Queens ATR (a pseudonym and not her real name) is an Reading Specialist in Queens elementary and middle schools. She comes from a proud union family and has been involved in the UFT for over a decade. These are her words and not the opinion of UFT Solidarity caucus.
Once again, the comedy show, known as the NY Post, gets it all wrong regarding the ATR pool and the teachers who are in that special kind of limbo. While the Post is certainly entitled to its opinion (this was, after all, an opinion piece), it is not entitled to its own facts. I have been a member of the ATR pool since 2012, so I may have a little more knowledge of the facts and circumstances around the ATR than the Post editorial board has. So, allow me to provide a few misconceptions and clarifications, which, had a member of the Board tried, could have been answered by any member of the pool. But when you are the Post, hyperbole takes precedence over facts, doesn’t it? I mean, why speak to a member of the ATR when hyperbole, slander, and conjecture are SO much more interesting, right?
First of all, the ATR and the so-called “Rubber Room” are two completely different entities, and teachers end up in each through completely different circumstances. To equate the two is disingenuous and false. The ATR, or Absent Techer Reserve, is mainly comprised of teachers who have been simply excessed from their schools due to no fault of their own – program changes, enrollment drops, or budget cuts. Before Michael Bloomberg and the infamous 2005 contract, such teachers would have simply been placed in another school in their district, much like a corporate reorganization where personnel are moved to accommodate changes in operations. In addition, seniority rights would have placed these teachers in vacancies within the district BEFORE the district would have hired any new teachers, This is the equivaent of a corporate entity reallocating the staff they already have BEFORE hiring new staff. It’s simple human resource management – optimize the staff we already have BEFORE we hire anyone new. But when the 2005 contract gave away seniority rights, this practice was eliminated, and the ATR pool was born. In contrast, the “Rubber Room” was a reassignment site where tenured teachers accused of misconduct reported while awaiting their contractually entitled 2020a hearings. ATR teachers are NOT in the Rubber Room, since they have not been removed due to allegations of misconduct. To confound the two is disingenuous on the part of the Post, and shows a complete lack of care in researching the facts upon this “opinion” piece is based. A five minute conversation with ANY ATR teacher would have provided this information.
Secondly, this “opinion” piece expresses derision at the idea that the teachers in the ATR cannot simply be fired. Once again, the ATR is comprised of teachers who have simply been excessed from their schools, which can happen for many reasons which have nothing to do with incompetence or misconduct. To confound the two borders on slander. Are most ATR teachers tenured? Yes. Most of us have many years on the job, which mean we have tenure and are not “At-Will” employees. However, it does not mean that we have a job for life, or that we cannot be fired – it simply means that we are entitled to due process and a hearing before we can be fired. But if a teacher is truly incompetent or ineffective, a good supervisor should be able to provide enough documentation to show that the teacher needs to be removed. Contrary to the belief of the Post, no competent teacher WANTS to work with an incompetent colleague – it makes everyone’s job harder. Teachers in the ATR would not BE in the ATR if they were incompetent, because the 3020a process is in place to remove teachers who are not up to the job.
Finally, the ATR pool has become a way for principals to retaliate against teachers who they feel are too expensive, too vocal, or too aware of their rights in the building. Teachers are dumped into the ATR because they are whistleblowers, because they refuse to write fake IEPs, or because they are too high on the pay scale. Principals will often pursue a 3020a against a teacher that they KNOW is fake, but the outcome of the mandated arbitration will be that the teacher becomes an ATR in spite of the charges being unfounded. The principal then has the expensive teacher off the building’s payroll, the teacher is now in limbo and is forced to work as a floating sub in random buildings, and the principal has removed the troublemaker from the building. Other ATR teachers are reading specialists – teachers with extra post-Master’s training in literacy development who are experts in working with students who struggle to learn to read, However, reading intervention is NOT a mandated service, so when Bloomberg cut school budgets, most buildings eliminated the Remedial Reading staff (that’s how I ended up in the ATR the first time) and pushed the responsibility for reading remediation onto the classroom teacher, who has neither the time nor expertise to solve the problem. And other teachers have stood up to a toxic principal, dared to question and speak up, and have been rewarded for their advocacy by being placed in the ATR. My latest placement in the ATR came as. A result of sung the DOE for hostile work environment and winning a six figure settlement – I couldn’t be place back in my school, but the elimination of seniority rights meant that I couldn’t move into an open position elsewhere. This led to my current status as an ATR.
While the existence of the ATR is certainly a fair subject of debate, the facts surrounding the existence of the ATR and how teachers are placed in the ATR are NOT up for debate. The ATR is NOT the Rubber Room, teachers in the ATR are not incompetent, and teachers to not end up in the ATR because they are “bad”/ Before we can have a civil discourse about how this situation can be best remedied, we must first commit ourselves to the facts.