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Monday, January 30, 2012

Dumped ATR lands a job--and offers encouragement

Dumped ATR, a NYCATR correspondent, recently endured a depressing interview.  But guess what?  She got the job!

Well, I got the job!  Who'da thunk it?

Well, actually, a lot of people. The host of this very blog was one,  Amy Arundell at the UFT was another and a host of good friends.  No doubt, there were still plenty of people who are waiting for the "catch." I do have to sign a provisional agreement saying if this doesn't work out, I will go back to being an ATR.  And a good friend in the ATR pool actually told me to worry that I haven't signed it.  That I might actually not be hired, but be some kind of long-term ATR.  I don't even know if there's such a thing, but it made me worry.  Of course, because everyone is used to new faces coming and going, some people asked, after I introduced myself, if I was at the school, "permanently?"  You can't blame them.  For the most part, I've been welcomed with open arms and supported.  

For the first time in--ever--I'm in a school with a large staff in my department and an actual chairperson.  It's inspiring and daunting.  I have to have long conversations with people when I get home to make it seem real. I've already bought TWO school sweatshirts and I have my eye on the Sing t-shirt.  I've been in the vast book room...  Am I really THERE?  I want desperately to feel it's true, to not think about the possibility of not being asked back.  I want to belong. 

Teachers at this school talk about the courses they've created and teach and it brings back memories of the ones I taught for years that have become traces on my resume.  There's no way not to feel a little envious.  At the school in which I taught that was closed, we had a system in place.  I was the person people went to right after the basic skills person.  Then they went on to someone else.  We dovetailed into each other's work naturally, through discussion of the kids.  Even when we didn't get along, we talked about the kids and that generated ideas and shaped our work.  The same is true at the school in which I am on faculty (really, I really believe it). It's a beautiful thing.  

Sure, the teachers complain about some of the same things ATR's complain about on this blog: overcrowding, cutting, parental negligence. But, they're home.  Every one of them has established his or her place in the development of students at this school.  One is the "Grammar Goddess."  They have hand-outs they pass around in every class  created by different faculty members.  I remember this.  I had an outline for a college essay that I used all the time.  Another faculty member had a pristine outline for Regents essays.

More than anything else, as we travel through this Department of Education, we need to find ways to support each other and give each other strategies for survival.  All of us once fit into a scheme or a family which is no longer there and it's hard, in a way, to even feel like you want to join something new, sometimes.  Like having been a father and now finding yourself a son who feels like a stepson. I overheard someone say I was, "the ATR they brought in" and it panicked me.  Better to assume the best and push the issue; I'm assuming after three interviews and a demo lesson and discussion with two administrators about my start date and that this was a provisional hire that I am faculty, at least till June and hopefully beyond. Two years ago, I did join the founding staff of a school whose founding staff then proceeded to leave after the first year, so I know that being provisional has its positive sides.  If I hadn't been, I probably wouldn't be teaching at all.  

But, this is not a brand new school, one among the many whose turnover rate is faster than the service at McDonald's.  

This is a school "as it should be."  I am lucky to have a chance at such a thing again and I will just assume the best and enjoy it.  It's very hard for me to do that and I know a million things I could say or think, and I have a strong radio signal of voices who tell me of all the horrors that might occur.  However, right now, it's good.  Maybe, just maybe, it will stay good.  Somehow, most of the people in this school have worked hard to create a nurturing environment for everyone.  I have to help them for the students, for them, and for me.  Places like this have to continue.  

In every school in which I have been placed, there have been people trying their best. I've stayed in touch with many of them.  It was very funny for me to hear the same complaints we all make coming from my colleagues.  We are all trying to survive and flourish.  What I hope is that we all find good places to teach and that we see lights in these tunnels.  I've found one.  In whatever way I can control my ability to stay, I will.  What I can't, I can't.  

Honestly, I never thought anyone would hire me and I imagined if they did, it would be to set me up to fail and put me out of the system.  I know that's not happening here.  I have my class lists, their grades, and people telling me about the kids and what they do everywhere.  It's an amazing faculty
I'd like to feel I belong to it, both as a legitimate member of the staff, and as an experienced teacher. I remember that feeling; I've even had it, in passing, in different substitute positions.  

