Sunday, April 19, 2015

President Mulgrew: Do something about these absurd ATR observations

Many school chapter leaders are aghast at potentially career jeopardizing observations under substituting conditions. Yet, the logic of the controversy eludes the union which still staunchly opposes elected Absent Teacher Reserve representatives. And remember that UFT secretary Michael Mendel firmly endorsed observations of ATRs back at their pilot program introduction in a few Brooklyn districts in 2011.

Observation is covered at length in Article 6 the NYC DOE-UFT Memorandum of Agreement for the 2014 contract. However, observation is discussed nowhere in Article 16, the section which for the first time contractually institutionalizes the ATR condition. It is agreed between the City and the Union that ATRs are under observation conditions in "Teaching for the 21st Century." 

Yet, some observers (Field Supervisors) are doing the following which are outside of contractually sanctioned conduct for observing ATRs, and thus are grievable actions:
*Mandating use of the Common Core State Standards (mentioned only once, and parenthetically in the contract)
*Refusing oral or written requests for formal pre- and post- observation conferences
*Using Peer Validators (teachers or administrators serving as evaluators of other teachers, they receive $16,000 from the City on top of their regular salary)

Observation issues:

Regular classroom teachers do not leave lesson plans.
The city and union policy is that ATRs should bring in their own content. Students protest that this is inappropriate for the subject of the class session. ATRs are left with just saying that they are just following orders from higher up and that students should cooperate with the intrusion of the ATR's lesson agenda instead of the subject of the period.

ATRs have been observed and negatively rated when teaching a lesson in a content are outside of their own content area license or grade level.

ATRs are being judged when teaching lessons with students they do not know. They have been deprived of federally mandated access to Individual Education Plans (IEPs), yet have been judged by evaluators on their capacity to properly differentiate lessons. Teachers are judged as to having rapport with students, but as teachers do not know the students this is not possible to the ideal extent.
Teachers are expected to have classroom management over the students but as the students know, ATRs lack the grade or disciplinary authority over the students.
Teachers have sought and have been denied the opportunity to shadow a teacher in their content area and to be observed in that class.

Room issues:
Teachers have been denied proper preparation access to rooms for the purpose of setting up rooms for observations.

Teachers have been denied access to classroom technology. In worst case situations they have been denied passwords. In other situations they were not given full introduction and access by technology persons upon their assignment to the school. Often, the technology is nominally operative, but is not accessible to the ATR under observation.

School order and discipline:
There is an escalating crisis from the unregulated use of cellphones in class. Students text each other, play music and videos, shoot pictures and videos of teachers.
Yet, in many schools administrators do not act to squelch their use. Yet, teachers are expected to come into class and command attention of students.
And let's get real: when you were in school how many kids really did the work that a sub gave? So, why should it be realistic to expect that today's students would act any differently?
Did you ever think that a teacher's career would rest on whether kids did “it doesn't count” class work.

Inappropriate evaluator backgrounds and observations vs. student safety

Besides the whole idea of being rated on observations, supervisors are not familiar with our grade level/subject area/school operations.

Informals make no sense. We could be anywhere. I was criticized for not assessing in a 15-minute informal when I'll never see these children again.

Being expected to do a whole lesson with all the components in elementary schools with little children during last period when dismissal safety is the priority, or first period when they are arriving and removing winter outer clothing, is obviously a setup. As a parent, I would sue the DOE if I knew an observation took priority over my child's well-being.

Peer observations - Teachers don't want to be observed and critiqued. Is this a way of creating distrust between us and colleagues?

We have been told by the UFT to cover lesson plans if left by the classroom teacher. Supervisors want us to go beyond teachers' directions.

Ask teachers where they send their children to school and why. I would never put my child into this nonsense.

I have not had access to training in the reading and math programs being used now and it was implied that this was my fault. Plus, the Pearson reading program is so inappropriate that schools are discontinuing its use.

Have I said enough? I hope the UFT listens.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

How will UFT president Mulgrew prevent more up-skirt teacher shots from going Facebook?

