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Thursday, July 28, 2011

An ATR teacher ponders weekly reassignment

It has been reported widely that members of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) will be shifted from school to school this coming year as often as every week.  

Our contributor, Life in Limbo, considers the effect this new policy might have on herself, her family, and her career.  As usual, NYCATR has highlighted the points that are especially interesting, outrageous, or pathetic.

If I am still an ATR teacher in September, I will have to deal with this new, week-to-week assignment situation resulting from the new ATR agreement. This will, in all likelihood, become a childcare nightmare for my husband and me. My husband works an overnight shift, from which he gets home at about 6:45 in the morning. If I am sent to a school in the far reaches of my quite extensive district, these assignments may very well force me to leave my three young kids (10, 8, and 5) alone in the house in the mornings in order to make it to work on time. I have no family in the area who can help out and my neighbors also work. No one will want to take a babysitting job that is not consistent week-to-week and is only for a half hour or so at the most, and I am not sure we could afford a babysitter right now. 

On days when I am assigned to a far-flung school, my children will DEFINITELY be left alone if the weather is inclement--my husband will be getting home later while I have to leave earlier due to driving conditions. In addition, I get very nervous and stressed when I am going to an unfamiliar location and like to do a trial run before driving there by myself. This will be next to impossible when I am only given a day or two's notice of my new location. Ironically, as a per diem sub, I could refuse a job if it was too far away or too difficult to get to, so it seems that even the per diem people have more rights than I do.

I will face the same issues on the way home--I am not sure how to set up my kids' after-school activities since I have no idea what time I'll be home from one week to another. Deciding if a 4:00 Girl Scout meeting or 4:30 dance class is doable will be virtually impossible as my work hours and commute time will change weekly. In addition, scheduling doctors' appointments and other necessities (haircuts? manicures?) will also be an adventure. Some appointments must be made weeks in advance and I just will not be sure of being able to keep it. And again, do I consider the expense of a sitter to drive my kids around, or just tell my kids that there will be no more piano, dance, Scouts, etc. because we don't know if we can get you there? And would paying the sitter leave no money for activities anyway?

Now let's get one thing straight. I understand that I am "lucky to have a job at all" in this economy, especially one that pays decently and comes with good benefits. I understand that in other districts, excessed means no paycheck at all. I also understand that there are many who are facing more dire situations than I am. But the situation I am facing is a serious one for me and my family, and I am sure I am not the only member of the ATR pool who is facing the potential dismantling of his/her home life. This ATR situation has already stressed my marriage, my children, and my emotional well-being enormously. My family and I have paid dearly already. It's hard when all Mom does is worry about work and when the other shoe is going to drop, so to speak. So while I realize that there are many in worse situations than mine, I must maintain that this situation is pretty crappy, too, and has the "bonus" of not only making me miserable, but also spilling over into my family's life.

Life in Limbo: Random Musings from an ATR teacher

NYCATR is proud to introduce a new contributor; she wishes to be known as Life in Limbo, a most fitting name for a member of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).  Below is Ms. Limbo's first offering; NYCATR has taken the liberty of highlighting some  points that are especially interesting, outrageous, or pathetic.

Having just finished my second year in the ATR pool, the new ATR agreement and the possibility of yet a third year have been weighing heavily on my mind. 

I was excessed in June of the 08-09 school year when the middle school I was at eliminated the entire Reading department. Four of us were excessed. One switched to her ELA license for a year and retired, the other two are still in limbo along with me. 

My first year in the ATR pool found me sent to an elementary school, despite the fact that I have NEVER worked in an elementary school and have NEVER taught below the sixth grade. At this school, I was treated like garbage by the administration, told not to "sniff around like there's a job here because we don't pay for Reading teachers. There are so many excessed that we just get Reading ATRs for free." I was given a first grade class for twelve weeks due to a medical leave, and scolded because I did not look "happy" enough for the principal. (I prefer students who can tie their own shoes.) I was threatened with charges of corporal punishment because I asked a child who had returned from the bathroom ten minutes ago to wait until my read-aloud was finished to go again (he had agreed). 