If we can find ways to do productive work everywhere they put us, for however long we are hired, we can "call their bluff."  This Dept. of Education is determined to prove we can't hack it.  Every complaint I've seen here--about clothing, respect, chaos, etc.--I've heard from faculty at every school.  The difference is, the faculty talks up their achievements and the complaints stay in the teacher's lounge. Yes, we should expose problems and we should let the world know the absurdity we face never being able to take for granted that we will find ourselves again as faculty, with access to Aris, our own log-in names, and our own classes.  The kind of thing you never expected to worry about after umpteen years in the system.  I never expected to work at a highly functioning, competitive school, but, until my school closed, I always thought I'd be able to work with at-risk kids, that I had that "down," and that I could build programs for those students.  In my first term as an ATR, I lost my classroom and there was no place for me to go between classes, except to sit in the back of other classes being taught.  Suddenly, I was assisting a science teacher in a class I hadn't taken in high school.  I taught myself the course, but then shortly after, my assignment changed.  I lost "it."

We have to take "it" back.   The confidence.   We have to brag about what we do, when we can.  When a school asked me to stuff envelopes, at first, I just did what they told me, though I did mention to the UFT Rep that I thought I should be teaching, and he was working on it.  But, I went into the halls during passing and I started to help clear them.  An AP grabbed me and asked me what I teach, and then asked me to help a group of students.  Then he paired me with a wonderful teacher with whom I still correspond. I know some principals are just going to give you bathroom duty and that is a "shanda"--the Yiddish word for travesty. But, I know all of you are talking to kids.  You're trying.  We've got to be more proud of what we do so that when--and I do now believe WHEN--we do get hired, we feel good about who we are and we can even talk up what we've been doing in these confounded weekly rounds around the district.  We do work.  We do talk to kids.  I walked into a school and a coverage of a music class in which I could not, obviously, teach guitar.  We talked about the upcoming concert and their finals and what was hard, what was not, and they practiced.  In the middle of the class, a kid grabbed me and started talking to me about an essay, and the girl next to me talked to me later about her self-image. I told her I was worried about her when I saw her next, and it stunned her.  In her mind, I could see the question: "She caught on to what I'm feeling."  We went to a counselor. It was just an interaction. Not a lesson. But, I know all of your are doing it.  

I'm grateful to the people who didn't see me the way I did--as an outcast.  I believe (I want to, I hope to) that I can prove that I belong on this faculty. I can prove it to myself. Ultimately, since we are all now "free agents," we have to believe we are no different than the people who happen to have programs at these schools.  They're frustrated, they're worried and they're confused. Some believe they will all be ATR's. Yet, the person who walks the halls in the school, does grades and talks to kids, is grounded.  We need to carry that grounding with us.  

I wish us all luck.  

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tottenville, Mio Amore

Philip Nobile had to journey all the way from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn to Tottenville, Staten Island, but he found love when he got there. 

The idyllic shore of Staten Island
I spent four days in teachers’ paradise last week. The 1 hour and 50 minute commute from my Cobble Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn to the offshore Tottenville High School violated the contract and prompted me to file a grievance. Yet hearing only the best about the southernmost school in the state, I decided to lay back and enjoy it, which was not hard.

Tottenville is an island in the sun, a congenial, B-rated, hyper-segregated white, middleclass, heavily Italian place with an 83% graduation rate and college readiness rate 10 times that of Bed Stuy’s turbulent, F-rated, hypersegregated, minority Boys and Girls that graduates only 53 percent. My 11-year run in Brooklyn and Manhattan--minus three-years in a rubber room frame-up--has been restricted to poverty-stricken institutions. Apart from the A-rated Manhattan Village, none were free from the pathologies that infect the poor. Teaching in these classrooms was, sadly for me and tragically for students, too often an achievement killing field.

Tottenville seems to support the intuitive theory that good discipline and good scholarship are positively correlated. Regarding lewd and rude language (Discipline Code, Level 2B15), I heard the Cee-lo F-word spoken no more than a half-dozen times and the Kobe F-word not once in the past four-day week. When the former obscenity was uttered casually in class, it was easily snuffed out without snarky backtalk. As for my other cultural indicator, pants on the ground, no such pairs were made visible. The student handbook did not cite pants specifically in the dress code. But the commandment against showing underwear closed the loophole.

