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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Report from the Field #2

A teacher named Howie reports:

A word or two on the Teacher Hiring Center application process: Since June I've applied to over 20 schools on line; I've not had a single inquiry from them.  Not one!

Am I employable? At the school I was excessed from in June I was a member of the Inquiry Team, advisor to several clubs, originator of a successful book give-away,  licensed in two different subjects, the initiator of three Advanced Placement classes, had a  passing rate of over 90% on the Global Regents exam, success on the AP exams and described as an excellent teacher repeatedly.

But despite all that, or perhaps because of it, I have not had a single interview since using the system!

Cock-and-Bull on Concessions (CBC)


The Citizens Budget Committee (CBC) is proud that the New York Times called it,  "A prominent organization that studies government finances."  As a person who does math on his fingers and toes, I will have to take the Times at their word.

When it comes to the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), however, I don't take anyone at their word.  I know what it is, because I've been there. 

So when the CBC opined on their website that the recent concessions made by the UFT regarding the ATR are not really concessions, I stopped counting my fingers and quickly applied them to the keyboard to respond.  Here is what I wrote:
I agree that the concessions recently made by the UFT are not terribly severe; on the other hand, it is more than a bit galling of you to ask "What concessions?"

You feel that delaying a sabbatical is not a real concession? What if you had been working for that sabbatical for 14 years? No, a sabbatical is not a perk. It is a contractual provision that a teacher earns a sabbatical after 14 years of work; to delay it for a year is like delaying salary for a year.  And do you really think that after this year the DOE will ever agree to sabbaticals again?

Now, about reducing "restrictions for allowing teachers without classroom assignments to serve as substitutes":  It sounds so benign in the abstract, but so cruel and wasteful in the real world.  First of all, these "teachers without classroom assignments" are in that predicament due to one entity and one entity alone: the DOE.  The DOE has the right and responsibility to place every single one of these ATR teachers in a permanent position, but it has refused to do so.  Instead, it has sent them schlepping around to bogus job fairs where half the principals don't show up,and the other half only want to hire underpaid, undertrained, and underexperienced candidates from Teaching Fellows and Teach for America.

Further, these ATR teachers have already been serving as substitutes, some of them for as many as 5 years.  The concession recently made (not by them, but by the UFT) is that they can be moved from school to school on a weekly basis.  Not really a concession, you say?  Tell me something, CBC: do you work in a different office every week? Do you have to acclimate to a new set of supervisors every week?  Do you have to learn anew where the ladies room is every week?

We are not talking about untested college grads who are trying to break into a profession by working as temps. We are talking about proven, experienced professionals who found themselves in a school that needed to downsize--and because they had the least seniority within a particular area, they were excessed.

You write at the end of your article that you wish to see the ATR abolished. So do I.  This group of approximately 1,900 professionals should be immediately placed in schools where they can do their best to educate the children of New York City.  We could then save the millions of dollars that the DOE has wasted on recruiting newbies and on running pseudo-job fairs for the ATR teachers.

Report from the Field #1

A teacher named Sally reports:

I just was informed yesterday that I am in excess. I was done dirty. They took my classes, put them under a different code and voila...a 16-year veteran teacher is out of a job and a brand new teacher with 2 weeks experience is teaching my classes! It is so frustrating that the union can not or will not do anything to help me. Their answer: the principal is allowed to change the codes of classes. Seems like we have no rights at all! I wish I could leave this system but I am a single mom with a family to support. What to do???

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Interview Tale #3, in Which the ATR Teacher Unwittingly Joins an Encounter Group

by Life in Limbo

Given that I’ve not much on my plate right now other than waiting out a fairly rockin’ storm (with a very nice Merlot) as my children quietly sleep in their beds and friends bunk on my futon, a trip down memory lane seems apropos. 

So let’s travel back in time. 

All the way to June. 

The invitation to this interview came in an e-mail, the day before the actual interview (hey, thanks for the advance notice, guys!). As it was a school that looked promising, both location- and subject-wise, I hastily made plans to have my kids schlepped to their activities without me. Seeing that the e-mail said, “Expect to stay until 5:00,” I tossed an extra yogurt and granola bar in my lunch tote that morning, programmed my GPS for later, and headed off, resumes in hand. 

