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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

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:


  1. this garbage is going on all over Queens too . The principals and the APs are completely incompetent. They are unwilling to control the kids or they simply can't. The teachers are doing their best. I really hope that the teachers will not be evaluated on how a large majority of the students do on their state tests. It is impossible to teach a child in a classroom 34 to learn if he doesn't want to. All of the idiot reformers, the entire staff of the DOE and the principals in each school should spend one day of 5 classes in a classroom. They won't survive for 10 minutes - shame on them and shame on the system.

  2. How has the DOE helped these schools to improve? When they close, some "education management" organization like New Visions will get hundreds of thousands of dollars to do an equally poor job. I would rather they fixed the problems you saw now, rather than have them shuffled under the DOE rug via the blame game. What you saw are people at wit's end, done in by the same methods used against ATR's

  3. The same crap all over the Bronx. Kids cursing, girls acting provocatively, no work all play. Teachers playing friends with students which is why PS 89 is doomed. I can't wait to leave this week. How do we get the code enforced.

  4. I am a floater, an ATR. This is the exact image that I encounter daily. We have the "birds eye view" of these establishments known as schools. Glad that others are beginning to expose it all.

  5. I am assigned to hell...I mean Boys and Girls High this week. I have NEVER seen such obscenities and vulgarities in all my 17 years of teaching! I can even put on paper what some of these girls were saying and doing; much less the boys! Disgusting! I feel sexually harassed!Kids sneaking in the classes and the guards do nothing! The only time I heard from the AP was when she called cause she couldn't find yesterday's attendance. There are no lesson plans! In the two programs I coveredthe kids told me both times the teachers hadn't been in for days..weeks...I wonder why? I cannot wait for this week to end! I would rather work in salt mines than this so-called school. I give it an F-!~

    1. B&G was my first school. I had done my research. It sounded rough. I showed up in a suit, hair pulled back, and glasses. First stop was principal with my lesson plans. I figured they might not have Spanish Bilingual classes for me so I had generic study skills lessons and basic Common Core things we did at my old school.

      It was a noisy class, but I braved it. I walked in, told them I was their teacher, started writing on the board. When I turned around, they were all writing in their books. By the end of the day they were all calling me Ms. M. Considering my name has a z, w, k, and y in it, I was fine with it.


      I bet you showed up as openly hostile and racist as your post implies. You looked like an ATR from the TRC? You do all us excesses teachers a disservice with your inane rants.


    2. Cookie,

      Anyone can survive a day.

      You know, your being critical of people who are DISMAYED that these students are not better behaved because THEY COULD BE. They have seen places which work. They have a very different vantage point than you do. For you, this is a new adventure. For them, they are looking at a system they tried to change which worsened exponentially in spite of them. You shouldn't need to be dressed in a suit to get respect. This isn't a corporate office. This is a place of learning. This is a place in which students should be free to decide which culture they want to join - corporate or not. We shouldn't be supporting the dominant paradigms blindly, even if they work.

      I want to remind you, as I said on your post about getting your job, that I TOO was a young, smug teacher once. And I TOO was given preference for jobs because I was young - even in a culture in which money wasn't an issue. At my first school, teachers were excessed while I was hired and a colleague of mine was hired in the same license area as one of the people who was excessed. We were young, desperately broke and willing to sign off on whatever needed to be signed, though when we worked with the kids we were independent. Somewhat But, we both bought in and greedily allowed people with much more experience to be removed while we were snuck onto the payroll. Karma bites, kid. I'm getting it, now. Try to imagine that the people you are writing to could be YOU in 20 years. You don't think you will be dismayed that students feel comfortable being vulgar and violent -- that, in fact, they seem to have temporarily lost their ability to be articulate in any other way? That they respond to corporate greed for a period. Even that wears off. Wait until they don't get the grades they wanted, their Regents scores aren't where they should be yet, and you are so tired that your are overeating and the suits don't quite fit. You have to DELIVER IMMEDIATELY and a teacher is not a Domino's Pizza maker. Good work takes time. I have a closet full of Filene's basement suits which I abandoned years ago (What's your size - you want them? I have 10 -16. I know a great tailor.) Whether I wore a sweater, a Red Sox t-shirt, or a Tahari jacket (80's throwback) didn't matter. I once taught a packed room of 50 kids in Regents Prep after school. I don't even know what I looked like - it was after dark and my classroom was boiling. You could hear a pin drop. When they feel they are learning, they look you in the eye. You can sell snake oil, but even Elmer Gantry had his limits. Ultimately, they will respect you when they see you can help them achieve. Sneakers or Prada. (Don't get excited, I have no Prada and huge feet. The best I can offer you is some Merrells which aren't cushy enough for me. I'm a Brooks Beast devotee.)

