Wednesday, August 21, 2013
A Year of Living Aimlessly?
Well, despite my best efforts to actually retire this year, I am back in the ATR pool of "living aimlessly". I mean, I am of retirement age and my body parts are lining up for surgery but the economics of healthcare have forced my decision to forestall this momentous departure from my daily routine. So now, in the waning days of August, I am girding myself for a year and two months of life as an ATR. Having been excessed last year, I started this blog in response to my new designation and even though I was subsequently hired back at my old school, I decided to keep the blog going in order to address the larger issue of the educational/industrial complex. And now that I am going back to school, albeit without a class, I have decided that to maintain sanity, I would keep this blog going and invite any members of the ATR to share their experiences, strategies or rants on these pages.
And, so how does one prepare for life as a wandering pedagogue? First we have to look at the only good thing about the ATR status and that is that we are, for now at least, exempt from the new and improved, lemon-fresh evaluation system currently dumped on our "more employed" colleagues. No small matter these days; the evaluation process called Advance will be creeping into your vocabulary very soon but if you are a member of the ATR you will still be evaluated. However, it will be the old fashioned way with a U or an S after a perfunctory observation - all of it quite pointless as you can well imagine. Well, that's about it on the positive side unless of course, you feel that not having a class with all the attendant obligations, is a good thing; in which case, it might be proper to ask oneself, "why do you want to be a teacher"? In the end, it is not all that easy living life in the absurd lane. I am a teacher therefore I teach but now I am a teacher and I don't teach. It is a betrayal of the purpose of leading a meaningful life. Instead of daily engagement in one's life work, the ATR is left to wander like a ghost, aimlessly; a spectral presence in the machine.
So how can one remedy the isolation and existential "otherness" that latches onto to you as you walk, coverage slip in hand, down the strange hall to an unfamiliar class to "teach" a subject you have never taught before. I can only recommend "engagement" in the political/social storm that is swirling around you whether you know it or not. You are in the mix and you really need to engage the political forces that determine your future and as a teacher you are, politically, not alone. Not unless you choose to be. I have spoken with other teachers in the ATR pool and there is hardly a consensus on how to survive in this Netherland. Some teachers just let you know that, "...hell, if they want to pay me to sit and twiddle my thumbs all day then I will twiddle and count the days", while another teacher just might try to actually be a teacher between 8:20 and 3:00. In the end, it is every man for himself and god against all. However, there is a curve in the road and if you keep you head up you just might steer yourself in the right direction. Don't make your condition a matter of survival in a hostile world but rather an opportunity for engagement in the political realm. By sharing the experience of being disenfranchised, by screaming that you have no voice in a union created to give you a voice, by exposing the reformers goal of your being expendable in the bigger war on public education, you just might find the intellectual tools you can use to stand up to the assault, to counter the demonization of your profession and to find the support of colleagues who also find themselves in the DOE gulag. I think this point must be made especially since we had such a relatively poor turnout of teachers voting in the past UFT elections. It seems to indicate that many teachers are not really paying attention to the big picture. I guess they are assuming that their teaching positions are safe and unassailable. But who do you think is in the ATR? The very teachers, veteran teachers, who are failing to vote, failing to have their informed voices heard and to be counted. Being in the ATR takes an emotional toll on the committed teacher. Waking up everyday knowing you have no control whatsoever over the unfolding of the day can easily become the source of daily dread which, in the end, can actually kill ya. So, living aimlessly? I don't know? We all need to make these kinds of decisions but if we can rise up even as we are ignored or discounted, we can at least attest that we were there and fought in this battle.
It is time to join the BadAssTeachers http://badassteachers.blogspot.com/ just for a start and from there you can look up http://morecaucusnyc.org/join-the-movement-of-rank-and-file-educators/ and make up your own mind.