When I arrived at New World Widget Academy (co-located in Old World High School, which is in the process of phasing-out), we were separated into groups of about 10 and given a tour of the building by some of the staff. What struck me most was that every single staff member (even the administration) looked to be under 30. They were all wearing tank tops, t-shirts, or lanyards with the names of their colleges – Columbia, Fordham, Penn State. 

All the doors of the school were festooned with Ivy League college banners and it was easy to tell the NWWA rooms from the OWHS rooms – the NWWA rooms were freshly painted and equipped with SMART Boards, the OWHS rooms were shabby and equipped with scarred blackboards and (I think) some chalk. The NWWA science labs were chock full of lab equipment and expensive-looking microscopes, but OWHS’s labs looked broken and empty.  My “tour guide” proudly talked about how the NWWA will be taking over more and more of the building as OWHS phases out. She seemed giddy about usurping a school that has a long history in the community. I found it to be profoundly sad. 

After our guided tour, we were brought in to classrooms and given a brief description of the school, its population, and its mission (in NWWA, apparently, EVERYONE poops rainbows and spits butterflies!). Lots of talk about “rigor,” “high expectations” and “data.” Then, after the 10-15 minute speech, she said, ‘If anyone here feels that New World Widget Academy is not a place for them, if they feel that they are not up to the task, this is your time to leave. Please feel free to go now and it will not be held against you.” No one left. What a surprise. 

The next step, we were told, was a group interview. We were brought into a conference room and instructed to sit around a conference table, while three administrators encircled us on the perimeter. As I looked around I saw about 12-15 people, mostly newbies, one obviously newly-excessed veteran teacher, and a few apparent veterans. One of the administrators (all under 35, I would say), said that we would be asked a series of questions and we would go around the table taking turns answering them. 

I was surprised when the questions turned out to me more along the lines of a group therapy session than a job interview. I was asked, “Describe a favorite toy from childhood and tell us what made it so special to you” and “Tell us about a time in your life where you suffered an extreme disappointment and how you overcame it.” My favorite was, “Tell us about a person in your past who had a profound influence in making you the person you are today.” Another was, “Tell us about when someone you love disappointed you in a big way and how you it made you a stronger person.” I felt like I was caught in an impromptu group therapy session. And I didn’t like it one bit. It was also getting near 6p.m. and I was feeling light headed from lack of food, as the yogurt and granola bar were now a distant memory. 

I found this entire process degrading and offensive. I left feeling violated and dirty. I had no idea WHAT these questions had to do with my ability to teach a class, let alone why I had to answer them in front of a group of strangers. If I want to discuss my childhood difficulties, or bare my soul to a group of strangers, I’d hire a therapist, who has a legal obligation to keep her mouth shut. When the question about the “disappointing person in your life” was asked, I was SOOO tempted to have a little fun and make up a story about how my mom was a Valium addict and my dad was a drunk who sent me out to turn tricks when I was 10 so he could buy gin. I even thought about making myself break down and cry – just to see the look on their faces, just for laughs. Seriously, by the time they got to the last question, I was ready to tell them to take their sanctimonious bull **** and shove it where the sun don’t shine. If they had asked one more question, I probably would have. 

The final step in this degrading process was the writing sample. I have been teaching for a total of 14 years, I have a degree in English Literature, I am a published author, I am a certified Literacy Specialist, and I have to turn in a WRITING SAMPLE to “ensure that you can write in a scholarly manner.” The topic was “The Perfect Lesson.” Make me vomit. 

I never heard from that school. Good riddance I say. When I got home, after 7 p.m, I sketched out the basics of this experience to my husband, and asked, “Is that bottle of wine from the other day still around? Because I could really use a glass.” 

“A glass?” he said, “I think you need to finish the bottle.” 

That’s love.

Friday, August 26, 2011


In this age of public confession, I would like to make a confession:
I suffer from hyperlogosensitivity.
In other words, I am overly sensitive to words.  Sticks and stones might break your bones, but it's words that drive me crazy.  Maybe it's the result of my studies that led to degrees in Literature and Reading; or maybe, my hyperlogosensitivity is what attracted me to those wordy fields in the first place.  

In any case, my eyebrows arched up to my receding hairline when I read in the New York Times that the word excessed is "union language."  

Sorry, Ms. Fernanda Santos of the Times, the word excessed is not an invention of the UFT.   The word appears 61 times in a document entititled "Agreement Between the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York and United Federation of Teachers."  