In case you missed this item in the New York Post, just days after mayor de Blasio lifted the cellphone ban, one Brooklyn high school student used his cellphone to shoot an up-skirt shot of his Spanish teacher. Subsequently, the photo went viral on Facebook. Fortunately, conscientious students reported the controversy to school authorities.

His mother? She defended her ninth grade son, saying that the teacher's skirt was provocative. The teacher's parents are threatening to sue the city.

Friday, April 3, 2015

What the UFT says about unfair observations

The UFT has sent word that any ATRs that feel that they have unfairly received U ratings should contact Amy Arundell [] or Mike Sill [].

And also remember that it was the UFT's Secretary, Michael Mendel, that said it was all proper for ATRs to be observed in subbing circumstances in Fall 2011, when the UFT agreed to the change from placement of ATRs to rotation of ATRs. Many ATRs are now facing termination after observations in these inappropriate settings. In a new precedent: ATRs are receiving termination letters well in advance of the end of the term in June.

The author at the Chaz blog wrote a very good analysis of Mendel's tenure in the UFT leadership. He took important steps that have been important setbacks for veteran teacher in general and ATRs in particular, on issues ranging from the seniority transfer, to Fair Student Funding, to dealings with the DOE.

Here is Michael Mendel's 2011 letter sanctioning the "trial" program of ATR observations in certain Brooklyn districts. Notice how the slippery slope of trial allowed this program to progress, with no review as to how the observers operated.

Below is Mendel's letter (with a few key points highlighted by NYCATR). Following the letter is ATR in Perm's response; he who forwards the message gets first dibs at trashing it. 
Dear colleague,
The UFT has been informed that the DOE will implement a new supervisory system for ATRs in Brooklyn community school districts (Districts 13-23 and 32) and Brooklyn high school superintendency (District 73). They have labeled it a pilot, though they did not indicate how or when the pilot would be evaluated; nor have they indicated if or when they would extend this system to other ATRs. We were informed about this plan, but had no input into it. I am writing to assure you that the union will continue to make sure that your rights as a UFT member are not violated and your professionalism as a teacher is respected
The DOE has created a new position, that of field supervisor, with the intent that field supervisors will provide some measure of evaluative continuity to the members whom they observe and to whom they provide professional feedback. They have done this because state law requires that all teachers must be evaluated and rated. 
As always, the UFT will monitor the implementation of this new system carefully to make sure that it is implemented appropriately (e.g., that members are observed on things like classroom management, and not on things like content when they are teaching out of license — in other words, things that make sense). We will address concerns that come up with the DOE immediately. Above all, we will continue to hold the DOE’s feet to the fire on the main tenet of the June ATR agreement, which is to fill all long-term absences and leaves with ATRS and to help members in the Absent Teacher Reserve find permanent positions. 
We know that you play a valuable role in virtually every city school, under often challenging circumstances, and that your contributions are often unrecognized. We are committed to ensuring that ATRs are treated like professionals and are working to make sure this new supervisory system does that. 
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your district representative or Amy Arundell at

ATR in Perm: The UFT's Michael Mendell issued a letter on the UFT's position on the ATR teacher evaluations. Shockingly, the area that visiting teachers routinely have the most trouble with, classroom management, is an area that Mendell thinks is fair game for evaluating teachers.

"We are committed to ensuring that ATRs are treated like professionals . . ." Yeah? Well, why are you letting us get evaluated on handling kids who we've just met minutes ago? School tone, set by administration, as to whether they discipline students in a timely fashion or whether they coddle them, is the greatest factor (aside from home upbringing) in how kids will react to even the sternest and most confident Classroom-Management-minded teacher.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

“It’s Crazy Over Here!” (In which the refurbished ATR gets a glimpse of APPR in a struggling school)

An ATR looks behind the veneer of a school under a Quality Review. Note how the account resonates with NYC DOE Chancellor Farina's instructions to closely monitor (some would say harass) teachers at "troubled schools." The efforts to thin the ranks of veteran teachers brings to mind the issues discussed in the earlier post on the significance of the precariousness of pensions.

