SOUTH BRONX SCHOOL: The Pain and Isolation of an ATR

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Pain and Isolation of an ATR

One of the first people I thought of yesterday when I read the Daily News article with Chancellor Farina's hopes for the upcoming year was blogger Fidgety Teach.

Fidgety was a highly regarded and loved pre-K teacher in Brooklyn when she got caught up in the evilness of her principal, Kristine Mustillo. One mistake, forever altered the course of Fidgety's career. One mistake, cost the children of Brooklyn a caring and loving teacher.

So what made me think of Fidgety when I read that article? I guess it would be this;
Fariña pledged to announce in the next two weeks a big reduction in the number of teachers getting paid despite not having steady classroom jobs. Earlier this month 114 of the roughly 1,100 teachers — known as the Absent Teacher Reserve — accepted $16,000 buyouts.

Fariña said the numbers would dwindle further as principals are taught best practices for writing up teachers and beginning the arduous termination process.
Just an aside, should not someone at the UFT come out and say something about this? Should not someone from the UFT file a complaint with the NLRB?  Shouldn't someone from the UFT just act pissed to placate the ATR's?

But back to Fidgety. I know how much she wants to teach. I know how much she wants to love what she is doing. I know how much she is hurting inside.

Fidgety wrote the following on her blog today. It will truly tear at your heart. It is very sad. You literally can feel her pain, her hurt, and her anger, anger at how the DOE has been enabled to allow this to happen. 

You see an ATR in your school this week, say hi and ask what you can do.

Oh, and Fidgety really needs to blog more often. She is great!

After 20 years of teaching in the NYC schools, I have spent the last three years rotating on a weekly basis to and from 52 different school locations.  While most professionals change jobs an average of 3 times at most in a lifetime, an ‘ATR’, aka a teacher belonging to the ‘Absent Teacher Reserve’, begins a new job every Monday morning.  Yes, a new job, meaning new school, new colleagues, new principals, and a brand new set of rules every Monday morning.
Oh, you don’t know what an ATR is? I’m not surprised… It is scarcely mentioned in the UFT paper or discussed at UFT meetings. There are even tenured teachers who know nothing about Absent Teacher Reserve thanks to the UFT who tries to keep it under wraps. The ATR status, created by the Department of Education/ and the Useless United Federation of Teachers, has been purposely destroying careers of tenured teachers for quite some time now, right under the nose of its’ very own employees. 

ATRs are hard working, tenured and experienced professionals who are often 50+ years in age and high on the salary ladder.  It is no wonder that these highly qualified teachers are unwanted by principals and their limited budgets… A principal can easily fill 2 positions for the price of one ATR. ATRs have lost their permanent position in their school building due to either a school closing, or a failed attempt to have them terminated through false or trumped up allegations by their administrator. Regardless of an arbitrator’s decision to have these teachers return to their classroom through 3020a, the Department of Education has single handedly deemed them unfit and ineligible to teach, and REFUSES to play fair and place them back in their classrooms.
The DOE lies when they say that the ATRs are incompetent and don’t want to work. They do want to work, ARE working and have been working, but are treated as unwanted visitors and/or substitute teachers, (not their choice) and have been rotating from school to school on a weekly and often daily basis while the UFT turns the other way.

So, here it is… The life of an ATR…
While regular teachers have the same issue, I’m sure many ATRs will agree when I say that PARKING is one of the toughest issues facing an ATR who relies on their car to get to work. What makes it especially tough is that an ATR has no idea what their schedule will be on any given day. I have arrived 60-90 minutes early to an assignment just to procure a legal parking spot, one in which I won’t have to move during the day for alternate side parking. Unlike a regularly assigned teacher, I have no way of knowing in advance if I will have a lunch or prep period that coincides with my need to move my car.  In addition, most schools have a limited number of parking passes that are equally distributed to their teachers and rotated on a monthly basis. 
Once entering a school building, I am asked to sign in and show my ID at the security desk.  In some schools, I must only show ID on Monday, but in some, I am asked to show ID every day of the week.  I am given a “visitor’s” sticker or “visitor’s” pass that I am required to wear around my neck, which I find degrading since I am not a visitor, I am an employee, (who are they kidding?) and directed to the main office, which is usually one flight up the stairs.
 It is in the main office that the tone for my day is set with a either a greeting, a casual groan, a dirty look, a few whispers, or most often, the complete denial of my existence.
When I am finally acknowledged it’s like this: “Oh the ”ATR” is here.” (My new name) “Oh you’re back”, or “What’s your file number?” I am often handed a school manual, which cites the individual rules of the school and asked to sign a paper stating that I received it.
“Here’s your time card and schedule.”  I am asked to “clock in”, although as a teacher, I am not required to. I do this as a protective measure so that a school cannot say that I wasn’t there, or that I was late. 
My schedule is handed to me by *someone. (*school aide, secretary, or an assistant principal. It wouldn’t surprise me if a custodian handed me my schedule.) Your guess is as good as mine-- because in this ‘professional’ setting, no one bothers to introduce themself /selves unless asked to.  If there is no schedule prepared for me, I am either ignored, or asked to wait on a bench, or to wait in the teacher’s lounge, or some other remote location for an unspecified amount of time. When I actually get to the teacher’s lounge or wherever I am asked to wait, it is usually at that point when I am immediately paged to return to the office for my schedule.