A hyperlogosensitive person such as myself recognizes this as an awkward, bulky title--but also as a title packed with meaning.  It is an agreement between two parties; its content and its wording are just as much the work of Joel I. Klein as they are the work of Randi Weingarten.

And what does this venerable document say about teachers who have been excessed?  Take a look at these provisions (all from Article 17 of said document) and allow NYCATR to provide a bit of explanation:

* "Within the school, district or other organizational unit, the teacher with the least seniority within license will be the first to be excessed."  Teachers are not excessed because they have performed poorly; they are excessed because they have the least seniority within a license area.

* "Teachers in excess...must be placed in vacancies within the district to the fullest degree possible." The burden of finding positions for "teachers in excess" is upon the DOE, not the teacher.     

*  "The central board has the responsibility for placing teachers who are excessed from a school...and cannot be accommodated by their own district/superintendency."  Again, it is the DOE that is obligated to place excessed teachers; it is not the teachers' job to wander about with sheaves of resumes and attempt to sell  themselves. 

* "Unless a principal denies the placement, an excessed teacher will be placed by the Board into a vacancy within his/her district/superintendency.  The Board will place the excessed teacher who is not so placed in an ATR position in the school from which he/she is excessed, or in another school in the same district or superintendency."  The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) is intended to be a last resort for an excessed teacher who cannot find a principal who will agree to hire him or her.

True, a principal has a "right" to deny placement to a particular teacher.  One wonders, however, who is directing principals to deny placement to so many qualified ATR teachers?  One of my former principals once complained that directives from the DOE streamed into her email in-box "by the moment."  Principals do as they are told to do by their superiors.  If the DOE were serious about its contractual obligation to place excessed teachers in permanent positions, they would issue the appropriate directives to the principals, and there would soon be few, if any, teachers left in the ATR.   

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Waiting Game, in which the ATR Teacher Encounters Newly Minted Teaching Fellows

    by Life in Limbo             

That was the lasting impression from this encounter.

During a recent interview, I was asked to wait in an office for a period of time while the principal met with other candidates and her network leader. I hadn’t been reading my book for long before I was joined by two teachers, both looking very eager and excited about the prospect of a teaching position. Both looked to be in their mid-twenties. Naturally, we began talking, as people who are thrust together in a room are wont to do. This in spite of my promise to sit and keep my mouth shut. 

They were completely aghast that I have just completed fourteen years of teaching, nine of these as Reading teacher. The female of the two, whom I will call “New-A," naturally asked where I was currently teaching and what the job was like. I explained that I am an ATR and how I ended up in this position. New-A responded, “Why don’t they just place you in another school? Why do you have to go through all this if they have to pay you anyway? It doesn’t make any sense.” 

I responded with a laugh; “You are working for the DOE, New-A, stop expecting things to make sense.” I went on to explain my real theory that the Open Market is not about placing ATR teachers, but really set up to frustrate them so they quit. The real agenda is to get the senior teachers off the payroll so that they can be replaced with cheap newbies, like, well… like you two. At least until you start making some money. Then they’ll throw you out, too. 

I don’t think they quite believed me. They seemed to be skeptical of the need for a degree in education (New-B said, “As long as you know your subject, you’ll be o.k.”). New-A said, “So many teachers are so bad and they just sit around and stay because they can’t do anything else. If you stay in teaching that long it must be because you can’t do anything else.” 

The conversation then turned to the school at which we were waiting to be interviewed. This school is one of the most troubled in the City. It is the only non-screened school in the area, which means it gets the “leftovers” after the other schools have selected the better students. It is in an area rife with poverty, gang violence, and every other social ill you can imagine. I have friends who teach in other schools in the area who say that this school is where they send the kids who get kicked out of their schools (and their schools ain’t all that great, either). There is little parent support. There has been a parade of principals over the years and most of the kids are functioning at level 1 or at low level 2. The building has a history of being out of control, with constant fights and teachers being assaulted. 

While I liked the new principal we had met with, and think she had the right ideas for beginning to move the building forward, I said to New-A and New-B that I couldn’t IMAGINE coming into a building like this with only five weeks of training. In addition, New-A mentioned that she was “certified” (or whatever newly minted Fellows are) in Special Ed, but was interviewing for a general Social Studies position. With her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. 

