Friday, August 31, 2012

Excessed 6

Here is where Mr. Letgo tells of his Facebook page for the NYC ATR

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Observations From Under the Bus

I have to say, in the heat of this summer, it has been pretty cool under the bus.  We do get a little breeze near the rear axle which is a small but gratifying relief during high noon.  I have been thinking and it seems that the thought of being tossed under the bus is more disturbing than actually being under the bus.  I guess you never realize how vulnerable you actually are when you assume that certain elements of your life are in place.  I thought I would be a teacher until I retired because I had a degree of job protection afforded me by my union.  We in the ATR now know that such is not the case.  I guess that is what made the abrupt and unceremonious tossing of tenured teachers so dispiriting.  But there is more; let's give credence to the budget restrictions, just for argument sake, because the budget is the excuse for releasing tenured teachers -- right?  The school could no longer afford that teacher. So, here we are with the creation of a made-up group of senior teachers labeled ATR who have spent the summer basking under the gas tank of a school bus.  Does the union assist those of us who need the union now more than ever?  Is there even an e-mail address to specifically answer our concerns?  Why doesn't the union create a Facebook page for ATR's and send a notification out to all concerned that they have created a line of communication?  One of the difficulties of being in the 800 or so ATR's is the isolation and forced fragmentation of its members. If not for the blogs addressing these issues we would be left entirely in the dark. We have issue with evaluation, with representation and with support.  It's not that I'm expecting the union to gather activist members to load 100 buses to head to Chicago in support our brothers and sisters in CORE.  I mean, that would be too..what, progressive?

How much time is devoted to make the best use of the teachers in the Reserve? Apparently, very little, if the best that they can come up with is to send each of us, willy-nilly, to a different school each week to be given a generally pointless, keep busy assignment by the AP. I wonder how that is done?  Maybe with a dart board, or spinning wheel that matches the Teacher with the School. We know that the UFT and DOE are designing an onerous work environment that pushes its constituents out the door.  This is not news.  What would be news is if the union announced a new initiative for its long time members. So, instead of sending us out to the annoyance of principals citywide, let us gather at various job training sites to learn our new skills.  Just a quick perusal through Craigslist "education jobs" we find the ever present charter schools offerings, ESL teacher requests, tutoring, selling or shilling education software that will reduce the number of teachers in the new classroom. Real opportunity abounds!   Let's see?  A teacher can easily be retrained-- to do what?  I know! A standup comic.  There is a real tradition of teachers becoming stand-up comics -- Robert Klein for one. Hey, we know how to address an unruly crowd, we are already quick on our feet, we have stories that will lay you out laughing and finally, really, this whole thing is a JOKE!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

They're Already Here!

There seems to be a general sense of betrayal in the ATR.  Betrayal by the very union we having been paying into for our representation. Having become a member of this select ATR group, I find myself more isolated than ever.  One would think that the UFT would call a general meeting for all the members of the ATR to discuss, to commiserate and devise a plan of action.  They are supposed to be on on our side, and there is so much that needs to be looked at. So far, the lack of transparency has been blinding and the lack of support has been crippling.  How many qualified, tenured teachers are in the ATR and please, let's break this down by license?  Can we compare this list of teachers with a list of the newly hired and have the principals explain their hiring decisions? If we, as ATR, are a special designation, and it seems as if we are, then we demand to have representation as that designated body. After all, we are unique in this system -- with different concerns, different issues. The big issue of having to go to a different school each week is a major problem in our club but it is just about of no concern at all if you are an assigned teacher. Teacher observation is another issue that we all have to deal with, but just imagine having to be observed and rated in a classroom you have never been in before with a group of students you have just met giving a bogus lesson for a meaningless assessment.   I think we have an issue here.
The ATR very simply serves to isolate and dishearten those teachers that have stuck with a very difficult and demanding calling.  The stats on the number of "teachers" who run from the classroom within the first few years should increase the value of those who stick it out but it is quite the opposite.  Instead of looking to keep us on board and as a resource in the fight for quality education for New York City kids, we are basically cut loose to float away.  Not only are we left on our own; we are additionally demonized and degraded as dead weight by our own union.  Just wait until this "paying teachers for not really teaching" makes the news cycle once again. There is no help out there.  Oh, I know that if we were in DC we (the ATR) would already be out on the street but so what, make that a lesson learned.  You see, the big picture of the privatization of education is not only getting in focus but hitting home.  It's like in the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" where Kevin McCarthy warns the unsuspecting motorists "..they're here, they are already here"!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This Joke Continues.

