the end of last school year.

But the city is trying to reduce the annual ATR pool size and ultimately get rid of those teachers who are being paid for full-time work but are not actively looking for jobs, or can’t get hired. Last year there were just 800 excessed teachers on the city payroll, something both education and union officials said was the result of a new system of rotating teachers to different schools each week, giving them more exposure to schools that may want to hire them permanently.

Click here for the complete article. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

GEM/ATR Meeting on September 20

The GEM/ATR Committee will meet at the Starlight Diner at 402 W 34th St. (SW corner of 9th Avenue), Manhattan, at 5:30 PM, on Thursday, September 20, 2012.

The committee will address ATRs’ concerns and how to accomplish these goals.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Curse of the ATR

We thought that we had heard it all, but this one's really novel: a fellow lands in the ATR after being accused by his Principal of trying to put a curse on her.  This new contributor goes by the name of Burn Down the House. 

That I was accused of "putting a curse on" my Principal, which she said while testifying at my 3020a hearing, and that I was accused of therefore having caused her to have two car accidents and of causing her house to burn down, should not be any great surprise. After all, she had no teaching experience, and went straight from being a Parent Coordinator at the district office,  to assistant Principal, and then to the Leadership Academy to become the Principal of a Brooklyn high school.

She, like her cronies--the two assistant Principals who belong to the same sorority--doesn't have the background to see beyond theoretical teaching practices. This triumvirate is totally consumed by teaching jargon and the educational theory du jour.

I say all of this about them not necessarily to judge them to be "bad people." But they don't know any better, and they have been well schooled by Bloomberg and his DOE business pals. In fact, they'd probably say that they are only "doing their jobs," as they understand their jobs to be.

In other words, if the manner in which I "check for understanding" doesn't specifically involve an "exit slip," or having the "scholars" hold up fingers--one to five--to signify understanding; if I simply look at student work, or talk to them, I'm not really "checking for understanding"! The DOE is more interested in appearances than actuality.

Never mind that my students had the highest Regents outcomes for all transfer high schools in the borough, in the subject I teach: Chemistry.

Unfortunately, the DOE, like the UFT, has become too big to fail. Both are self-serving giant machines that are not "aligned" (another favorite buzzword) with truly serving the students. My former principal and her cronies felt so threatened by an experienced teacher of a subject she clearly had no grasp of (by the way, I taught her own daughter in summer school, who then passed the Chem Regents at the end of that summer) who didn't fit into the convenient boxes she'd been fit into at the Leadership Academy, that she seems to believe I actually had the power and ability to "put a curse on her" and to cause her house to burn down. Go figure. 

A scene from the film "Stand and Deliver"
There's so much more I could say, and perhaps I will in a future post, such as this can of worms: How many teachers' standardized test outcomes relate more to students' poor attendance, social promotion, and their own personal impediments to doing homework, showing up to school rested, etc.? Is it really ALL the teachers' fault, if the outcomes "on paper" are not reminiscent of "Stand and Deliver" -- which incidentally took 10 years in real life for the kids in that underperforming school to finally do so well on the AP exams? (The movie makes it look like it only took about a year!)

I am not a "rest on your laurels and pull out the same old tired lesson plans from years ago" teacher! I prepare PowerPoints and SmartBoards, and I practically stand on my head on a daily basis if I think it will cause my students to better understand and apply the concepts. (Never mind that I also had to beg, borrow, and steal from other teachers, to gain access to an out-of-date SmartBoard, while most of the faculty enjoyed the benefits of the school being an "I-Zone" School!)

Bottom line, for now: I just wish I could get out of the ATR pool and get back to teaching the "second-chancers" that I've taught most of my career. I'd gladly work in prisons, suspension centers, or transfer schools, if that's the only regular teaching gig there is for me. In fact, I'd be thrilled to teach kids in these kinds of places, OR in a regular school--whatever regular classroom assignment I could get. Why can't these huge machines, the UFT and the DOE, just allow me to use my talents for what I was hired and trained for over these years, to do what I do best, and what I love to do--teach?

The many layers of bureaucracy make it impossible for even a teacher vindicated from 3020a charges, like myself, to get back on track! Who ever heard of a Board of Education that can't simply assign a teacher to a school (other than as a temporary substitute)?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Old Papa Pedagogue

Back when I was a novice teacher in swaddling clothes, a grizzly veteran sat me down on his knee and taught me a lesson I would never forget. "Little Teacher Boy," he growled, "listen well to Old Papa Pedagogue: When Administration says, 'It's all about putting the children first,' what they really mean is, 'SCREW THE TEACHERS.'" 

Papa Pedagogue's words have always proven true, although I have rarely seen them in print.  Even when this new-fangled internet gizmo came along, and ink went the way of the buggy-whip, one can Google-search for a mighty long time and hardly find an author who states Old Papa's words of truth.