From a professional point of view, do you think that it might be beneficial for a teacher to know what grade, type of class or subject they will be teaching for the next 8 hours? As a common branch teacher who is not certified in Special Education, one might think it would be important to know whether the students have IEPs, special needs or diversified schedules. The DOE thinks not. While the DOE is ridding Common Branch Licensed teachers from the Junior High and High Schools, they are sending CB licensed ATRs to fill those vacancies on a provisional basis. Does this make sense?

 I take a few seconds to look at the schedule I am given, and ask if there are any specific instructions pertaining to lunchtime transitions and dismissal procedures. (I ask because nine out of ten times I am left by myself to dismiss children as young as 5 to parents, uncles, cousins and guardians whom I am seeing for the first time. In which case, if I am informed early enough, I will pre-request assistance with dismissal.)

I must note that while in rotation from school to school, one learns quickly that no two schools are the same in any way, shape or form. This significant difference between schools makes the job of rotating so much more difficult. It is impossible to get familiar with the staff/master a routine/ learn the safety/fire drill code & the expectations of administration in 1 to 5 days…then run off to another school and learn another routine, etc. on the following Monday. If one is not familiar with the safety code of a school and is supposed to follow it, wouldn’t that be cause for concern? This lack of uniformity between schools is foreign and most surprising news for those who never leave the comfort of their appointed work place. Administration expects that because one is a  “teacher”, one automatically knows everything about schools and children- ALL of the schools and ALL of the children. Kind of the same ignorant way of thinking that the reformers have….if one sat in a classroom as a child, shouldn’t they be able to dictate what should be taught and how?  A school is a school isn’t it?  Umm, not exactly.
 NEWS FLASH! ---No two schools have the same rules, procedures or time schedules. Let’s look at some of the differences between schools that may throw off a tenured teacher, substitute teacher, visitor (even a teacher in rotation) who is entering the school for the first time…

Some schools have a half of a minute or two between periods, and some do not. (no time between periods translates to no time for a bathroom break for an ATR.)
Some schools have ‘extended’ day worked into their schedule and some have an additional complicated routines added on to their day either in the am or pm part of the day.
Some admins provide ATRs with a clear gridded schedule with periods, school hours and preps to follow. On the other hand, admins have handed me a barely legible scribbled ‘post it’ note with some classes written on it- that lacks a time schedule.
Individual schools have their own codes written on time schedules, such as PE, or G, or *&^%$ meaning gym and an ATR is left on their own to decipher these codes everyday.
The rest is on a ‘need to know’ basis and because I need to know, I have to ask…
“Where is the bathroom, teacher’s lounge, auditorium and lunchroom?”
“Is there a place where I can hang my coat?” It is quite burdensome to carry around a coat all day when moving from class to class each period. 
“Do you have a teacher’s lounge, refrigerator, microwave, place to stay on a prep?”
“Is there a bathroom key?” I am quite sure that I am never going to get a bathroom key, but I humor myself each time, and ask anyway. In response, Ms. Secretary looks at me like I have 5 heads and tells me that I need to catch a teacher either going in or coming out of the bathroom. I think to myself, “Is that like catching a bus?”  “We never give bathroom keys to subs,” says Ms. Secretary.
Next question, classroom key…I ask for a classroom key and am directed to an unlocked key cabinet where several hundred keys hang in disarray.
 “The classroom door should be unlocked already, but if it’s not, come back down (which translates to, “Walk up 5 flights of stairs, check the door and if it’s locked, come back down for the key”)", says Ms. Secretary.   