Well, here is Part 3  where Mr. Letgo begins to see the light or in his case, the darkness that surrounds him.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tenure Schmenure

Tenure.  What a joke...though it does kinda rhyme with manure. I have tenure but no class to go to in September.  I have been observed and given an S rating each and every year yet I, like so many others, do not have a teaching assignment.  Tenure does not guarantee a classroom assignment; hell, tenure doesn't even guarantee your contractual rights.  See the most recent post in the Assailed Teacher blog. This point has been brought home to me during my most recent induction in the  renowned Absent Teacher Reserve.  In truth, I'm still kind of scratching my head and wondering how in the world did this so called "excessing" happen. I always thought of teaching as a worthwhile career and even though I did not enter the profession until much later in life, I considered the safeguards and benefits afforded by the UFT as essential to a profession that did not pay all that well. I believed that once I found my "home", the trajectory would be upward...ever learning, ever improving.  If you did your job well, your position was secure.  After all, we understood that experience is good for a teacher's growth and development and as you increased your value as an educator, there would be all the more reason to keep you at your job.  But apparently this is not the case. Oh sure, textbooks and teacher education classes and academic journals will all extol the irrefutable evidence of the value of experienced teachers in the classroom but when it comes down to making a hiring decision, well, that is another matter .  All of a sudden, the value of experience falls off the table and the only consideration is the mandate to stay within the school budget.  Tenure means you have put in years of hard work and learned from your mistakes  and once you have achieved tenure your teaching has really begun.You can begin to look ahead instead of looking over your shoulder.  In a way, tenure meant that you have arrived as a professional in a demanding yet personally rewarding career. But wait!  Something has happened, a magician came and made tenure disappear.  Well, it's not really fed to us like that, I mean the value that tenure connotes has been stripped of any consequence.  This ATR is the magician's trick whereby rights are made to disappear with smokey mirrors.  We just saw the drastic reduction in the number of teachers given tenure this term which would be an alarming issue if the designation meant anything.  To those who received their tenured status: beware, your position is not secured; in fact, by gaining experience in your field and increasing your value you are seriously jeopardizing your job.  Tenure? Tenure Schmenure.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Novel Idea

The ATR.  The Absent Teacher Reserve.  Wow, what an idea.   Who was it that sat in the big leather chair and  crossing his legs thought, yes, that is a good idea; experienced teachers are an unnecessary expense and should be the first  to go under the new budget.  I wonder how that would work out in other industries with other professions? The airlines for instance.  Could there possibly be a similar type program going on?  Is the an Absent Pilot Reserve?  I'm sure that in the major airline hubs, one could find enough "excessed due to high cost" pilots, who have lost their airline route to some newly minted junior from flight school. I don't know, maybe the pilots would have to hang out in the hangar and wait for a call from Central.

Meanwhile, "Good morning ladies and gentleman, I'm Jack Gordon, your pilot.  Now, I'm kinda new at this flying, but, I will confess I did pretty well in school so I know how to fly OK, ah, so be patient.  Alright?"  Doesn't make much sense does it? 
What industry penalizes or threatens it's experienced employees with onerous working condition that are devised to make them retire early or quit the profession altogether  It's like Shirley Jackson's story, "The Lottery" but instead of being stoned by the town's people we are sent to wander in the dessicated wasteland of the Absent Teacher Reserve, like an animal reserve for endangered pedagogues. Hey, now that's an idea I can go with; a reserve, or like a theme park or hey, better yet a reality show pitting Reserve teachers against one another for a crappy provisional assignment. Watch as the ATR squad of disenfranchised teachers fight their way through a weekly maze of ever changing procedures, morphing administrators, fifth-floor offices with no elevator, impossible classroom assignments and NO PARKING EVER. This program will be available for your viewing for the entire school year.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

You've Wasted My Time.

