Tuesday, May 3, 2016
It was supposed to break me. It was supposed to frustrate, humiliate, and degrade me into quitting, or at least doing something foolish that they could use against me.
I dared to speak out. I dared to document, challenge, and call BULLSHIT when I saw it. I filed lawsuits (and recently won a six figure settlement). I named names and showed proof. I made phone calls and forwarded documents. And in the end, I was returned to the ATR pool (with no actual documentation that I am an ATR, but that’s another blog for another day).
They thought that playing ATR Roulette would frustrate me. It sounds frustrating, doesn’t it? A new building, new staff, new work hours, new students, new grade levels, new parking situations and new commutes every few weeks, well, that has to be enough to break a person. Especially when you get to a place and are assumed to be incompetent even though you have nineteen years in and a clean file. You are asked if you have ever taken attendance. You are asked if you have ever been in a fire drill. You are told that the Smart Board is “only for teachers” and that “subs always mess it up”. You relinquish your name and become “The ATR” or “The Sub”. Kids see you and gleefully say, “Oh, look, a SUB!” The teachers you are helping don’t ask your name or even bother to glance at you, simply telling the class, “That’s the sub who will be here while I’m gone” as they run out the classroom door. Teachers with one year in are giving YOU directions and telling YOU how to teach a reading lesson (even though you are a Literacy Specialist with a Master’s in Literacy and fifteen years in the job). And the clincher – after a career spent almost exclusively with grades seven and eight, you are sent to teach everything but those grades – pre-K one day, fourth grade another, and on and on.
But let me tell you, DOE. Your plan backfired. Spectacularly. Not only have I not been broken, but I have become a stronger, better teacher and stronger better person for your efforts. I am a better teacher than I have EVER been – and it’s all thanks to you and your ATR pool.
You thought the constant changing of schools would be frustrating. Let me tell you, while there are a few oddball commutes here and there, I have found parts of my district that I never would have found had it not been for the monthly spin of the ATR Roulette Wheel. I have friends and colleagues in almost every school in my district. I know which schools are wonderful places to be, and where to avoid at all costs. I have a keen sense of what works in a school, and can see how vile administration can wreck a place by creating an atmosphere of intimidation. I’ve been able to support colleagues who have been beaten down and targeted, and provide welcome assistance when I can. I’ve truly learned how to HELP, and do it willingly and joyfully. And I can do this BECAUSE, at some point, I move on, thanks to the system YOU have designed.
I’ve developed the best poker face ANYWHERE. When I am in a train wreck of a school, with a nasty, back-stabbing staff and insane administration, I can look on with bemused detachment. I can take solace in the fact that in a few weeks I move on, and take pity on those who have to stay. I keep my game face on, and count the days until I leave the train wreck behind. I can even do this when the DOE sends supervisors and other officials to “coach” us. You’ll never see me sweat or smirk, but what I’m thinking is another story. But you’ll never know.
Thanks to the ATR pool, I’ve been moved out of my comfort zone – and discovered that I can do ANYTHING. For years, I taught in middle school. Mostly grades seven and eight. I never thought about teaching any other grade, especially the “Littles”. As an ATR, you teach whatever grade you are given. I bet, DOE, that you thought that would drive me nuts. Well, let me tell you – I have been able to see great teachers in action at every level and have learned much from them. As a result, I can walk into ANY classroom – from Pre-K to tenth grade – and teach something. On the spot. Immediately. And I can be successful doing it. I have become an absolutely FEARLESS teacher. And I owe it all to you.
I have become the BEST classroom manager I have ever been. Nothing like being “the Sub” to make classroom management a huge log roll. But, I’ve learned to walk in my own experience and authority, keeping my “teacher” presence and confidence in place. I can settle a Kindergarten class I have never seen before in less than a minute. I can have a sixth grade class ready to work in less than two – even though I have never seen them before. I can build a relationship with a group of students in a day or two and keep it going until I move on.
I have become mentally agile and unbelievably resourceful. There’s nothing like having a class of twenty five first graders looking at you when you discover that nothing has been left for you for the day. But thanks to you, I can “read” a classroom, find what I need, and make the day productive by simply making inferences from what IS left. Being an obsessive “planner”, I have discovered that I am, in fact, capable of thinking on my feet. Thank you for that.
Most of all, I have learned to appreciate my own skills and to stand up for myself. I now insist that colleagues address me by name. I call out secretaries, school aides, and paras when they speak to me like I am an idiot, or when they speak about me to each other as if I am not there. I’ve learned to demand professional treatment and respect. I’ve stood up for myself when fellow teachers have treated me as a subordinate, or worse. I don’t let them get away with it anymore. I’ve learned when to stand up and call bullshit, and do it politely, but without fear. I have become a force to be reckoned with.
So, DOE, thank you for this. Thank you for placing me in this situation where I have become the strongest, most effective, most resourceful teacher I have EVER been. I know this wasn’t your plan. But that’s ok – because of this I have learned that I am made of strong stuff. That I am a survivor and that I am amazingly competent and capable. Hit me with your best shot, DOE.
I’ll hit it right back.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
A retired ATR response to a negative letter in the New York Post for hit piece on ATRs.
Dear Mr. Benjamin,
Dear Mr. Benjamin,
Your opinion piece today on "Rubberrooms" is misinforming readers and disparaging ATRs.
The NYCDOE has allowed ATRs to be discriminated against by not permanently placing them in vacant positions. Even though the DOE says it has placed 500 ATR teachers into regular positions, the reality is that most of these teachers were placed provisionally and then dismissed at the end of the school year, going back to the ATR pool. In this way, principals were not charged the full cost of these teachers to their budgets. In effect, the DOE allows principals to manipulate and misuse the ATR pool. That is why, they do not want to give out specific information about ATR numbers and placements.
In addition, the NYCDOE hires four to five thousand new teachers every year while the ATR pool stays at around one thousand teachers on average. Therefore, if you are an ATR, you will likely not be hired on a permanent basis due to principals wanting to save money on their budgets by hiring new teachers.. It has nothing to due with teacher quality.
It is a mistake to disparage these teachers as "dysfunctional and ineffective", associating them with "Rubber Rooms." Most of these teachers were excessed from their schools. Some went through 3020a hearings because of their whistleblowing to protect student, parent or teacher interests at the school level. There are many ineffective and vindictive principals who use the evaluation process to punish teachers who want the UFT contract adhered to or report Special Education violations or speak out about ineffective school leadership teams, for example.
Instead of disparaging teachers for being in the ATR pool, they should be placed in vacancies and fairly evaluated for their performance as other teachers. The DOE is costing taxpayers over 100 million dollars a year, as you reported, when the simple solution is to place these experienced teachers into permanent vacancies.
The idea that ATRs are "bad" teachers" and negatively affecting the schools they are being sent to without any evidence is an absurd and biased opinion that is scapegoating good, experienced teachers, who through no fault of their own, are trapped in in the ATR pool .
I would welcome the opportunity to write a published rebuttal to your " Post Opinion."