ATRs, the unrepresented -- no elected representatives in the UFT

"The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected.
"To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another."
Thomas Paine, First Principles of Government

Friday, March 28, 2014

Educator sets the record straight to Daily News on editorial's falsehoods about ATRs

An ATR writes to the Daily News editorial board after their deceptive March 23 editorial maligning the professional worth of ATRs.

Dear Editorial Board,

  It is disheartening to continually read your editorials expressing falsehoods in disparaging ATRs (excessed teachers).

   You do not have the facts when you state ATRs are unable to find positions. It is common knowledge principals are refusing to permanently hire ATRs because of their higher salaries that are charged to their budgets. In addition, since Sept. 2011, when ATRs began weekly rotations, principals have used ATRs "provisionally", to fill vacancies. However, the ATR is then let go at the end of the semester (goes back to the ATR pool) and the school hires a new teacher. In this manner, the school saves money two ways, as provisional hires (ATRs) are charged at a small rate to the budget and a new teacher is hired at a starting salary.

  The above can be proven by submitting a FOIL for the number of ATRs that have been appointed to positions (not provisionally hired) since Sept. 2011.

   ATRs are teachers who have many years of experience and are therefore valuable resources to the system. To claim principals don't want them because they cannot teach is absurd. Consider also the excessed guidance counselors, librarians,social workers,etc, who cannot find positions.

  In conclusion, teachers are employed by the Department of Education and not any particular school. They should be placed in vacancies before new hires. They should be given the opportunity to teach and be evaluated like other teachers and not pre-judged through biased opinions.

James Calantjis

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A look at what's creating the 83% jump in teachers with mid-career resignations

Amidst the Daily News' disinformation campaign of lies and deceptions about the role and qualifications of ATRs (soundly rebutted in the Chaz blog's Truth About ATRs post earlier this week), the UFT newspaper on March 6 presented some facts, data on NYC DOE teacher resignations in recent years. Resignations of teachers with few years in the system decreased. On the other hand, the paper noted that resignations of mid-career teachers showed a marked jump. The article's table shows an 83% increase in resignations in teachers with 6-15 years in the system, from 496 teachers in 2008 to 907 in 2014.

There are patterns behind the scene that should be recognized. The stats in the article don't mention that tenure is being granted more rarely. Barely over fifty percent of teachers are being granted tenure.

And behind the big increase in resignations by 6-15 year teachers are forced resignations by teachers in the 3020a process, including teachers being hit with dubious rubber room charges. For those that doubt such an idea, there is a report from Houston's Fox station on how students are hosting video tutorials coaching other students on how to fire teachers. Teachers are wondering what exactly the UFT is planning, in the current contract negotiations, to reign in the Leadership Academy principals that are more concerned with vindictiveness than educational leadership.

Another question is how many teachers in the 6-15 year and over 15 year categories were ATRs that were driven out by the humiliating, hostile work environment of weekly rotation or the very dubious U ratings of ATR observations with students the teachers just met, an issue that has received much attention at the Chaz blog and the ICE-UFT blog recently.

When you see 20% or more in teaching staff turn-over at certain schools, every year, you have to ask not whether it's just the teachers, or is it something about the school itself that creates so many resignations or terminations. Across the system, the high number of resignations in recent years reflect exhaustion over working conditions: record high class sizes, how the schools are run and unrealistically high workload expectations, all of which had made teaching a more and more stressful and time-devouring job.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Star art teacher Part II: filling in after a safety-violating AP to be

In our last installment we read of how a Max Beckmann Fellowship awardee's wisdom and experience was snubbed. In this second report by the star ATR art teacher, we read of his experiences filling in an AP-to be leaves behind a room filled with safety violations. And is the new DOE resisting putting ATRs back into the classroom?

When I reported to one secondary school, the secretary asked if I were the art teacher they were told would be coming to the school. I replied I was and she said she had a program for me to assume. The staff and students of the school had just returned to the campus after being displaced by Hurricane Sandy, but without the art teacher who got a position as an AP with another school in the same building. I saw this as an opportunity to help students in a meaningful way.