Usually, the last couple of weeks in August are spent casually getting ready for a new year in the classroom.  As a computer teacher my curriculum and projects were pretty much up to me as long as I was in alignment with the goals of the core subjects.  Granted, this afforded me a degree of freedom currently not offered in most other subject areas and as such, I have been "allowed" to follow the progressive development of my skills as a teacher.  I have taken advantage of the professional development (P) courses mandated (but now totally irrelevant) and have implemented what I considered the best practices into my classroom. I know I have grown as an educator and even some of my third-round 7th graders would agree.  I am not blowing my own horn, every teacher worthy of that title, has to grow by being critical of their own skills and practices.  We, as teachers, do learn from our mistakes and by doing so increase the value of our pedagogy.  One would think that such a statement was a reasonable assessment but...not. Classify this under the heading of DEVALUATION OF EXPERIENCE  because the majority of excessed teachers are experienced, and somehow and for some reason beyond our understanding, experience has become a liability in the DOE.
And so, here we are, and I am sure the pool will be filled with hundreds of teachers with five plus years of hard work, loyalty and purpose, wading and waiting for the pointless ending of their career.  It is not going to be easy to switch from your classroom (I was going to say assignment but that's their speak), ...the one you have been preparing for as long as you've been teaching, to a series of unconnected classrooms none of them at all familiar. Forget what you have learned and the hands-on projects you've developed for students that show how simple machines work as you'll very likely not even step into a science lab nor would you even know what is being taught in that class. It is a sad time for teachers in the ATR.  However, we need to keep in mind that this is indeed a fight and though the current is dragging us out to sea, we need to stand tall and tough it out even though the sand is shifting beneath our feet..  Perhaps we will also need to change ATR to Angry Teachers Revolt.
Well, anyway it seems that being a teacher in NYC is kind of like being in the Twilight Zone...the more you  learn and work and are bold enough to think you are increasing your value as a teacher, the less you are  valued in your endeavor because you have become more expensive and now, despite all good efforts and sacrifice, you find yourself, quite frankly, expendable. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

This is a joke, right?

Alternative Teacher Redeployment

So, I imagined something different.  Instead of having me covering the lunchroom or the "excessed" student room, the Alternative Teacher Redeployment program has managed to have me in rotation at four schools in my district, each without a computer teacher.  I met with the principals, looked over the school and its computer lab and have discussed the overall needs of the school with all involved.  A planned schedule was drawn up and everyone agreed to the particulars.  In the end, each of the four schools now had a computer teacher (albeit one week a month) and I knew where I was going and what I would be doing each week. Best of all...there was purpose.

But this won't be happening even though it probably could.  All it requires is a clearheaded yet creative effort to solve a problem. I would think that a scenario like the one described can be applied to a number of different teachers at a number of different schools.  If, in fact, the teachers can not be paid from the particular school's budget, there is no inherent reason why that teacher's services must be eliminated from the particular school.  Pay that teacher's salary from Central which is being done anyway; the check stubs look the same ya know, and let the school and students benefit, at least somewhat, from the purposeful ATR assignments.  It makes a whole lot of difference for the teachers in the trenches to know where they are going and what they will be doing each week   

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Situation Simply Stated

On one side of this situation is the pool of teachers in the ATR.  We are experienced teachers who cover the range of core subject areas, as well as the enrichment classes like art, music and technology. We come from all parts of the city and have a variety of skills and strengths. Our salaries are funded.  We are a valued resource for the public school system and we are ready to go.

On the other side we have a struggling school with limited resources for a variety of reasons.  Because of a reduced budget there are fewer teachers; consequently, each class in each grade is at maximum size. The students can't get the attention or special help they need because their teacher is too busy with too many students.  There is one music and one art teacher for 500 students.  The more the school struggles the more it continues to slide. The deeper it sinks, the more the budget shrinks each year.

So what happens?  The school is assigned a different teacher from the ATR each week to cover a class, or lunchroom or to monitor the hallway.

The value : Nil

The lost opportunity: Priceless.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Money, Money, Money

Well, the beat goes on.  I heard that my school has hired two rookies.  Now I know that along with me (computer teacher), an art teacher, a music teacher, a gym teacher and about six others were all given the asterisk. So, who is being hired at the school?  I am sure that there are plenty of licensed, experienced teachers from the ATR pool to fill any position in the core subjects.  So why go for a pair of rookies?  Especially in my old school, which,  like so many other "hard to staff" schools, usually benefits from having an experienced teacher in the room.  Believe me, during the six years of my tenure at the school,  I  saw legions of Teach for America people run after the first year, if they made it that far. Nothing against TFA, but anyone and everyone will tell you that there is a world of difference between sitting in and standing in front of a classroom. And it takes about five years of teaching before you really get your feet on the ground. So, like almost every other issue on the plate, it is a matter of money.
  I know everyone has to start somewhere and new teachers have to be out there trying to get hired, and hey, they have outrageous loans to pay off.  But when hiring decisions are based primarily on money in the budget, then having an experienced ATR teacher compete with someone who can be had for half the price is certainly not the way to keep a level playing field. I imagine some principals can put together a staff of inexperienced teachers and maybe be rewarded for coming in below budget. So, perhaps we will need to change how we evaluate a school. Perhaps the value of the school should really be measured by how well the principal kept within the budget. Just kidding, but what a waste of talent and what a demeaning way to be treated.  There are however, ways to utilize the talent in the "Reserve"; ways that can both be useful to the various schools under budget crunch and be mindful of the various talent and skills that will be available in the pool.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Groundhog Week