Well, New-A, fresh from a well-known college and out of school for a whole six weeks, said, “Well, I feel very confident and well-prepared with the five weeks of training I have gotten. I think the DOE really went out of their way to prepare us for anything and I think I can handle any situation they put me in.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I thought, “Honey, you have NO IDEA.” So I said, “What did they tell you to do if a student grabs your behind?” She looked at me blankly and said, “What? Oh, kids will never do that! I doubt that will happen; I can be pretty tough.” And then she flipped her layered and highlighted blonde hair back and shrugged. She went on to say that if anything like that happened she would go straight to administration and insist that the child be removed immediately and placed in another class. Ok, I thought. Good luck with that. I have a feeling that, if she is hired, that this school will be the first place she will have ever encountered minority people that she doesn’t have to tip. 

New-B, the guy, now chimed in. He said, “I look forward to working in a really tough school. It gives me a chance to be a change agent. I will do whatever it takes to reach these children and break the cycle and help them be successful.” (Images of the Borg from Star Trek flashed before my eyes – he’s been assimilated!!) He was very big on the “opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the kids” and “being a positive role model.” 

I asked New-B, “What if they resist you? I have been in schools like this, and it’s a tall order even with two Master’s degrees and years in classrooms like these. How can you do that with five weeks of training?” He said, “They taught us that the key is planning and keeping it positive and building relationships with the kids. I will make them like me and then I’ll have no problems. Make the learning fun.” 

He went on to say that if it’s too hard, he’ll just finish his Master’s degree and move on to something else as the economy improves. He doesn’t see teaching as a lifetime job, anyway. Maybe teach for a couple years and move up to administration or start a charter company. Nice. 

While I cannot blame New-A and New-B for taking advantage of the Teaching Fellows program, I have to say that it is a slap in the face to all of us, ATR or not, to think five weeks of pedagogical “boot camp” can replace years of experience and multiple college degrees. These two seemed like very nice kids,but they were just that – kids (and no, I am not THAT old). They were so unaware of the issues facing teachers in a City classroom that I feel it is downright cruel to hand these two a classroom key and say, “Go for it!” 

Part of me is concerned for them. The other part wants to start a pool and take bets on how long it will be before they curl into the fetal position, sucking their thumbs in a corner while the kids swing from the light fixtures. I say Thanksgiving. Anyone else in?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pick-Up Lines for ATR Teachers

Before I expand on Ms. Limbo's answer, allow me to take offense at the term "picked up."  Are ATR teachers like hookers waiting to be "picked up" in a hotel lobby?  Or are they like criminals who are "picked up" by the cops?

Members of the ATR are teachers.  They are employed by the DOE, and they have done nothing to justify a termination of their employment.  They are looking for a regular appointment within one  school, where they can use their talents for the benefit of the students.

When the DOE sends an ATR teacher to a school as a substitute, it does so more or less randomly:
*Early Childhood teachers are sent to middle schools;
*Reading teachers are sent to schools that have just closed their    Reading programs; 
*general education teachers are sent to work with a Committee on    Special Education;
*high-school teachers are sent to elementary schools;
*Science teachers are sent to cover for Art teachers;

These haphazard placements are a disservice to the students, and are certainly no help to the ATR teachers who are looking for permanent positions.

*You might be the most wonderful Reading teacher, but the  principal who just excessed all his Reading teachers has no     interest in you;
*you might be a great Science teacher, but your new principal will    never get to know that by watching you struggle to teach art;
*you might be a great Early Childhood specialist, but a total failure    at trying to control a room full of 7th-graders.

These are some of the major reasons that ATR teachers are not often hired by the schools where they substitute. They might want to be "picked up," but they are sent to the dance in ugly-duckling costumes and find themselves hugging the walls.  Anyone who thinks otherwise has never been a member of the Absent Teacher Reserve.  

THE WEEK'S LINKS 8/21-27/2011

* Two Teachers and a Microphone rap Arne Duncan and nominate Diane Ravitch for Secretary of Education.

* 1,040 Teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) as of August 19, 2011.

* A New Approach to School Discipline: Criminal Prosecution.

* Due to budget cuts, a record number of teachers have been in the Absent Teacher Reserve this summer.

* Bloomberg's two-pronged attack on working mothers, at Bloomberg LLP and at the DOE.  New York City Eye

More reports of cheating on standardized tests in NYC.  NY Daily News

Charter schools admit it: they have fewer English Language Learners and fewer children with disabilities.  NY Daily News

The ATR crisis grows, together with class sizes.  Chaz's School Daze

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Interview II, in which My Kids Become a Concern

by Life in Limbo

Well, at least it didn’t last six hours. Nope, this principal managed to get me in and out in less than an hour. I must commend her efficient use of time. (Seriously.) 