  6. Yes, there is a DOE classification for sagging pants.
    Look up indecent exposure in the discipline book.

  7. Hey, I've got an idea for reform. ATRs, the real field sups, should insert their suggestions into a wooden box --like those above. Let's call it the "suggestion box". Novel idea, huh? It will save hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in consultants and excessive numbers of supervisors.
    Come to think of it, I'd bet $10,000 that it never gets taken up.

  8. Racist? How am I racist? I have been to many schools that are not predominately white and have NEVER found such disrespect. For your information; the students I had were emotionally disturbed special ed students who the para told me behaved the same for EVER teacher. Since you are such a great teacher I hope they send you back to Boys an Girls and see how you fare with the classes I taught today. Racist? I hate when poople play the race card when they have nothing intelligent to say.

  9. By the way what is TRC? Explain please!

  10. I too was at Boys and Girls, it was my first assignment of the year. Six weeks of pure hell. I wrote about it already, under Darla's travels. I was body slammed, had roaches crawling out of my desk, student was infested with bed bugs, Faculty (ladies) room was disgusting, smelled of urine. When I was body slammed I called the dean. They came, then sent him back in, I asked why is he back in class, they said, "he said he was sorry". I told them that is not good enough and get him out. I hated it there. Oh, bye the way, I wore dress clothes as well, whatever that is supposed to mean. Did it matter? NOT!!! I taught at a tough school for 10 years, and was a dean for six. So when I say the school is the pits I mean the school is the pits and my advice to any other ATR who is assigned there is to call out for the week.
    I too was at Automotive. EVEN WORSE!!!!!! I was told to suck their did, that they will slap me if I bother them, I called the dean and she came in like I was the one who did wrong. NO LESSON PLANS WERE LEFT AT ALL. I had my own plans figuring it would help me but they ignored me. Oh by the way I was dressed in my professional clothes as well. DIDN'T WORK. Maybe I wear the wrong clothes and wear my hair down.

    One thing that I am glad about being an ATR is that I get to leave on a Friday since many of them are a nightmare.


  11. 6 weeks???????????? Oh my Lord! I have one more day and I can't bear it! I had a headache today so didn't make it in but even one more day is too much..If they hand me that program again tomorrow with that vile 5th period class I am going to refuse to sit there by myself! They were humping the desks and racing around the room with a chair on wheels; these kids had to be 16-18 years old too and if I looked at them they were calling me white bitch...whose racist now???? I don't think I get paid enough to hear about their sexual adventures. So sickening!

  12. I forgot to mention that I was also given that same English class over at Automotive. The Principal spoke to me before I began my week and stated that she is looking to fill the spot. I would quit before I had to be placed in that hell hole. It made me love being an ATR.

  13. I have to say I lucked out today at Boys & Girls High School. I covered a Spanish teachers program. She left work and most of the kids actually did it! And the ones who didn't just sat and spoke quietly. So out of 3 days at the school I had one day of Hell.

  14. I have found that many APs and principals are former teachers who want nothing to do with the classroom. Many of them were former teachers who have taught for less than five years and some were even U rated. I am coming to the end of my teaching career. But If i could do it all over again I would get out of the classroom and go into administration. I to want nothing to do with the classroom.