An aerial view of the ATR
I have to say that I did not get much out of the Open Hiring System.  Citywide, there were only 8 positions for a computer teacher and 3 of them were for high schools. The last time I looked, two days ago, there was only one school left on the list that still had a vacancy, and I didn't get a response from the principal.   The way this hiring system works leaves me with little hope of securing a position in the fall. I suspect,  therefore, that I will have a secure position in the ATR pool come September.
 This dismal prospect gives me all the more reason to look at what is going on in my new ATR assignment.  For starters: what is the rationale behind the mandate that all teachers in the ATR  be assigned to a different school each week?  The UFT/DOE claim that by doing so, the "excessed" teacher will have an opportunity to meet the principals of the different schools in the district.  What for? Are we going to have a coffee together?  If there is a position at the school, they should just post it like their supposed to. If there is a position available, then offer it at the job fair.  Really, by the time September rolls around, each school should have their staff in place.  We are all waiting around to be picked for the dance but the music will end soon and many of us will never get out on the dance floor. I guess we are too expensive/experienced to be a valued addition to a teaching staff. But even if this idea of being a surplus, not a substitute, teacher was deemed financially necessary then why the directive of a different school each week.  Just what does that really accomplish and who does it serve.  It certainly makes the teacher's job all the more difficult since every week is the first week of school.  Yeah, it does sound like Bill Murray's Groundhog Day.  I imagine it is also additional work for the administration: having to come up with a schedule or assignments each week for teachers of different talents and skills, having to keep track of the attendance of employees you hardly recognize.  As for the students, well picture this middle school lunch period: you are assigned to the lunchroom to keep order - you don't know any staff and the students don't know you.  Have a nice week.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A View From Under the Bus

Well, first of all, it is very dark under the bus, hardly any light on the matter at all.  I guess, after a while, your eyes get used to the darkness.  I can barely make out shapes but I see the Universal Shaft clearly and I know from personal experience and from what I have heard, most ATR's can feel the shaft before they actually see it.  The tire tracks impressed on the back of my white shirt can, in my opinion, become a fashion statement if given to the right marketing professional.  They do standout, especially if I wear my old school colors of black and white.  But wait,  I can't even say that now since I am no longer affiliated with that school and in fact, the school has stopped enforcing school colors years ago.
I also know there are others under this bus.  I can hear them, faintly calling out in the dark stillness of the DOE Purgatory Parking Lot.  It's funny how the words called out have evolved.  In June, one could hear "..what happened?, what did I do? or I had an S rating so why am I here?"   Now, I hear a lot of angry grumbling and curses.  We have become almost almost unintelligible in our exasperation, resentment and feeling of disrespect. I can hear, "This is bull and if the DOE and UFT  want it this way then so be it.  You want to devalue my experience, skill and work as an educator and have me monitor lunch rooms for the SAME PRICE as having me teach the class I have done successfully for many years? Fine, but what what kind of attitude do you think that treatment will engender anyway?"  Instead of planning lessons, marking student work, meeting with parents etc., the ATR agenda is reduced to getting a parking spot and finding a nearby Dunkin' Donuts.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hip Hip hooray?

Well, I received my copy of New York Teacher in the mail the other day.  I guess it was the Victory Edition because it was all of four pages plus the Educational Supplement. The headline, we all know by now, was the judge's ruling that upheld the arbitrator's decision about the DOE efforts to decimate the staff at the 24 schools in question. All this is great, especially if you are one of those whose head was on the block. However, on the same page in the paper was the article Good news city budget.  I quote, "In more good news, no teachers or school aides will be laid off in the 2013 budget and, for the first time in five years, there is funding to replace departing teachers.” OK, so did I miss something? You mean there is money for teachers, you mean that those qualified teachers consigned to the ATR squadron due to budget cuts reflecting the purportedly reduced student population, will be called back to their classrooms because budgets are restored?  Is this money going to the schools to be disbursed as the principal sees fit? I ask only because I am, as of now, along with about 1000 other teachers, out of a classroom due to no fault of my own.  My position was eliminated because of a budget crunch -- or so I was told. So, money is back - yeah? So where is the email from my school welcoming me back with open arms?