This was the second “job fair” related interview I was recently invited to, and on the surface, it seemed like a good fit--the principal was engaging and expressed what appeared to be a genuine interest at the “job fair” and came pretty close to offering me the job on the spot. The school was a new school which required interested students to apply. At the “job fair,” the principal said that she wanted her literacy coach to meet with me before she offered me the position because she doesn’t like to appear to be ignoring the input of her advisers. 

As usual, I arrived at the school about fifteen minutes before my scheduled time and was escorted into the principal’s office shortly thereafter, and introduced to the Literacy Coach.  All was looking good until this principal mentioned that she saw on my resume that I have another skill that she imagined could possibly be the makings of an after-school club or activity. I responded that I would gladly consider this as a per-session assignment and that it would probably be more fun than work. 

Her entire demeanor changed as soon as I said, “per-session.” She said, “Now you know in these times that budgets are tight. I heard you say that you would do this per-session, but I am wondering if you would still be as enthusiastic about this if we could not pay you.” I went on to explain that I already do this activity after school and on weekends and that I am paid when I do. I told her that volunteering my time instead of being paid would impact my availability as I would be hesitant to give up a paying gig only to replace it with an unpaid one--this would be the equivalent of taking a pay cut. Her face froze at that point, and the temperature in the a/c-free room dropped by at least 20 degrees. 

She changed the subject abruptly and asked me, “As the parent of young children, I have to ask if your parenting responsibilities and child care situation would prevent you from being able to fully devote yourself to doing whatever it takes to move this school forward.” (I have no idea how she knew I have kids, though she may have seen my “Happy Mother’s Day” bookmark when she came to greet me. It was a gift from my 10 year-old.) I told her that I have always been able to do my job and get my work done while balancing my outside responsibilities. She pursued the topic, saying that teachers need to be “flexible” about working hours and willing to make the students at her school their first priority at all times, and she wondered how I could commit to that while parenting young children. I reminded her that I have always managed do quality work and that my family situation is really not relevant to the conversation at the moment. (Actually, it’s illegal to ask questions like this in an interview; I was trying to be polite.) 

The next topic was instruction. I was asked to describe a typical lesson. My last school used the Reading/Writing Workshop model. I sketched out the components of the workshop, including an Independent reading activity each day. She looked at me coldly and said, “Well, I guess we can say that we will have to work with you on your rigor. Our students don’t have time at the end of a lesson for any “independent work.” When I said that my last school specifically told us to include independent work in each lesson, she ignored it. Instead, she went on to say that the fact that I included independent work showed a lack of academic rigor on my part and that I would certainly need to be brought up to speed on what it means to have high expectations. (Sounded like she was setting me up for a U-rating right there--“You know Ms. Limbo, I had concerns about your academic rigor when you interviewed…” At the very least it was clear that I could expect a zillion snapshots to assess my “rigor”.) 

Needless to say, I was not surprised to get a phone call from the Literacy coach saying that they found a “better” candidate. Not “more suitable.”  Just “better.” Hey, I have to say she showed a bit of class there. Usually no one calls back. 

I find it curious that everything seemed to be going swimmingly until I hesitated to work after school for free and refused to discuss my child care situation with her. The fact that I knew that she can’t insist that I work for free or ask me about my kids/child care situation clearly ticked her off. 

The bottom line? I have a nagging feeling that I was denied this position because I am hesitant to give up a paid after-school job in order to do the same job at her school for free, and because my role as a parent made me less likely to stay late/arrive early in accordance with her whims. I love teaching, I really do. But I refuse to be anyone’s martyr.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 does my job for me has been kind enough to feature a few NYCATR articles, so we will now repay the favor.  The good folks at Gotham went to a DOE job fair yesterday and filed a golden report about a situation that is pure, putrid tinsel. NYCATR added nought but a bit of colored highlights and an extra link.

Schools are hiring, but veteran teachers say job outlook is grim

With just weeks to find teaching positions before the start of the school year, recent college graduates rubbed shoulders with veteran teachers at a Department of Education job fair yesterday.

New teachers who attended the fair said they are optimistic about their chances of finding a school to hire them, now that the city has relaxed its two-year-old hiring restrictions.