When my mother-in-law passed away that spring, I was criticized on the phone for taking all of my bereavement time (“You know, you are a sub and you are here to save us money, not cost us money," and upon my return, was told, “Welcome back from your vacation. Here’s your class.” Not a single word of sympathy, not to mention a card, was forthcoming. 

This year, I was sent to a middle school relatively close to my appointed school and was treated quite well. They saw that I had been a testing coordinator and made use of my abilities in that area, and I was assigned a full schedule of AIS groups and English classes to teach. The only thing I never had was a desk, file cabinet, or place to secure my bag, so I carried all my stuff with me from room to room. I was told I didn't need a desk, cart, or cabinet because I was "just a sub."  I adapted, however, (I can now teach an entire day out of a pocket folder) and must say that it was an overall good year.  I liked the staff and students and the administration treated me well. I was given work I enjoyed and a predictable schedule. There was a reason to get up every day beyond simply earning a check. 

This school is making indications that they would like to keep me on, albeit under my ELA certification, under which I have never worked. I taught ELA in Catholic schools for 7 years but came to public schools as a Reading teacher. I just finished my fourth year in my current appointment, and have been tenured for a year. So now I am facing the possibility of another probationary period in this current climate of tenure denials and extensions. 

I have sought advice from several UFT people in various offices and have received mixed responses. Some say to make the change because Reading licenses are "dead" and I'll never find a position under that license. Others say that I am more secure as a tenured Reading ATR than as an ELA probationer. I have been told that, should I be discontinued under the ELA, that the Reading tenure would automatically keep me working, albeit as an ATR again. I have also been told that upon discontinuance of the ELA position, I could only revert back to my Reading IF I found a Reading position (about which I am told by the same union that there are none). I get a different answer every time and am not sure if I want to be the guinea pig on which these theories are tested.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Breaking News: An ATR teacher finds a job!

An ATR teacher we know has found a permanent teaching position in the New York City public schools.  

This teacher had been a member of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) since he was excessed from his original school in September, 2008.  In his three years of exile, he did what many others have done:

*he attended numerous job fairs, few of which had any openings in his license area;
*he applied for hundreds of positions on the DOE's online Open Market Hiring System;
*he was interviewed tens of times, often for positions that would have required him to switch to a different license area and return to probation; 
*he served as a substitute in three different schools, usually receiving little or no support from administration, but always receiving a Satisfactory rating at the end of the school year;
*he cringed whenever the Mayor or the Chancellor threatened to fire all the ATRs;
*he worried that this coming year, 2011-2012, he might be shifted from school to school on a weekly basis.

This particular teacher recently had the good fortune to find a regular position.  It is in a location that will necessitate considerable commuting, and it is in a special program that some would consider undesirable.

Nonetheless, this teacher is thrilled and grateful to have found a position.  He is none other than yours truly, the one who goes by the aliases NYCATR, brooklynatr, and Joseph Moses.

For the moment, he plans to continue this blog, but he needs help.  He will no longer be on the ATR front line.  He needs ATRs to contribute by email (at and by comments to the blog.  

Anyone out there??


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Out of the mouths of babes: the right way to refer to a member of the ATR

So what should you call me?  A blogger named Bronx Classroom Tales, who admits to being young and naive, has found the answer. In a perceptive and well-written article, BCT refers to a certain woman as "an ATR teacher."  Magnifique!  We are teachers, of a certain type.  There are math teachers, social studies teachers, and there are ATR teachers!  

Just one little word, but how sweet it is. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Action knows the ABCs of the ATR

New Action, a caucus within the UFT, has issued a proposed resolution concerning the members of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR). 

The "be-it-resolved" section of the resolution is rather weak; the strongest proposal is that the UFT should designate a special representative to deal exclusively with ATR issues.