Hanging with my own tribe for once (mio nonno era italiano) was not a guilty pleasure. On my first day, I found myself in “Institute” English classes. These were the top kids in the school, above and beyond honors, who got intense, four-year academic training and were dropped out if their average dipped below 88. Taking attendance was like reading the credits from La Dolce Vita. Polite, vivacious, and amused by irony, I had a captive audience for my mindreading tricks and, serendipitously, my amazing-but-true, critical-thinking, Italian factoid--there are no spelling bees in Italy. Why not? Answer: Italian words, unlike English, are spelled as they are pronounced—e.g. attenzione v. attention.

All the other classes, except for one sour TV-production session, were delightful in their own way. Instead of perceiving me as a remote stand-in scold, the kids treated me like a not-so-distant member of the family. I’ve had to ring up deans almost everywhere on the ATR trail, even at Manhattan Village where I was removed after three days for doing so, but Tottenville appeared tension- free---on all levels.

The office folks and faculty were ATR-friendly and accommodating; sub lessons and I.D. photos for each class were provided, and the express SIR ride from the ferry was only 24 minutes with seat guaranteed. The nicest touch of all was a Franciscan understanding of red-eye commutes from Brooklyn or beyond. If you cannot manage an 8 AM arrival without major circadian upheaval, do not worry--the Samaritans of Tottenville forgive easily. 

Picture credits:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dumped ATR endures an interview

Dumped ATR, a rising star in the blogosphere, submitted this piece about a recent job interview she endured.  Her angst should be familiar to all ATR teachers who have had to put themselves up for sale after their successful careers took a wrong turn. 

At 6:25 AM, it became clear to me that I could not go to my Assigned School before my interview. My first coverage would be at 7:10, and while I could get there, there was still the question of which white shirt underneath the stunning jacket, and which texture of pants matched it and was comfortable. And then, how much cover-up to use over my middle-aged acne. So, I called in. 

I'd already arranged for someone to drive me to the school and back from my assignment so I re-arranged things and left from home. When I got in the car, I was calm, had a packet of materials ready and was reading articles on best practices on my cell phone. There was a bottle of water in my backpack. (It's a really slick- looking and expensive, if huge bag, and it can hold everything a teacher might need in the Gaza strip while still managing to flash its trendy label in an offhanded, but visible way.) I was fairly ready and was even able to dodge the pushy car service driver's questions about my likelihood of getting the job, disability and, of course, why I DO NOT HAVE A POSITION yet. When I need to be someplace absolutely smoothly, I use this one driver, who unfortunately is a cross between Stanley Kowalski and the legendary Kramer on Seinfeld. No, I don't have a car, yes, I live very far out in the boroughs and I neither have cable nor own property, which is how I can afford this occasional luxury. 

I was 20 minutes early, but decided to go in as the school was on another edge of the borough, which was as residential and desolate as the one in which I live. Neither the guard nor the initial secretary was expecting me, but out from a corner of the office, a voice and hand waved me over to a chair in which I was to wait for someone. The AP arrived and was cordial and our meeting was held in a quiet room which may or may not be his office. We discussed the school's areas of needs and seemed to be on the same page, but his demeanor was emotionless. He read from a checklist of questions and I started to freeze. What do I say about the "common core"? Basically, it's about deepening reading comprehension, writing, presentation, preparing kids for college. I forgot all about the fact that it emphasizes debate which is something I always encourage. Then he asked about some other practices, which I genuinely felt should be mixed: I enjoy letting students use technology, but I like to guide them, etc. Team teaching? Been doing it since 2004. College Readiness? Taught "College Now," prepared kids for entrance exams, etc. 

The harsh edges started to show; I push kids on college: "What do you think you will do if you don't go, what is your plan?" I'm not fluffy and dreamy, though I do want kids to do what they want to do. It's just not in me, in this economy, to start to sing, "Climb every mountain" to graduating classes. Your dream may have been outsourced to China. You'll find it, but, good luck having quality of life while pursuing it. (I didn't say this, but this tone started to appear.) I couldn't tell then why he was becoming further cold. I have a track record with preparing kids for college and the Regents, but I couldn't bring myself to do more than just mention it, like a laundry list. It's not natural for me to fill the air with optimism, especially when I'm not getting eye contact. This is a skill I need to learn.