“It’s not as bad as I thought it would be — a lot of my friends have already received offers,” said Arbiana Asani, who is looking for an English teaching position after graduating from Hunter College in June.

But pessimism was the prevailing mood at the fair among experienced teachers whose previous positions were recently eliminated. Those teachers said few jobs were advertised in their license areas and that some principals seemed to balk at the expense that would accompany their years of experience.

Caroline Schulz said she left the job fair with the sense that no schools would be hiring an art teacher so late in the summer. She has twice been excessed from art teaching jobs at a time when more principals are unable to fund full-time arts teachers. This will be her second time entering the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool for teachers whose positions have been eliminated.

“The reasons were definitely the budget cuts,” said Schulz, who has been teaching for close to two decades. “In my experience, it’s always the arts that are hit first.”

Schools received their budgets from the DOE later this year than usual, forcing principals to cut positions over the summer. The department has not yet released information on how many teacher positions were cut.

Mary Smith, a science teacher, said she has scrambled to apply for jobs since she was excessed from a Brooklyn high school in July because she was the least senior teacher on staff. She also attended a job fair in Brooklyn at the beginning of the month. This week’s fair featured schools in the Bronx and Manhattan.

Smith said she got a grim sense of her job prospects from meeting with principals and teachers at both fairs. Some of them, she said, didn’t seem committed to interviewing all of the job candidates available.

“They talked, they were pleasant, but some of them packed up their tables and left by 4 o’clock,” Smith said. She said the job hunt has taken time away from her teaching duties.

“By now, August 16, I should be starting to put my lesson plans together, reviewing the Regents so I know my plan for next year. But I’m in limbo,” Smith said.

One social sciences teacher who asked not to be named said she worried principals viewed her 30 years of teaching experience as a reason not to hire her. “The principals look at our resumes, and when they see the date or how many years we’ve been teaching, they sum up that we cost too much. One looked at my resume and just said, ‘Oh, it looks like you’ve been teaching for a while.’” Meanwhile, she added, “They’re hiring brand new teachers who have never taught, they just got out of college.”

The teacher, who brought a book bag stuffed with portfolios of past students’ work to the job fair to show interviewers, said she was dismayed to find teachers and guidance counselors standing in for principals. “They’re sending a message that it’s not that important to fill whatever position, because the teacher doesn’t have the authority to hire anyone anyway.”

This will be her first year in the ATR pool. She lost her job after her school, M.S. 321 in Manhattan, closed due to poor performance.

Though her salary will not change this year even if she can only find work as a substitute, she said the DOE is not using her to her full potential. “Right now I would be giving my free time to setting up my library in my classroom, and writing introductory letters to parents and students, welcoming them to the school,” she said.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Interview, in which the ATR Teacher Meets One of the New Bureaucrats.

by Life in Limbo

Six hours. 

No, I am not kidding. 

My gift for hyperbole aside, I recently had a job interview that took up six hours of my day. 

This particular interview resulted from my experience at a recent Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) "Job Fair," and, unlike past interviews I have received, it was at a school that is a reasonable commute from my home and for a position that I, theoretically, would enjoy and find a good fit. 

I arrived about fifteen minutes before the scheduled time and was told to wait for the principal. After about half an hour, I was ushered into the office with the principal, the parent coordinator, and a faculty member. We proceeded to have a pleasant conversation and I felt that there was a chance that this could be a workable position – the principal seemed to be experienced and pragmatic (not one of those Leadership Academy sociopaths), and the faculty member and parent coordinator were pleasant, candid, and definitely people I could get along with. 

I was feeling like maybe there was something here and agreed when I was asked to wait a bit to interview with someone from the Children First Network (CFN)--so much for principal’s autonomy. I was placed in an empty office and made myself comfortable with my book. 

I waited in this office for about an hour, after which the principal came in and told me that the CFN person was on his way. Another ten minutes passed and I was told to come back in two hours as the CFN person was going to lunch. So much for the grocery shopping and pool outing I had planned for the afternoon. 

Upon my return, I waited another 20 minutes for the arrival of the CFN Human Resources Director of Talent (one of the new administrative positions recently created). 