My initial enthusiasm was dampened by the very first class, a group of 7th graders. One student went right to a jar of paint and threw it on the floor. It was acrylic paint which is hard to remove especially from clothes if left to dry. That day, I set about securing materials. I found unlocked in that art room easily available to the students: serrated blade knives (steak knives, I believe), permanent markers, acrylic paint, x-acto blades, electric jigsaws, cans of mosaic tiles, and other materials that normally would be locked up.

It took nearly a week to get keys to the cabinets so that I could make sure these and other items were safely out of reach and I could only do that by appealing to the custodians. That week I was stopped by security because they detected metal implements in my bag. Yes, I had to go through scanning. I had brought in a screwdriver and pair of pliers to remove a coathook sticking out from a cabinet by the door. It was mounted at eye-level for a young person. Security allowed those tools when I explained what I needed them for.

As troubling as the unsafe condition of the room was the program itself. There were double period enrichment classes for 6th-graders, but the Juniors met only once a week. Altogether, the program necessitated nine different curricula. It took over a week to get rosters for the enrichment classes and I was only able to get a printout of where all students had to go for the enrichment classes and sort out which were mine, but when I did I found that there were over forty students enrolled in one of the classes. I contacted the person serving as guidance counselor about this irregularity and she explained that she thought art was a specialty subject like gym and could have up to fifty students. Now the students could also change which enrichment class they were to attend the very day they were to go to a class by informing "guidance" they wished to switch.

I had support from the Dean and an AP and was able to get students' phone numbers. Unfortunately, due to Sandy, the phones didn't work properly. Staff contacted administrators on their cell phones and I was only able to use school phones for parental contacts the last few days I was there. The behavior of all classes from the sixth-graders to the Juniors was horrible with countless instances of purposeful destruction and lying. Students constantly reminded me that I was only a substitute, not a real teacher and that they would fix it so I would lose my job. After all, this was an "A" school.

During that time, I produced lessons and had projects I thought appropriate. Students were guided by rubrics in the expectations of those projects. I left behind the work the students accomplished graded during the three weeks graded according to the rubric and a record of each student's daily participation during the time I conducted classes there as well as  a recommended grade for each student. Whoever would assume responsibility for the program had my grade book. But I think what was most emblematic of my time there is the memory of a sixth-grader who kept throwing paper at a girl's face. I tried to talk to him in the hall. When that didn't have the desired effect, I called in the dean. As well a parent coordinator was present as this sixth grade boy said he wasn't going to stop doing whatever he wanted because he just didn't give a f*ck.

This school did receive a grade of "A" from the DOE.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Star art teacher, Beckmann Fellow, now ATR, his expertise snubbed

Star art teacher and Max Beckmann Fellowship awardee, now ATR, his expertise snubbed. In New York City, America's Art Capital, the city DOE says it wants the best and brightest. As the Chaz blogger noted, in truth, things look otherwise.

I remember covering an art teacher at one school. The school's other art teacher was puttering around in the shared art room as art teachers are wont to do. I was helping a girl with the proportions of the human face and told her that the eyes are situated as if they sat upon a line halfway between the top of the head and the tip of the chin. The art teacher nearly shouted, "No, they aren't; the eyes are dead center in the head" and produced a xerox from a how-to-draw book for young children instructing kids to put the eyes in the center. I didn't tell her that I've had a Master's degree in Art since 1977, I was a Max Beckmann Fellow at the Brooklyn Museum, and I showed at The Drawing Center in Soho. By the way, my drawings are of the human figure. I bit my tongue.

Another time, I was being interviewed to fill in for an art teacher on maternity leave. I had to wait in the art room a few minutes and looked at the perspective renderings on display. In spite of numerous and glaring errors, all the students received grades in the high 90's. When the head of the art department asked what I would do next for this group of students who were pursuing a special sequence meant to be a springboard into design, I told her that I would probably revisit linear perspective as the student examples showed even the best were clearly deficient in their understanding. I mentioned that I had a profound understanding of linear perspective and had found ways of explaining it to students that would enable better results to which the head of the department explained that these children were low performing students thus implying that they weren't capable of understanding linear perspective. I countered that I had met with success with the students at Franklin K. Lane High School, a school closed for poor performance. I wasn't picked to fill the vacancy.