Last but not least I ask, “Where do I pick up the kids?” I am often sent to the auditorium only to learn that the students are outside, have already been picked up by a cluster teacher, or in the lunchroom.
I get to the classroom and the door is locked. With hands full of schedules, attendance folders and lessons, coat, bag and lunch, I find an open door nearby and manage to juggle the phone to call the office and then must wait for a custodian to open the classroom door. With zero time to search the room for a lesson plan that may be nonexistent, I drop off my things and head down to ‘find’ my class. I enter into an auditorium filled to the brim with kids and wait till someone notices that I have no idea where I am.  
Then, I claim my students and I go off…into the abyss of this unfamiliar hallway with equally confused students to this mystery classroom in the insane world of the DOE.

Aside from the usual pettiness that most teachers engage in over coffee machines and water dispensers, cruel notes left on the refrigerator door and who sits where at the royal lunch table is the bubble of ignorance that these teachers and colleagues exist in.
Here are some of their actual comments:
You’re so lucky you don’t have to be observed!
The slave labor is here!
Why don’t you apply for a classroom position?
I had an ATR in my classroom once and he did nothing.
Aren’t you the rubber room people?
You get paid as much as we do, you should know what to do!
How can I get to be an ATR and do nothing all day?
I would give anything to not have to write lesson plans.
Are you a sub?
So, what is it exactly that you do?   
The saddest part of is, is that these questions are not coming from young, newbie teachers. What’s an ATR?  I once told a teacher that the ATRs are really sent to observe the classroom teachers. That really made her day!

As a regular classroom teacher, I was required to leave a lesson plan or ‘sub folder’ in the room if I was going to be out for the day. Why is it then that nine times out of ten, there are no lesson plans in the room when I arrive?  As an ATR, I am always prepared with at least one comprehensive lesson plan for each grade of the school I am in, as I never know in advance what grade I will be sent to each day.  I may be required to go to a different grade each period, or be assigned to one class for the entire day. Yes, I am a teacher, but I am not a magician who can pull a complete day of lessons out of a hat at a moment’s notice.

As I begin my fourth year as an ATR, I am ridden with frustration and anxiety. Time and again, the articles in the paper fail to tell the truth, and the public continues to be misinformed about who we are. We are professionals who ARE WORKING and WANT TO CONTINUE WORKING and are being denied the privilege of working in the capacity where we can be most productive.  Weekly Rotation denies us the continuity of knowing our students and colleagues and the productivity that results from daily interaction. Rather than utilize the enormous talent available in the ATR pool, our new chancellor has allowed the hiring of young and inexperienced teachers to fill the vast amount of open positions resulting from the expansion of Universal Pre-K and huge retirement incentives in the new contract. Why hire new teachers when you have hundreds of qualified ATRs already on payroll? We are tired of being named as the scapegoats for an already dysfunctional education system. Which leads me to the final question that has all of us wondering.
Mr. Mulgrew, Where are you?


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be nice if Mulgrew and Randi spent a day of solidarity with the ATR and just be one! Just like they spent the day with the Rev. Al Sharpton! I think our teachers deserve more respect than someone who doesn't pay his taxes and holds the city hostage.

Mulgrew I can't wait till 2016 to vote you out of office!

Anonymous said...

The treatment of the ATRs is thoroughly disgraceful!

Fidgety's allegations need to be immediately called to the attention of Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Fariña, the Members of the Panel for Educational Policy, and City Councilman Dromm (the Chair of the City Council Education Committee). They should also be copied to Randi Weingarten, Michael Mulgrew, and others at the AFT and UFT.

Anonymous said...

I'm on Day 2 of being an ATR. So far it's not so bad though I do have this feeling that I am the odd man out. Reading this though made me feel uneasy. I've never more wanted to just have my own classroom and teach than I do now.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Every UFT member and untenured AP is a potential ATR!!!! Why do our brethren not rally and support us as they did Reverend AL!? When I was a new teacher 21 years ago, senior teachers were revered and wore their seniority as a badge of honor, now seniority is a scarlet letter. If Ms. Farina wanted to return to the teaching profession as a teacher, no one would hire her. If her school closed, she'd be an ATR. With 60 credits over my Masters, a resume that includes staff developer, Grant Coordinator, 5 years as an AP, with nothing but satisfactory ratings, and never a negative letter to file, I am the "horrid" ATR. I have been told flat out by Principals I won't be hired because I cost too much. 57 applications in 4 districts for teaching positions, not one interview, numerous AP applications and central office applications, noooo thing.! Yet the line for new teacher ID badges went around the block at Court street 2 weeks ago, for the approximately 900 new hires. How's that for a so called "community of professionals?

Anonymous said...

The UFT/AFT created the ATR situation. Why would they do anything to resolve it?