This guy was an ignorant jerk. One of his first questions was, "Why have you been at a new school every year?" When I mentioned that this is what happens when you are an ATR teacher, he said, "Oh is that how it works? You go somewhere new every year? Why is that?" I had to explain to this guy what an ATR teacher is, and how the ATR pool works, even though I came to the interview by way of a "job fair" that was STRICTLY FOR ATRs. You’d think he’d have some kind of idea of how candidates were being selected for interviews. 

His next line of questioning focused on why the other two schools I was sent to hadn't picked me up. They didn’t have any vacancies in my area, I answered. His response? "Well, I have to wonder why they didn’t at least ask for you back." I explained that to ask me back would require placing me in a non-existent position, and he responded, "Well, I know that if you are as good as you look on paper that a principal can find a way to keep you."

"So why were you U-rated and made an ATR?" he asked.  I explained that I was never U-rated at any time and that I became an ATR teacher when the Reading department (four of us) at my school was eliminated, due to the fact that the Reading students all PASSED the ELA. He still persisted with, "I have to wonder why you haven’t been called back to your old school or either of the other two." I told him that he was asking me questions I could not answer, but that he was free to call the schools and ask the principals directly. 

He then commended me on my "honesty" and "candor" in being "forthcoming" about my ATR status and not lying or trying to hide my "situation." (As if somehow being an ATR means you did something WRONG.) Finally, he wrapped up with the following: "I have to say I have some concerns. After two years as an ATR, it bothers me that no one has picked you up and makes me think that there MUST be something wrong with you that you haven’t mentioned. It just seems like you are past your ‘sell-by’ date." I was escorted out shortly after by the principal, who had been noticeably quiet throughout my interrogation by the "Talent Coach," with the promise that I "will be hearing from" her. I am not holding my breath. 

Let’s keep in mind that this “Talent Coach” makes at least $81,000/yr and is NOT required to have any teaching experience--the job description specifies HR experience, not teaching or even administration.  The fact that he had no clue what ATR status means, how ATRs are assigned, or how one becomes an ATR is pathetic. On top of that, with all the talk about principal autonomy in hiring, I find it curious that his presence completely SHUT DOWN the principal and, apparently, overturned her decision regarding the position I was interviewing for. 

This charade lasted about six hours–most of it spent waiting–showing that the DOE has no regard for our time, regardless of the fact that I was there on my own time and of my own volition. These people had no qualms about hijacking my entire day, and did not even bother to ask if I had any other responsibilities or commitments later in the day. Apparently, if you are an ATR, you are to make yourself available to administration as they see fit, on their terms, and be prepared to stay until they no longer find you entertaining.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The DOE's OMTS (Open Market Transfer Scam), by Chaz

Really, I shouldn't complain about the Open Market Transfer System, the DOE's online system for helping excessed teachers find vacancies.  I found my job through this system.

So why do I complain?  Because it took over three years for me to find a position; because I had to apply to literally hundreds of positions to find just one; because I know darn well that many of the positions posted on the OMTS were there only for show--the principal really intended to give the the position to some young kid at bargain-basement salary.

I could go on and on, but someone's already done a better job at it than I could.  His name is Chaz, and his angry but accurate appraisal of the Open Market Scam is on his blog, Chaz's School Daze.  Check it out.   

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Job Fair Tale No. 2, in which the ATR teacher doesn't get any cookies

by Life in Limbo

I received an invitation to a job fair for members of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) from the Teacher Hiring “Support” Center (THSC) about a week ago. After I overcame my shock at actually being INVITED to a job fair intended for people just like me, I figured, sure, I’ll go. I mean the “job fair” I attended last week was a complete waste of time and effort, so why not spend another day of my vacation engaged in yet another exercise in futility? My inner masochist could hardly contain herself. 

While this job fair was allegedly for Brooklyn and Queens only, I noticed that there were several schools from the Bronx and Manhattan in attendance as well, with the majority of schools being middle schools and elementary schools. There were very few high schools. 

So here are a few of my thoughts and observations: 

*ATR teachers were given blank sticky name tags on which to write our names and license areas. Teaching Fellows, on the other hand, were given pre-made computer-generated clip-on name tags in little plastic sleeves. Makes it pretty easy to separate the cheap, untenured newbies from the pack, doesn’t it? 

*I was at this fair for about three hours. I only got to speak to FOUR people. The lines for interviews were not particularly long, but the principals were speaking to candidates for 15–20 minutes at a time. I waited on line for an average of ½ hour for each interview, usually with only one or two people ahead of me. If anyone from THSC is listening, maybe a time limit for these meet-and-greets could be set, because I doubt any candidate could have met with more than 4 -5 principals in the four hours of the event. This is unfair. 