Then he gave me a sample of student work and asked me how I would help this student. He was fidgeting and cleaning and I could tell he wanted me to think quickly. It wasn't hard, but I only said what I would do to help the kid with the immediate tasks in front of him. I forgot the big picture--how would I get him to a solid Regents score. Truth be told, the work showed a lot of potential, but this would take weeks and lots of scaffolding of skill upon skill. In order for there to be some organic integration of these skills so that they are not just memorized and lost after the test, it would take some time. I was afraid to say this. The paper was presented as that of a stronger member of the bottom third. I was afraid I would insult someone. Even worse, I couldn't decide if I should re-write all my corrections on a post-it, right there, to show I could do it. Yes, I have about 100 post-it's in my bag. Stupidly, I thought, "this guy is pretty smart, he knows what I'm getting at." However, what I didn't realize is I was supposed to be modeling exactly how I would work with this student. One thing I told the interviewer that I needed to do was TALK to the kid for a few minutes. I do have a standard operating procedure, however, for whipping kids like this one into shape: graphic organizers, outlines and a pretty rigid set of rules about what work MUST be shown. 

What I forgot is that the interviewer doesn't know me. That he isn't going to take anything for granted; if I presented a strategy for improving Regents scores earlier, and indeed, handed him a packet of materials with many of the methods I would use with this kid, that would still not be enough. It had to be articulated again. He needed to see it step-by-step and for me to say that I would not stop until the standard had been reached. Since I began the interview talking about bringing scores up above 75, I didn't really think about it. I took for granted that anyone who had discussed what we had earlier would not stop at one re-working of the assignment. It would need about 5, as we need time, after shaping the logic and applying formulas to make sure that there aren't tiny errors that will give us a wrong answer or leave a section incomplete. I find it's easy to do that with students once we have the larger picture done. I could go one about this for hours, but I absolutely couldn't in that moment. What needed to be done to the assignment as it stood was clear and simple (though it involved re-working about 3/4 of the work.) So, that's what I addressed. 

Comedian Howie Mandel
At the time, I had no idea why disgust began to fill the air. He was now not only cold, but condescending. "Well, (insert Howie Mandel hand gestures) we have a few more candidates to interview. But, we will let you know, either way." He was letting me down easy, but firmly. Then, as he headed for his next class, he asked me if I could find my way out and I lied and said I could. When I got a third of the way down the hall, I asked a kid who directed me to the right staircase. And, I vanished. 

If I was supposed to get there at 10:40 and he had a class at 11:00, were they really just going to give me 20 minutes? It was a "sore loser" question, but what I held onto as I got back into the car and refused to talk about it. 

I knew about a third of the way down that hall what I hadn't done. The big picture. Context. Not to mention that I was conscious of the shoulders of my jacket and was desperate to take it off and just sit, as he did, in my clean white shirt and pants and get down to basics--what do these kids really need. However, this interview process and my own anxiety have locked me in a posture that matches the lockjaw I feel as I answer questions. I don't trust myself because, even though I am up to speed on the dogma, I'm afraid I will present my work using language which has been uprooted long ago, though I know exactly what the "goals" are supposed to be. Heck, I helped a young teacher design a bulletin board which showed how her work matched the levels of Bloom's taxonomy. Why couldn't I think "in the moment"? I take the blame for freezing, being out of practice perhaps, and not being more aggressive about what I know. 

It's just, he didn't look at me. He looked at his checklist. I felt like I was at the doctor's and he was reading off a list of diseases and checking "Yes" or "No" if any of my relatives or I had them. I tried to assume we had some common language, but he didn't say much back. There was a bit of sarcasm in his voice after I presented my packet of materials which I designed around the data from the school's progress report. "And now, I have some questions for YOU." We weren't talking. We were presenting rehearsed attitudes. In my case, I was presenting and internally debating whether to present. He had his agenda, he stuck to it, and he moved the old lady along in time to give his Mid-Term. I tried to make some conversation as I left, but his face soured. My time was up.

Eerie, to think of it as "time being up." It was a psychologist's session. More like a survey. 

The morning desperately needed Richard Dawson. Or some injection of emotion from one of us.

NEWS FLASH: A day after this article was submitted to NYCATR, Dumped ATR sent us a follow-up message.

Despite the antiseptic nature of the meeting, I did get called back for a demo lesson. In fact, they told me that I gave an excellent interview. Perhaps a lot of my feeling of disappointment came from the unease of being an ATR. If I weren't so afraid, maybe I'd have been able to feel some level of comfort, even within that clinical format.