When I saw the number displayed on my new Galaxy S5 (yeah, I didn’t back up to Google and lost all my contacts), I knew it wasn’t going to be good.
It was worse.
It was a glimpse into every teacher’s worst nightmare.
You see, it was a colleague from the school I was excessed from. That school is now the worst school in the district. Dead last. Bottom of the barrel. And the teachers are paying dearly.
They had a ridiculously early Quality Review. The school was rated “developing”. The faculty was told that, since the school was “developing”, that the teachers must also be “developing” as well, and that observations would be conducted on the assumption that the observed teacher was “developing” unless the observations proved otherwise (and the administration is making sure that the observations don’t). Those who cannot prove otherwise will be “urged to move on”.
So how is this playing out in practice? Well, after listening to my friend, who is up for tenure AGAIN (she has been in the building for over FIVE YEARS and STILL no tenure despite all Satisfactory ratings), it is apparent that they are trying to “clean house” and get rid of as much of the current staff as possible.
Let’s start with the teachers who were “developing” last year. They are all being observed CONSTANTLY. Sometimes 2 – 3 times per day. And, lo and behold, they are ALL either “developing” or “ineffective” on these observations. Every. Single. One. Teachers who chose the informal observation format for evaluations are being given full period (or longer) FORMAL observations, with no pre-ob or post-ob conferences, even though the administrator is in the room for 45 – 75 minutes at a stretch. And one administrator will leave and another will come and observe the teacher AGAIN. Almost immediately. I would venture a guess that they are looking to take the teachers (all tenured, mind you) who were “ineffective” or “developing” and make sure that they rate the same way this year, so that they can begin the 3020a process and get them out at the end of this year. Given the poor scores and general lack of discipline in this school, one can rest assured that the test data will support any poor rating an administrator pre-selects to give a teacher. So, that will take care of a nice chunk of the tenured, senior faculty. Let’s see what’s happening with the other ones.
Non-tenured teachers are being threatened with discontinuance. Daily. Both directly and indirectly. There are at least three teachers I KNOW of who have been teaching in NYC for over five years and who STILL do not have tenure. They are doing their “tenure binders” every year, collecting data, work samples and “artifacts” over and over again, only to be extended every year because “your data is off” or “you missed five days last year and was late once”. Last year, not ONCE teacher was granted tenure. This year, most of the untenured teachers are being informally observed almost daily, with written, formal “actionable feedback” begin given constantly. The feedback is often contradictory and vague, but that doesn’t stop them from coming in the NEXT DAY and commenting that “past suggestions have not been implemented”. So, the paper trail is being laid out so that the teachers who have been in the building for YEARS, but without tenure, will likely be discontinued at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, discipline in the building in non-existent. Students curse, fight, assault, and harass the teachers and each other, and administration turns a blind eye or attributes the chaos to “poor lesson planning” or “lack of cultural relevance” if the teacher is white.
Sometimes, it’s good to be an ATR.
God help my colleagues.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

An ATR responds to the Post's anti-teacher opinion column

Subject: Today's Post Opinion

Dear Mr. Cunningham,
(Editorial-page editor) 

  Do you really believe that the educational crisis in our country stems from the abundance of incompetent teachers or is there another agenda you are fostering?
  It is really not a sensible premise when it is seriously analyzed.

  Teachers have a Masters Degree-plus, in their subject areas. They must go through three years of probation in which they are observed multiple times. How then can there be so many incompetent teachers?
Rather, the problem in education stems from a system that socially promotes rather than holds students to high standards and accountability.  It is also a cultural problem of entitlement instead of valuing achievement. 

 Standardized testing is an important assessment that has revealed the low levels of student performance. Many would like to bury their heads in the sand by ending standardized tests.  However, holding teachers accountable for student test performance is unacceptable as there are many factors that contribute that are out of teachers' control. Testing has always been an assessment tool of monitoring how well the student has learned but at the end of the day, it is the student's responsibility.  Did the student pay attention in class, do homework, study for exams? Was the student excessively absent? All these are critical factors in the learning process.

  Making teachers scapegoats for the failing system will only weaken our educational institutions further. We are going down the wrong path and heading for the cliff.