*There were MANY empty tables where schools had not shown up and many principals had sent representatives from their network to the fair instead of attending in person or sending an AP or two. 

*As I waited on line, I saw THSC people walking around serving plates of fruit salad and cookies to the interviewers (none of whom had their actual NAMES on their name tags–they just said, “INTERVIEWER”). The candidates, however, were only given access to two small water dispensers located in a far corner of the room. And no one ever brought me any. I just got it myself. 

*Many of the crowd of job-seekers (with the exception of the Teaching Fellows) were experienced, older (read: over 40) teachers and there were MANY Reading teachers seeking non-existent vacancies. I also spoke to math, science, ESL and Special Ed teachers who told me that they have been unable to find positions in spite of applying for many (some up to 100) vacancies. Others told me of vacancies in their license areas that they covered last year only to find that the job was given permanently to a newbie with a connection.

*My most interesting conversation, however, was with a very friendly UFT representative. I wanted to discuss my child care situation if I am sent to a school that requires a commute of over one hour. She suggested that I apply for a "Special Accommodation," which is usually reserved for people with disabilities, but might be worth a shot in my case. In addition, the UFT representative flat out told me that she does not think that they will really send teachers to different schools every week–the logistics of reassigning everyone are too complicated and the principals don’t want an “ATR of the Week” situation any more than the ATRs want to be in that situation. So now I have to wonder if the UFT knows something about this agreement that we “regular” people do not. In light of NYCATR’s post yesterday, I think it is possible. 

The results of this endeavor for your humble blogger? I had four interviews, one  with the school I was excessed from (listing an ELA vacancy). All went very well, with two showing what appeared to be genuine interest. I also received a call this afternoon and have an interview set up at one of the schools on Friday, so maybe it wasn’t an exercise in futility after all. But then, I have been down this road before, so while I will try to be optimistic, my inner pessimist will continue to give the finger to the powers that be who created this horrendous and degrading situation.


To prove my point that NYCATR is pro-UFT, here is a little gem from today's New York Daily News.  It is a letter from a wise woman named Regina Castro, a woman who knows the difference between friend and foe.

UFT is on our side 
Brooklyn: As a city school parent, I dispute the Daily News' contention that teachers unions are a leading force in hindering parental involvement ("Lessons in deception," editorial, Aug. 5). The United Federation of Teachers joined with parents to stop devastating budget cuts to our schools this year. It has worked to secure parent associations in charter schools. And it partnered with parents to reform middle schools in low-income neighborhoods. The leading force in trampling parental involvement is the Department of Education. Whether it's school closings, co-locations or PCBs, the DOE shuts parents out every step of the way.

      Regina Castro

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Is the UFT sugarcoating the new ATR deal?

We recently summarized an official DOE document that gives the nitty-gritty details of the new rules for deployment of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).  
               *click here to see NYCATR's summary

Now, the latest edition of the UFT's newspaper, the New York Teacher, has provided their own summary of the ATR agreement (see page 3 of the August 4th edition)

The problem is that there seems to be a discrepancy between the DOE's version and the UFT's version.  

The DOE says that vacancies created by long-term absences will be covered by ATR teachers on a "trial basis," prior to a school using a per-diem substitute;  a principal may remove an ATR teacher from such a "trial" at any time, at which point a per-diem substitute may be hired.
     *In other words, there is no guarantee that any ATR teacher will ultimately land the long-term assignment.  If, after subjecting an ATR to a trial, the principal still prefers a per-diem  candidate, Ms. Per-Diem gets the gig.

The UFT reports: "Every long-term absence or leave must be filled by an ATR.  Two ATRs must be sent for consideration for placement to any school that has at least one vacancy.  The principal can accept them or not." (Italics added by NYCATR.) 
     *This sounds like the assignment will definitely be given to an ATR teacher; the only question is which of the ATR teachers will win the beauty contest. 

And so, we wonder:
*Did the UFT have access to a DOE document that NYCATR
hasn't seen yet?
*Does the UFT know how to read?
*Is the UFT trying to sugarcoat a lousy deal
that they negotiated for the ATR teachers?

The author of this blog is pro-UFT, but he is an equal-opportunity questioner. Any answers out there?