Picture credits:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Old Bait and Switch Field Supervisor Trick

The author of this article has a name and a face--I've seen her picture.  Another person who saw her face was one of those new-fangled Field Supervisors who are supposed to evaluate the performance of ATR teachers. The Field Supervisor, however, chose to make believe he had never met this teacher...

So, I met with my Field Supervisor 9th period, Thursday afternoon while covering a class in my subject area. Specifically, he came in without notice--he just walked in as the kids did. No lesson plan was left for me by the teacher, but I was lucky in that the students were studying a unit I am more than familiar with. I used the "Do Now" to check in on what they knew, and quickly launched into a lesson. The students were responsive, attentive and produced written work. 

After the lesson, my supervisor was gushing. He said that I was somebody he wanted to see in their own classroom. Further, he said that any supervisor who had seen the lesson would've been satisfied. He asked me if I had written a lesson plan. I hadn't; as I explained to him, I really had no idea what the students were doing until I got there. No one in the Department office knew when I asked them earlier that day. This was also a CTT class--I'm not a Special Ed teacher, by the way. I was alone in a room which was supposed to have two teachers. Still, the Supervisor was glowing. He encouraged me to send out resumes and get back in the classroom. 

As it so happens, I have an interview coming up at a school which serves students not unlike the ones at the school I was placed in last week. Since I DO want to be hired, I emailed my supervisor asking if he would be willing to give me a reference. I explained I was just asking him to talk about the one lesson he saw. I also explained that I would tell the principal he had only seen me once. It's just that I need all the positive references I can get, especially from someone who is supposed to be evaluating me right now. My school closed a while ago, and while I have supervisors who will speak well of me, I'm over 40 and at top payscale. Too many of my interviews have been mind-numbing and emotionless. I figured having positive feedback on what I can do AS A SUB without any advance notice would help me.

Well, I got back a short, "Teach a good lesson with a good lesson plan and I will be happy to sing your praises." I did write back that: 1) He hadn't made clear how important the written lesson plan was to his evaluation and 2) If this had been my class, I would have had 24 hours to produce a written plan. Additionally, I added that I thought it was ironic that he had claimed any supervisor interested in hiring me would've been happy with what he saw, but he was unwilling to say this to an actual supervisor interested in hiring me.

Word to the wise: Don't trust these guys or expect much. I think they are just going to do the minimum. After all, some of these people are really just ATR's themselves--my guy is an ATR. If this job doesn't work out, back to the pool he goes. Why stick his neck out?

"Woman scorned" by Renette Vermeulen
For the meanwhile, I am going to call myself, "Dumped ATR" because I feel....dumped. Not bringing me home to Mom or the attention of any potential principals, is he?

Picture credits:

ATRs as Field Supervisors,or How to Turn the Tables on the DOE

Here's another gem from Philip Nobile.  It needs no further introduction. 

One of the pleasures afforded teacher tourists, otherwise known as ATRs, is savoring a different school every week. Despite the burdens of enforced nomadism, it can be vaut le voyage if you eroticize (i.e., anthropologize) the experience. 

Apart from hardship commutes to remote Staten Island, I enjoy the chance to compare and contrast institutions in District 76. My past two assignments at Automotive H.S. and Boys and Girls H.S. in Brooklyn tested my theory about indiscipline and college un-readiness. The more I travel the more I see that low achievement correlates highly with the prevalence of lewd language and the popularity of pants on the ground. 

Automotive is an educational carwreck like all thirty-three transformation and restart schools. Hyper-segregated (97 percent black and brown) with a 53.6% graduation rate and .9% college readiness, the school is not a favorite to survive. 

The first class I covered during the week before Christmas was a perfect storm of mismanagement leading to a dangerous fistfight. The regular English teacher (and football coach) had been mysteriously suspended and replaced by a long parade of substitutes. Nobody gave me a sub-lesson and the paraprofessional had none either. The twenty or so kids were loud, unruly and unreachable. A young female dean popped in and sternly complained about the noise. The boys addressed her as “Gorgeous.” “I don’t have time for that,” she said in character and left. Soon after, I called her back to extract a wiseguy’s I.D. I mentioned the absence of a lesson. “Turn on the History Channel,” she said, and departed again. Adrift and undistracted, the boys started flinging paperballs. One hit the wrong fellow at the wrong time and fisticuffs ensued to the cheers of the crowd. I nimbly rushed into the corridor to hail security agents who had to club the locked door to enter the room and subdue the gladiators. 