  The one issue that I agreed with in your editorial was your opposition to weakening the NYC Discipline Code.  The main deterrent to learning in our public schools is a lack of student discipline. Charter schools seem to understand this principle that an environment conducive to learning must be achieved for learning to take place.

  Your paper is also way off base on the ATR issue. These educators should be placed in vacancies (they are employed by the DOE not the individual school) and evaluated like other teachers. Instead, they are stigmatized and vilified for being in the ATR pool. The City wastes over 100 million a year by its policy, as well as maintaining a central ATR unit with 30 roving supervisors.

 There is so much "wrong thinking" concerning education. If you want to "fix" the system, one must have the courage to address the real problems. Maybe, you should consult with teachers for real insight. 
James Calantjis
Public School Educator

Saturday, March 28, 2015

An ATR's letter to Mulgrew on phony mandated interviews

A letter to UFT president Mulgrew, whose union represents also paraprofessionals, who get placed when excessed from a school, but cannot ensure the same for excessed teachers.  Remember that this president has been reported as using WNYC's phrase "unwanted teachers" referring to ATRs while on the station, when the fact is that ATRs have higher salaries which principals will avoid in favor of new recruits. Fair Student Funding creates this incentive to hire new teachers. This is why ATRs will very rarely stay in a position beyond June. Somehow Mulgrew cannot bring it to himself to utter these facts.

To: Michael Mulgrew
Cc: Amy Arundell; Michael Sill
Subject: Mandated Interviews


    I have just returned from my "mandated interview" at A. Phillip Randolph H.S.  I was told by the secretary that all of the interviews had been cancelled last week.  We were all given letters, by the principal, to this affect.  This is not what I am writing you about.  It is the blatant effort of Tweed to paint all ATRs aka, The Walking Dead, as unhireable and therefore need to be terminated.  
   To back up this statement, a rash of senior teachers, in the pool, in the outer boroughs are being hounded and setup by supervisors for "U" ratings.  I have also learned, in confidentiality, that we are being deliberately sent on interviews that are nonexistent, which is a violation of Art. 16, paragraphs 2 & 3 of our contract.  
    You need to fix this now. Not in 2 months or 2 years, but now.  We have dedicated our lives to the children of the City of New York and we deserve better than this.  We are tired of hearing that the union can't demand that we in the pool (ATR) not be terminated.  You are the president of the UFT.  If they don't want to budge then there should not have been a contract until the city did come around and negotiated a viable, honest and respectable solution to this madness.
   I hope to hear from you concerning this latest in a very long history of abuse of the senior teaching staff in the city and union.   

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why the stakes are high in veteran teacher terminations: 'Retirement' without quality pensions

Harper's Magazine had a sobering August, 2014 article, "The End of Retirement," in which Jessica Bruder reported on retirees that had inadequate pensions. She encountered roving "elderly migrant workers" who work at Amazon warehouses or on farms.

Many of the points from the Harper's Article: Many of these workers were actually former members of the middle class, with management jobs in corporate America. These new migrants often travel in RVs, moving from job to job. The work is often too taxing for people their age, people in their 70s or 80s. Corporate America's shift from traditional pensions to 401(k)s has meant that workers have lost in the long run.

Some of the main points were earlier published in U.S. News & World Report, "A Disturbing Look at the New Retirement."

ATRs, and other teachers threatened with termination-- This is your future if the DOE field supervisors or other administrators. 

Notice how many ATRs with between 20 and 25 satisfactory rating years in the system and are suddenly getting U ratings? Termination before 25 years will keep these teachers away from getting full pensions necessary for a quality retirement. The opportunity to "hold down runaway pensions" is likely what is driving the effort to terminate teachers, whether by observation of ATRs in substituting situations or by Danielson-style teacher evaluation. Tenure remains, but states have an opportunity to evade their pension obligations. 

And where is the UFT on this threat? As field supervisors inappropriately give unsatisfactory ratings in subbing performances, ATRs are feeling abandoned. ATRs felt sold out by the Contract on Educators. Now they feel betrayed, as members report hearing UFT president Mulgrew buying WNYC's rhetoric and calling ATRs "unwanted teachers" on NPR, when the reality is that their salaries prevent them from being hired