The dry spell is over, however.  That great crusading journal, The Los Angeles Times, has learned that which Old Papa taught me lo those many years ago.  Here's what the Times writes about the Chicago teachers' strike:

The administration can talk about this being all for children, but there's a vested interest in hiring younger, less experienced and thus much less expensive teachers. That might be good for school budgets, but it's not good for the future of the teaching profession or the long-term future of schools. If teachers have no job protection over time, if in fact their very experience counts against them, the job becomes just that -- more a job, less a career. That's not how we attract bright young people to the profession. Layoffs don't necessarily happen because a teacher is bad, and yet those teachers could be permanently out of jobs while principals bring in new people. How much loyalty can teachers have to a system like that?
For the full article, click here

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dumped ATR sings a sad song

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?

Chita Rivera
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.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hardship Travel Update: ATR teachers catch a break

                                                        Philip Nobile reports:

ATR teachers will no longer have to cross the
Verrazano Bridge.
Reversing course, the DOE seems to have ended all ATR travels between Brooklyn (HS District 76) and Staten Island.  According to Brooklyn (BASIS) District Representative Tom Bennett, ATR teachers will be assigned henceforth to schools in their own boroughs. At least one Brooklyn ATR was sent to Staten Island in the August 30 notice, but he got a no-go the following day with a new assignment in Brooklyn.

What is up with the DOE that previously could not have been any meaner about sticking ATRs with these inhumane and totally unnecessary commutes in two escalating grievances last year? Why didn’t Tweed wait for the upcoming arbitration? Did the UFT have any role in the policy shift? Will either party make a public notice? 

Will the new Discipline Code lead to fewer suspensions and more ATRs?

We would guess that most teachers in NYC are not happy about the DOE's recent changes to the Discipline Code.  The new Code will prevent principals from suspending students for many categories of first-time offenses; instead, the offenders will be "treated" with:

                                *"progressive discipline";
                                *"collaborative negotiation";
                                *"restorative approaches"; and
                                *"circle processes" (see here).  

The NY Daily News refers to these techniques as "psychobabble and touch-feely gobbledegook," and we think they've got a point (see also Marc Epstein's kind words in the New York Post about the new policy)

There are some teachers who aren't just unhappy about these changes.  These teachers are positively jittery.  That's because they work for the Alternate Learning Centers, which is where students are taught during their suspensions.  A friend of ours who works at an ALC sent in the following:

Will fewer students be suspended because of the new Discipline Code?  And will that ultimately lead to ALC teachers being excessed and forced into the ATR [Absent Teacher Reserve]?  
This question was raised today at our beginning-of-the-year meeting with Anthony Orzo, the Superintendent of District 88, the citywide district that includes all the ALCs.
Mr. Orzo had a really interesting answer.  He said he thought that suspension numbers would actually go up--because of changes in Special Education policy.  The new policy will force principals to keep Special Ed. students in their zoned schools, where they will be taught in Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classrooms (see here).  In another words, students with academic and emotional difficulties will be taught in the same large groups that everyone else finds themselves in these days.  
Mr. Orzo predicted that many of these children will become frustrated, will act out, and will be suspended.  Bad news for them, but good news for me and my colleagues at the ALCs.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

The NYC DOE's Modus Operandi

How does the New York City Department of Education go about its business? A recent article at the NYC Public School Parents blog reveals the secret:
poor planning, mismanagement, top heavy spending on “network” and “cluster” leaders, and a concurrent disinvestment in actual classroom teachers, as well as an apparent total disinterest in how people on the ground are experiencing their policies...
Click here to read the full article. 

What to do about Hardship Commutes for ATR Teachers

For the teacher who must be mobile,
Here's some advice from Philip Nobile.

Article 18D of the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows grievances for hardship commutes--i.e., one-way travel from home to school via public transportation exceeding 90 minutes.

Unfortunately, the UFT did not put that provision in the ATR agreement. So when I grieved repeated 90+ minute treks from Brooklyn to Staten Island last year, the heartless DOE said tough luck and the Chancellor’s Representative denied at Step 1 and Step 2 (see here).  Showing surprising solidarity, the UFT agreed to take the case to arbitration, which could be months away. 

Pending our sure victory bye-in-bye, you don’t have to lay down and ride out the hardship, especially a six-weeker. Here are some recommended moves that could help.  

►Email Amy Arundell and your District Representative and ask them to call Lawrence Becker, head of Human Resources, requesting a healthier and more humane commute in your case.  Offer Becker, an extreme travel hardliner, a golden bridge of retreat. If Becker says no, you go to the principal. The UFT must get its hands dirty and not leave all the work for us.

►Either the DR or you calls the principal and explains your situation; the principal can overturn your assignment for any reason; maybe he won’t want a tired and possibly resentful teacher in his building. No skin off his nose if you go elsewhere.

►if you prefer less fuss, schmooze the school's ATR person on your circumstances, and say in a nice way that you won’t arrive until second period. At least you won’t lose sleep, the most hateful hardship for me.

Any other suggestions or anecdotes ?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Who said it? (#3)

Time for another round of "Who Said It?"  Here is today's quotation:
"Behind every poor teacher is a poor administrator."

 Who said it?

     a. Michael Mulgrew

     b. a public school principal

     c. Norm Scott

     d. Bill Gates

Click here for the answer.