Another time I was surprised to see my assignment for the upcoming week had been changed Friday evening. I went to the new assignment Monday morning and produced a copy of the email directing me there. The secretary found some irony in the fact that the administration had just retained a per-diem substitute to cover an art teacher vacancy that would possibly last the rest of the year. I was directed to be with and assist the substitute teacher who was to conduct a class on computer graphics. She started them by directing them to go to The Brooklyn Children's Museum website for the art activities that could be found there. The few days that I didn't have coverages and spent helping in the computer room convinced me that the teacher had only a shallow understanding of the Photoshop program she was "teaching". I did bring this to the attention of the UFT.

I was surprised at one school by an assignment labeled "Tutoring". It was my job to make sure that the students completed a three page packet called the Art Project. The task for one page was to fill in a Venn diagram outlining the similarities and differences between Manet and Monet. Another page had an article about Rodin and students were to complete questions showing that they understood what they had read. The last page held a simple crossword puzzle of art terms. I tried to stop students from simply copying other students' answers and urged them to at least read and decide from themselves, but the students countered that it didn't matter because nothing was ever corrected. After the once-a-week, end-of-the-day, 45-minute tutoring class was over, I brought the folder holding the packets into the main office to deposit it in a large cardboard carton labeled The Art Project along with the other dozens of folders of packets allowing the students to get art credit. This was business as usual for this school.

There have been many more such incidents sharing the common theme of serving students poorly. It is no surprise that the state audit of New York City schools found art education in America's art capital wanting.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

An ATR's letter to Farina makes clear the inaneness of the ATR observation system

An ATR's letter explains the "Twilight Zone" farce that the NYC DOE's rotation system is; just consider also how ridiculous the ATR observation system is under these same circumstances.

March 8, 2014

Dear Chancellor Farina:

Picture this if you will: you are scheduled for elbow surgery with the renowned surgeon Dr. Robert J. Meislin at NYU Langone Medical Center. Dr. Meislin is scheduled to perform an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, otherwise known as a Tommy John surgery, on your right elbow. Without this surgery, you may never be able to hold a pen again. But you’re not worried, Dr. Meislin is very experienced.

The morning of the surgery, as you are being wheeled into the operating room, you find out that Dr. Meislin was in an accident and will not be operating but they have found a replacement. A fine proctologist will be performing your surgery but that’s alright, they’re both medical doctors.

Was that you we heard screaming as you hailed a cab, still wearing your hospital gown, on the corner of 1st Avenue and 30th: “That OR scheduling nurse doesn’t know her ASS from her ELBOW”?

Sounds farfetched? Well, to parents in the NYC school system, that’s exactly what is happening. Teachers who have been trained in one subject or at one level are being sent into schools and being told to teach subjects (and then being observed doing so) in things they have no idea how to do. They have no materials, no lesson plans, no IEPs, no training. High school math teachers teaching pre-k; business teachers teaching science; bilingual classes being taught by teachers who don’t speak Spanish. You get the idea. Is this in the students’ best interests, the teachers’, the city’s? If your child was in this class, what would you think?

Cynthia Shub, ATR

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Teacher Settles Age Case for $90,000 Against New York City Department of Education

From an online press release site, March 7, 2014. Not intended necessarily as an endorsement for any law firm. For informational purposes.

    NEW YORK, NY, March 07, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- A male elementary school teacher, who was fired at age 62, settled his federal age discrimination case at mediation, shortly before the case was scheduled to be tried.

Plaintiff, who holds a Master of Arts degree in childhood education, began his employment in 2006 as a public school teacher in the Bronx. After completing two years successfully, he was given an unsatisfactory rating and recommended for termination. This unsatisfactory rating came after complaining to the school's Principal that younger teachers were getting favorable assignments. The school Principal's recommendation was mitigated to an extension of probation for another year. When Plaintiff's school was closed for failure to meet minimum requirements, Plaintiff was transferred to another school where he received a satisfactory evaluation. The new Principal based on pressure from the District Superintendent was forced to give two quick evaluations which were deemed unsatisfactory and Plaintiff's tenure was denied and he was termination from employment.