The "whereas" section, however, shows that New Action has done its homework and knows the world of the ATR very well.  Here are some highlights: 

1. "The teachers in the ATR have been subject to a campaign of media vilification, falsely claiming or implying that teachers in the ATR are less able or are bad teachers, and intentionally conflating them with teachers facing disciplinary proceedings."

2. "The teachers in the ATR have been targeted for layoff or termination several times over the last several years, including by the Department of Education during contract negotiations; the anti-union group Educators for Excellence in its seniority reform proposal this spring; and Mayor during his campaign to undo Civil Service law in Albany earlier this spring."

 3. "Teachers in the ATR often are made to feel like outsiders in the schools where they work."

4. "Teachers in the ATR, in too many instances, are forced to perform inappropriate work in the schools where they work."

5.  "Teachers in the ATR, to the extent they are made to feel like outsiders or feel vulnerable to being moved, are often reluctant to seek appropriate relief."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Something beautiful happened yesterday at the Brooklyn Museum

The grand architecture and refined portraits of the Brooklyn Museum's third floor hall served as the setting yesterday for hundreds of job-seeking teachers--and one truth-seeking reporter for, Beth Fertig.  
Ms. Fertig correctly took note that most of the teachers at the DOE-sponsored fair were members (or soon-to-be members) of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).  And unlike many of her colleagues in the media, Ms. Fertig understands what this group is about.

Among Ms. Fertig's well-made points were the following:

1. Teachers do not arrive in the ATR due to poor teaching. Rather, "some were cut by their principals for budget reasons; others taught at schools that were closed."

2. Members of the ATR "remain on the payroll and WORK as substitutes."  Yes, I added the italics and the screaming caps--because so many reporters fail to report this little fact that ATRs WORK.

3. Some ATRs have been "subbing for several years" but have found that "schools didn't want to hire them permanently because of their expensive salaries, or that there weren't enough positions available in their license areas."  

4. The mayor has suggested "putting a time limit on the ATR pool, suggesting teachers who aren't snapped up right away must not be very good."  

5. Ms. Fertig's piece de resistance is a quote from a high-school business teacher who's been an ATR for three years:
"We're treated like we're worthless," she said. "I love teaching."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Absent Teacher Reserve" is a misleading name

Kudos to someone going by the name of 43rd@43rd for pointing out that the name Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) is misleading.

The members of this sorry group are not the ones who are absent; I, for one, have over 40 days in my "bank" of unused sick days and personal days.

Nor are the members of this group being held in reserve.  Are we like a military reserve, working at civilian jobs or lounging at a base while others fight the war?  No, we are out on the front lines of teaching just like all other teachers.  Our only unique feature is that we go to battle with one hand tied behind our back: no schedule, no class lists, no curriculum, no grades with which to motivate, little or no support from administration.  

This coming year, many of us will have our second hand twisted and tied behind our back: we will be moved from school to school on a weekly basis. We won't be absent, but we might be late sometimes, trying to find our way to a new school each week.

At least one part of our name is accurate: TEACHER.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Breaking News: DOE "Busting"; ATRs Pitted Against Per-Diems

An anonymous source has reported to NYCATR that the DOE is "busting" with disappointment that they will still have to pay members of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).

The source also reports that the UFT will ask ATRs to report to them if they see that a per-diem substitute is filling a vacancy rather than an ATR, in violation of the budget agreement recently reached.

"Voice of the People" Strikes Again

Once again, a letter to the editor of the New York Daily News hits the nail on the head.   This time, it's a teacher named Janet Ryan who understands that members of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) are teachers, who could help the DOE "put children first"--if they were given the chance.

Here is Ms. Ryan's letter: 

I am a veteran teacher at Public School 47 in Broad Channel. Last week, our budget was cut by $290,000. My principal announced, with tears in her eyes, that she will need to excess four teachers from an already bare-necessity staff of 15. They will not be laid off, but will go into the district's absent teacher reserve pool and be used as permanent subs. Does this make sense? Just add this money that the education department will be spending anyway, to our school budget. Is there anyone out there who can help us keep our four excellent teachers?