Later, I told the new male AP Security that the mayhem might have been avoided with the provision of a lesson plan and some handouts, which is the normal procedure. “I can’t disagree with you,” he said. Does the Principal know that the English chairperson isn’t giving the kids lessons?” I asked. “The Principal is the English chair,” he replied. Hmm. Not much changed after Christmas. I returned to the class. There was still no lesson, no regular teacher, no learning, no interest from the principal, but no donnybrook either. 

Flash forward to 8th period on January 6, my last class on my last day at Automotive. It was a filthy interlude in a computer room. Again, there was no lesson. About twenty students went online and the mischief took off. I could live with the loud music but not the words and the dirty dancing by the only two girls in the class (Automotive’s’s overall M/F ratio is 9/1, which cannot be good). Before exiting the premises, I wrote a fed-up note on the coverage sheet circling 8th period. I delivered it to the office of first-year Principal and acting English head Caterina Lafergola: 

To the Principal:  
This class was a disgrace, full of rolling obscenities—like “suck my dick”—via the computers despite two dean visits and AP security. I’ve been here for [9] days. Despite many pleasant encounters, your school discipline is atrocious. Your deans are too friendly which plays into the hands of the students. Regrettably, [Chancellor] Tisch was right about Automotive [when she zapped its chronic dysfunction; the Dec. 6 NYT]. I urge you to get serious. 
P.S. What kind of school are you running where students feel free to defy teachers and administrators with the grossest language and gestures? 


Last week was my second algorithmic go round at Boys and Girls, another near-dead school walking. Hyper-segregated (2% white and Asian) with a 45.7 grad rate and 4.2% college readiness, B & G is also swimming against an F on its 2010-11 Progress Report. (Automotive’s grade was a not-so-gentlemanly C.) 

A hair-tearing female clawfest 
B & G’s culture, like Automotive’s, seems woebegone. I never met a contented teacher there. Despite the DOE asteroid speeding in its direction, the faculty appeared to be bravely holding on and keeping the place together. On the other hand, I was told that so much STD popped up in a student blood drive that all the donations were rejected. The only fight I witnessed was a screaming clawfest between two girls that left clumps of hair in the corridor. 

More memorable was a loutish oral-sex debate in a geometry class the day before the final exam. I instantly intervened with the instigator via a lowkey tete-a`-tete in the hallway. He did not get the message and recommenced the maledicta. I called a dean. The boy and his conversational partners were removed. But enough. I decided to write up the three boys and personally hand my incident reports to the AP Security, which I did. 

While I had the AP’s attention, I brought up the gap that I noticed between the ubiquity of electronics and pants on the ground and the prominently posted rules forbidding both. I said that the scanning was ineffective and the dress code commanding “no pants worn below the belt or ‘sagging’” was equally so. Enforcing the latter, I suggested, could swiftly move the culture of the school a few more feet from the street. As I heard a principal once say to a School Leadership Team, “Our students should look like they’re going to college, not to Riker’s.” 

The AP listened politely and did not disagree. He said he would look me up before I disappeared on Friday. But he never did. Even so, B &G is the only school I’ve seen with a wall poster protesting male prison swag: 
                                YOU WON’T
                                  GET INTO
                               PANTS PULL
                                     EM UP 

We ATRs are unintended field supervisors of the entire system. From now on I’m going to rate my assigned schools and principals on their enforcement of the Chancellor’s Discipline Code, specifically Level 2 B15 against “using profane, obscene, vulgar, lewd, or abusive language or gestures.” There is no Tweed standard re pants on the ground…not yet. A year ago, during an ATR term at Abraham Lincoln High Principal, I asked Principal Ari Hoogenboom why he didn’t outlaw the Riker’s swag; he said: “I have to pick my battles.” I have chosen mine. Please join me in your own way. 

To be continued …

Photo credits:

City's Unwanted Teachers Drift Through a Life in Limbo: DNAinfo

NYCATR is pleased to present a guest article by Jon Schuppe of In compiling his story, Mr. Schuppe interviewed yours truly, and other contributors to NYCATR.  Mr. Schuppe's article is a rarity: it presents the ATR picture clearly and fairly. 