As it was clear in the depositions of the Principal and District Superintendent, the Department of Education varied from its own rules and standards and the evaluations were flawed and biased.

Plaintiff was represented by Philip Taubman, of Taubman Kimelman & Soroka, LLP. One of the best known employment firms in New York, specializing in all matters of employment discrimination including sexual harassment litigation.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

NYC City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito Defends ATRs

The city council Speaker responded to ATRs appeal, printed here on March 1.

March 3, 2014

Dear Mr. Klein, Mr. Barusek, Mr. Proano and Ms. Sacco,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the plight of Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) teachers.

Despite misleading media reports implying that many or most teachers who are assigned to the ATR pool are there because of disciplinary issues or that they are "poor quality" teachers, I have heard reports that the vast majority of ATR teachers are, as you said, "good, dedicated, hard-working professionals." In fact, most ATR teachers were "excessed" from their former post when their position was eliminated due to enrollment decline, or to the phaseout or closure of their former school.

We also understand that the policies of the prior administration, particularly the emphasis on closing large numbers of schools, have contributed to the high number of teachers who find themselves in the ATR pool.

As you noted in your letter, our city's new Mayor and Chancellor have already indicated that they want to place the majority of ATR teachers back in classrooms, rather than serving as itinerant substitute teachers. I certainly support the goal of putting more experienced teachers where they are needed–in classrooms helping students.

While the City Council has no direct authority over the Department of Education (DOE) and its policies, especially under mayoral control, we look forward to working with the Mayor and the DOE to address the issue of ATR teacher assignments.
Thanks again for taking the time to contact my office. Please don't hesitate to get in touch with me again if I can be of any further help to you.

Melissa Mark-Viverito
NYC Council
cc: NYC Council Education Committee Staff

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Displaced teachers (ATRs) make public appeal to city council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito

Displaced New York City teachers write a public letter to the new speaker of the city council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, someone promoted as a pro-labor candidate. Displaced teachers and other DOE staff appeal to elected officials because union leaders are unresponsive to us and a month after the Daily News attacks are still silent on the smearing attacks on us.

February 13, 2014

Dear Ms. Mark-Viverito,

    Congratulations on you becoming Council Speaker.  Why we are writing you is to bring to light the unvarnished truth behind teachers in the A.T.R. pool.  Most of the A.T.R.s are as much victims of failed educational policies as the students that were under educated by those policies.  A.T.R.s came in 2 major classes.  The first, were senior teachers that were excessed from closed schools.  The second were those who, for no fault of their own, were caught up in the “reign of terror” that the past mayor and his chancellors waged against senior teachers in this city.  It is true that a very minuscule number of individuals rightly deserved to be disciplined and removed to the now infamous “rubber rooms”.  The rest of these teachers were no guiltier than you, when their principals falsely accused them of wrong doing and had them removed from their schools.  When these teachers finally left these rooms, they were automatically put into the A.T.R. pool.  On top of that, they were “black-flagged” as “discipline problems”. 
  The purpose of this pool, in the eyes of the mayor, was to demoralize us and accelerate our retirement and or resignation from the school system.  This is no more than an abuse of good, dedicated, hard working professionals.
  When A.T.R.s read, in the NY Daily News, that the mayor and the chancellor were talking about placing us back into classrooms, we were ecstatic.  As stories began to appear in that paper accusing us of everything from criminal behavior to “U” rated teachers that would prey on our children our mood changed drastically.  We were so upset by these unwarranted attacks that we thought that we would never be able to teach again.  And that Council Speaker is a fate worse than death for teachers.
  “U” ratings were just another form of harassment used by principals to remove senior teachers from their staffs and replace them with young and inexperienced individuals whom they knew they could “bully” into teaching “the program”.  These teachers that were rated “U”, in most cases did not deserve that rating at all. 
  We ask you as a powerful voice in the progressive movement to filter out all the rhetoric of the past and help the mayor and the chancellor in moving this great city forward.  Put us teachers back into the classrooms.  Give us the chance that was given to so many people before and help our kids to succeed. 

Thank you,
Howard Klein
Scott Barusek
Guido Proano
Elvira Sacco