Friday, August 3, 2012

But I Want To Be a Teacher !

It has only been this past week or so that I have been looking at ATR blogs and have read the various comments submitted by other excessed teachers, and I must admit, the picture looks awful.  Time after time, excessed teachers write that they (myself included) have been religiously checking the open market for available positions, sending out emails, letters, and phone calls.  Each and every time the response has been negative:  usually, not even a call back or an email acknowledgment of communication.  It is no wonder that the word "disheartening" is heard over and over again. However, a typical comment in response to this situation is: "...but what, after all, are you upset about -- you have a job, right". Yes, we continue to have a paycheck,  but that is really not a job and certainly not part of what I would consider a career.  Teaching is not a vocation you happen to fall into; it is usually a calling that fulfills a true desire to inculcate a love of learning.  To think that the person who spent years of study and training in order to be a quality instructor would be just as happy and fulfilled pulling a check by simply sitting in a classroom without purpose calls for a depth of cynicism that I am not willing to entertain.  Now, that is not to say that some teachers in the ATR pool do not take up that mantle.  I have read comments that reflect the attitude of "...hey, they put me here, without purpose, if they want to give me a paycheck to have me sit and do squat, then so be it...I can outlast them".  Everyone knows that it is really, really difficult to do nothing.  I would certainly rather deal with a double period of my worst class from last year than be in a situation where I sit and watch the clock tick away in a room full of empty desks, as I wait for my only assignment of the day -- lunchroom duty.  Really, how much more satisfying it is when you even try to engage your students in a worthwhile project or assignment.  At least it is a challenge and certainly a more worthy challenge than trying to beat the clock.
So, this leads to to what I need to do for the remainder of the summer.  Instead of searching for more websites like "surgery squad" ( virtual surgery - attn: science teachers), I can spend the time fruitlessly milling about the "open hiring system", perusing Craigslist for entries under Education Jobs, Part-Time or Etc., or just fretting and anxiously waiting for my ATR assignment.  Disheartening?  Yeah, I would agree.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Humor anyone?

Anyway, even with the misery and dread attendant to being ATR, there is some consolation in that I suspect that the ATR need not worry about the above type of experience. But hey, I might be wrong. I suspect that we will need to be rated by the end of the year. I wonder how that is determined.  The more I think about this situation, the bleaker and really more absurd it becomes.  What advantage is there, or rather what is being served by having the ATR move from school to school? It is wrong headed in so many ways. The teacher never gets to establish a relationship with fellow teachers, students, or administration, yet these are basic field rules that need to be there before one can expect any fruitful results from having a teacher stand in another teacher's classroom. I know that all the schools are "teaching the same thing at the same time" Gee, doesn't that make it easy?  Anyway, what I need to know is if there is a generic bathroom key that fits all the teacher bathroom locks. This is what I need to worry about instead of checking my student's Glogs on the Harlem Renaissance.  That is when I had a class and a classroom, instead of a coverage slip.

I would like to know from other experienced ATR people if you are also sent to do a Poncho to Cisco in other teachers’ classrooms.  In other words, if you are not covering an absence, are you sent to work with another teacher as a sidekick, or are you sent to "the pool you came from" -- the cafeteria/facility lounge?

You: You want the truth!
Me: I deserve the truth!
You: You can't handle the truth!
Me: Try me!
You: You will be sent to be an unwelcome stranger intruding upon the Other who will regard you with suspicion and the "there but for the grace of Athena go I", type of pity. .  You will need to do this on a near daily basis if you are not sent to oversee the class that thinks sub means sandwich - something to eat... You will be required to search for the only secretary that has the one bathroom key - and yes, she is very busy, you may be eating lunch at 10:30am or 2:15 - you never know. You will have to track down the payroll secretary to make sure you have a card this week, you will need to have identification - perhaps a badge will do since you are indeed a stranger. Shall I go on...there will be no where to park and no where to eat ..
Me: Aha, so much the wiser.