City's Unwanted Teachers Drift Through a Life in Limbo

Charles Pollak, a health teacher in in the city's Absent Teacher Reserve, was recently assigned to a day-care center in a Harlem high school. (DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe)

MANHATTAN — Hundreds of city teachers show up at schools they've never seen before every Monday morning.
The lucky ones get assigned to classrooms, maybe to teach the subject in which they were trained. Others do paperwork. And some waste hours doing nothing.

On Thursdays, they get a notice from the Department of Education telling them where to report the following week, and the cycle repeats.

This is what the DOE calls the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of nomadic educators who are paid their full salaries to work as substitutes. Most have been "excessed" by budget cuts or school closings and have been unable to find new jobs. Others have been liberated from the department’s notorious "rubber room," or have survived “unsatisfactory” ratings, and were deemed fit to keep teaching.

Until recently, the city allowed ATR teachers to remain at a posting for a full school term, during which the school principal could decide whether to hire them. That changed with the weekly reassignments, which went into effect in October as part of a deal with the United Federation of Teachers to avert layoffs.

Read more:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Philip Nobile rolls the rock

Poor Philip Nobile, NYCATR's gadfly correspondent.  Just as Sisyphus spent an eternity pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll back down, so Nobile has spent most of this school year begging the DOE and the UFT to relieve him of hardship commutes from his home in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn to ATR assignments in Staten Island. NYCATR has published some of his previous rock-rolling correspondence with the UFT gods and goddesses; below is the latest installment. 

Message #1 

Date: January 12, 2012
From: Philip Nobile
To: Thomas Bennet (UFT BASIS High School representative), Howard Schoor (UFT Brooklyn Borough Representative), Amy Arundell (UFT Special Representative)

Dear colleagues:

According to hopstop, Tottenville is 18.6 miles from my house, entailing a 1:57 commute by public transportaion. This assigment exceeds the roundtrip time limit by almost an hour! How can the union allow this abuse? 
My New Dorp assignment was changed to Automotive after I complained to Tom last month. I would like the same consideration for Tottenville.

Whatever was done before can be done again, presumably.

Please let me know what you can do, not just for me, but for all ATRS. 

Thanks for your consideration.



Message #2 
Date: January 12, 2012
From: Howard Schoor
To: Philip Nobile
cc: Debra Poulos (UFT Special Representative)
We will try to get your assignment changed. You can also file a grievance if you choose to do so.


Message #3 

Date: January 12, 2012
From: Philip Nobile
To: Howard Schoor


Any luck? What was the method? Whom did you call? What did they say? How did it happen the last time? If DOE said no, how do I grieve? Would this be a first? Thanks. 


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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Experienced teachers are a better fit for oversize classes"

(L. to R.: A P.S. 130 kindergarten teacher;
Chancellor Walcott; Principal Lily Woo; a
student. Note: the teacher, with all due
respect, appears to be over 22 years of
Thomas Forbes, a veteran NYCATR contributor, drew our attention to a recent article in Gotham Schools.  It's about P.S. 130 in Manhattan, a very successful school that is struggling with a recent jump in class sizes due to budget cuts.  Here is a quotation that should resonate with ATR teachers, most of whom have many years of teaching experience, but find themselves being replaced by novices:

One consolation, [said the Principal, Lily] that experienced teachers are a better fit for oversize classes. 
“For a highly effective teacher, yes, they would be even better with a smaller class. But for a less experienced or younger teacher, you could be one-on-one, and they still would not make an impact on the child,” she said. “Our teachers are very, very strong. They know that this is not something that we want, but it’s what we have to deal with whatever resources we have.”

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Gypsy goes to Brownsville

I spent the past 2 school weeks at Metropolitan Diploma Plus High School, a transfer school in Brownsville, Brooklyn. This is a last- chance high school for kids aged 16-20 who were failing in a regular school but want a chance to graduate. The school was very small with about 10 teachers and 198 students on register. I think on any given day there was half that amount of students.

