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

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"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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Who Am I Again? – In Which the Refurbished ATR Has an Identity Crisis

Another ATR declares:

I have a name.

Well, of course, you do. Don’t we all? You ask.

When you are down the Rabbit Hole into ATR Land, nothing can be taken for granted.

Even though this is my second time into the soup known as the ATR, this is the first time I was subjected to the weekly-monthly-random interval- let’s just f*** with them again because we CAN, rotation. In some ways, I found it better than being piled onto for a year, subjected to Danielson, Death By Professional Development, endless meetings, and the tyranny of bulletin boards. But there was one feeling that manifested itself in my gut that surprised me. It wasn’t the scrambling to scope out a locale, figure out whether to drive or take the train, or even adjusting to new schedules and timetables. Those things, while annoying, did not stir up particularly strong feelings in my. No, the thing that really got to me and made me want to rage against the machine caught me completely off guard.

In gaining rotating ATR status, I lost my name.

No one called me by my name, even though I used it when I introduced myself to everyone I met. I became “Sub”. “The ATR.” “The Coverage”. Even when I made it a point to introduce myself, no one bothered to use my name. I guess I wasn’t worth the syllables.

I was surprised at the dehumanization I felt at every turn because no one bothered to call me by name or even tell me theirs. For those of you who are not in this position, I invite you to put yourself into the following REAL scenarios and imagine how it would feel to be subjected to this every day, at every school, for 184 days. Didn’t matter if the schools were great, high performing schools or crap holes in the midst of poverty, it was always the same thing. People speak about you as if you are not there. Right in front of you as if you are furniture. And to them, it seems, you are.

Here are just a few examples of how people speak to and about ATRs.

From secretaries:

“Oh, I have the ATR here. Let me send her up there and you can tell her what to do.”

“Why are you worrying about that? Just let the ATR do it – it’s what she’s there for.”

“It’s the ATR on the phone. She wants a laptop for the Smart board. Is she allowed to touch the Smart board? No, I said it’s the ATR. Yeah. That one. Should we let her use a laptop?”

“Might want to just leave something easy. She’s just an ATR. You may not want her to actually have to TEACH anything.”

“You’ll have to take attendance. You DO know what attendance is, right?”

“You’re just an ATR. We don’t expect you to know anything.”

“No, you can’t have copies made. Copies are only for teachers.”

And now from teachers –

Often times, there was no “good morning” or “hello” when I walked in. As a matter of fact, there was very little eye contact. Even when I walked into the room with a smile and a cheerful, “Good morning”, or “Good afternoon!” I got no response except a brief nod as the teacher ran out the door.

I walked in on a baby shower in one school and was told, “This is only for teachers. It’s not for you. You need to leave.”

I think MAYBE three teachers actually introduced themselves and fewer asked me my name. More often the following statements were uttered:

“Ok, boys and girls. This teacher is my sub and she’ll be with you this period. Make sure you behave for this Sub!”

“Oh, you’re my sub. Great. My para will tell you what to do.”

“You’re here for me? Good. I’m leaving. Good luck!”

“You want to use the Smart Board? I don’t think so. Subs always mess it up and I need it, so just don’t touch it ok.”

“You’re an ATR? And they still allow you around the children?”

“Boys and girls, make sure you behave for this sub. “

“Are you my sub today? I told the office I needed a sub and I know they had extras and I want one!”

“Are those subs over there? Send one over. Doesn’t matter which. It’s all the same. Just give me one of those. No, not that one. The other one next to her.”

And from students –

“Are you just a sub or are you a real teacher?”

“Miss Sub!! Miss sub!! X is bothering me!”

“No, Miss Sub! We don’t do it like that. THAT is the green table not the blue one!”

“My teacher doesn’t like the subs to use the Smart board!”

“Hey, it’s the sub again! Can we watch a movie?”

“My teacher says subs can’t sit at her desk or touch the computer!”

Each incident, as small as it is, is like being stripped of your identity with tweezers. Each is just one little pinch, but repeated several times a day, day in and day out, and it becomes so painful you want to roar or cry, or maybe do both.

There were so many times that all I wanted was some acknowledgement that I was there, that I was helpful, and that I had a purpose. Eye contact and a smile. “Hi, I’m Mrs. Y. Thanks for taking my class today”. Introducing me to the class by name, not just “behave for the Sub!” I was shocked at how dehumanizing an experience this is. There were so many times I wanted to respond and lash out in frustration because all I wanted was to be treated like a person, and not a spare part.

Anyone who deals with ATRs and has ANY shred of empathy needs to keep these things in mind. Listen to yourself. Remember these are humans who are coming to you who have been already stripped of the professional status and dignity. Try not to add to their dehumanization.

I have been in your building for over a week. When I call down to the office with a question, don’t yell out, “The ATR is on the phone! She needs A and B!!” I can hear you. After the first day, try to remember my name. And if you forget, that’s okay. Just ask again and I’ll tell you.
When you are discussing my assignment and I am standing in the room please use my name. It’s really unpleasant to be treated like a piece of furniture. “Should Ms. K cover that period in 3rd grade” sounds much better than, “Well, I’ll just send the ATR up there.” Remember, I’m right there and I hear you.

Teachers, I know you are overworked. I know there is never enough time to get it all done, but please, try to remember that I am a person trying to help you. I am not the enemy and I am not incompetent. Judging by our ages, you were in kindergarten when I started teaching, and your turn in my position will come soon enough, I assure you. A simple handshake or introduction will go a long way. Introduce me to your class by name. The way you treat me will give them an indication of how much respect they should give me when you leave. If you see me more than once, try to remember my name, or at least say “Good morning” before you stop me in the hall and say, “Are you me today, because I am supposed to get a day off for planning!”

It comes down to a simple edict. Treat others as you would like to be treated when it’s your turn to be the ATR.


  1. Terrible situation...

  2. I am highly aware of the ATR predicament and unfortunately these 2 strategies are the ONLY way out:
    1. Contact EEOC to file an age-related (or disablity-related) complaint. A staff counsel at that agency has indicated a complaint could be filed against the UFT and the DOE.
    2. Seek legal representation by hiring an employment attorney who will start the process rolling where you will threaten to sue the union and the city in order to end your nightmare.
    Good Luck

  3. The ATR situation is not age discrimination - there are plenty of 60 year old newbies out there. It's pay grade discrimination and age is a component of reaching that high salary, not the reason for it. Also ATRs are still working. A lawyer will of course take your money, but that approach will lose.