Gangsta hand signs
I covered a few classes but mostly spent my time in the Education Center supervising one or two students. I met the principal and the assistant principal who seemed ok. I googled the school when I got home the first day and realized the school is being investigated for Regents grade tampering. The teachers at the school were surprisingly a mixture of young and old and seemed interested in the students and their success. Most of the students were of the gangsta mentality but seemed relatively pleasant, with the exception of one or two with chips on their shoulders.

The administration actually seemed apologetic that on the days no one was absent there was nothing for me to do. The commute was a bit long but I was able to use the parking lot and there was a Dunkin Donuts right across the street. And the bathroom wasn’t locked so there was no need for a key. What can I say? Nothing much….

Net stop: Liberation Diploma Plus in Coney Island.

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Report from Germany and Denmark

A teacher named AM sent us this report about his discussions with teachers from Germany and Denmark.  We think you'll agree that his report is wunderbar.  


In recent weeks I had some rather stimulating and personally satisfying conversations with teachers from Germany and Denmark. 

A slave auction in New Amsterdam
I was so surprised how well informed they were about the witch hunts taking place against teachers across our nation. When I told them about the notorious rubber room phenomenon, they were generally much more sympathetic and understanding than you could ever imagine. It seems these teachers understood that America--from its earliest settlements to the building of the original "Wall Street" by African-American slaves (oops! I meant "indentured servants")--was always about MONEY, and that anything having to do with money could easily be justified with a patriotic slogan: "Every child deserves a great Teacher," "Children First,"etc., etc.

We all know how much Bloomberg, Klein, Black, Walcott and the PEP panel love children.

It's the teachers--who had a passion for what they taught and an unshakable bond with the kids who they believed in and worked their hearts out for--who refused to buy into the lies, visions (illusions) and bullshit of the Leadership Principals--those are the teachers who had to disappear!!! Makes a lot of sense from the point of view of someone dumping junk bonds, unloading credit default swaps and other crap on the unsuspecting public. That's what they call the "business model." 

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Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Beth Fertig

WNYC's Beth Fertig recently wrote an article about the supposed benefits of the DOE's new policy of deploying ATR teachers on a week-to-week basis.  A teacher named "Excessed" has shared with NYCATR her letter to Ms. Fertig, in which she questions that most pernicious form of "information": statistics. 

December 30, 2011

Dear WNYC, 
This letter is in regard to Beth Fertig's story of November 14, 2011, entitled, "New Policy on Substitutes Leads to More in Permanent Slots." The story addressed the New York City Department of Education's new policy of weekly rotating assignments for the teachers of the Absent Teacher Reserve. 
The story reports that a spokesperson for the DOE, Barbara Morgan, stated, “Our agreement with the U.F.T. to change the A.T.R. rotation has resulted in more teachers being hired by schools than during this same time frame in past years..." 
What I would like to know is this: of the teachers from the "Absent Teacher Reserve" who were hired by schools during the time frame to which Ms. Morgan was referring, what percentage were hired by the first assigned school of the year, where the ATR was placed for a full month's time, and where the principal might have had the opportunity to actually get to know and observe the ATR; what percentage were hired as a result of an interview at a school to which the ATR had not been placed at all; and what percentage were hired by one of the schools to which the ATR had been rotated for only a week's time, and where there was likely to be little, if any, contact with the principal? Ms. Morgan's statement seems to imply that the increase in hiring was due to the weekly rotations, but I find this very hard to believe. 
The figures quoted in the article, and the spokesperson's statement, are just a smokescreen. There is no real justification for the DOE's current policy of constant rotations for a large group of teachers. These teachers could be of better service to administrators and students if each were placed in a single school for the year, either through being hired by the school or by being paid by the central office as excessed teachers, which is what was done in the past few years. I believe that most teachers, parents, and school administrators would agree with me about this.  
As an aside, although the print version of Ms. Fertig's article uses the term "excess teacher" to refer to members of the "Absent Teacher Reserve," the DOE's actual term, as seen on their official Web site, is "excessed teacher." As an ATR myself, I prefer the DOE's term. It refers to the fact that the DOE chose to place and keep teachers whose jobs were eliminated "in excess" rather than to place them as permanent hires in schools where openings existed in their respective license areas. 
Thank you for your attention to this issue. I apologize for sending this anonymously, but I do not wish to be interviewed or mentioned in a news story. I do respectfully ask, however, that you look into an answer to my question. 
Yours truly, 
"Excessed" (an avid WNYC listener)

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