A Manhattan ATR Challenges the NY Post

Manhattan ATR (her pseudonym) is a passionate Social Studies Educator and a proud member of UFT Solidarity and a unionist. These are her words and not the opinion of the UFT Solidarity caucus.

For the past several years, the New York City Department of Education’s Absent Teacher Reserve pool (ATR) has been given a bad rap. The NYC DOE developed new plans for this upcoming 2021-2022 school year to keep ATR’s who were placed in year long positions for this past academic year, a permanent placement for next year with the school they are in and the city covering the budget. This is nothing new as suggested by a recent NY Post article on June 22nd.

As a teacher who has been a member of the ATR pool, I have very mixed feelings about Tuesday’s editorial piece. I am not one of those teachers who had done something wrong or had a case brought against them; my school was closed and by default, all teachers and staff members of the school were put into excess. If you did not find a position, you were put into the ATR pool. No one tells you what it is like being an ATR. In the beginning, I had moved from one school to another within 8-weeks giving me a little time to build some relationships with students and teachers. The next placement was for 6-weeks, and I was asked to teach a regents preparation class and credit recovery to students. In some way, the school felt that 6-weeks was enough for a student to either earn credit, be prepared to take a regents exam or both. The flaw in this: my placement ended in November and who was taking over to continue with these students after I left? I have taught regents review courses and the best one can do is cover content in a semester, not 6-weeks. Now, I am fortunate enough that when I was excessed from my closing school, I left with an effective MOTP and highly effective MOSL, but I wonder, do new principals see this when you are placed into their school? Was I given a “class” to “teach” because I somehow demonstrated my competency in my content area?

The Post argued that the ATR should have never happened in the first place. What do you or the DOE suggest happens to teachers in unfortunate circumstances like mine where I did nothing wrong but just happen to be in the wrong school at the wrong time? Is it also the fault of teachers who were given a “satisfactory” rating under the old evaluation system to suddenly, the next year be “developing” or worse “ineffective” under the Danielson Rubric? Did teachers with years of experience and “satisfactory” ratings for years prior all of a sudden forget how to teach and became incompetent in the summer prior to the Danielson implementation and therefore they became as the Post called them “less-than-stellar teachers”? I find that very hard to believe as those teachers were people who helped, supported, and mentored me through my first few years in the DOE and helped me to become a good teacher. Many of my colleagues, when Danielson was first implemented, were “under attack” by administrators to rate them as “ineffective”. These are the “less-than-stellar teachers” that were targeted by administrators one of a few reasons, they were older, they were receiving a higher salary, they refused to change their teaching practices to align with changes in the direction of the school, or they simply did not agree with the administration and therefore were constantly being “observed” multiple times to build a case for their ineffectiveness.

Dan Weisberg stated that a teacher who had not been in a classroom for five years should not be allowed to teach. Can the same be said for administrators who have not been in a classroom for 10+ years and be a good judge of what effective practices look like? How about the administrator that was a classroom teacher for only three years and then got their administrative license and became an AP with limited classroom experience? I have witnessed both. We are faulting less-than-stellar teachers, but what about the less-than-stellar or underqualified administrators. Who is failing our students ultimately? Is it teachers who are getting rated ineffective or the administrators who are ineffective leaders that haven’t used their practices in years and are not modeling and supporting teachers to become better for the students? People are so quick to judge and blame the teachers, but good teaching comes from practice, trial and error, and support of strong leadership. If a teacher is not performing up to standard, instead of just throwing an ineffective or developing rating at them, support them to improve in their area(s) of need.

Now, do I agree that there are some teachers who are in the ATR that should not return to a classroom? Absolutely. Unfortunately, throughout my time as an ATR, I have met teachers who have stated that they are content being ATR’s and waiting to retire. Other teachers could not conduct an appropriate lesson and students stated that the lesson was not engaging enough or worse, the teacher misspelled simple words during the lesson (yes, I’m sure we all have those moments, but it is not something I would suggest during a demo lesson). Am I concerned that people like these should not be in a classroom? Yes. Should teachers who unfortunately are waiting for a hearing to take place be allowed to work with students? Depending on the circumstances surrounding the investigation hearing, most likely not. But we must not look at ATR’s as a whole but as individual educators. I hate being roped into the stigma that ATR’s are lazy, incompetent, do not want to be in a classroom, and every other excuse that follows us.

During my time as an ATR, I was given 4 leave replacements, a temporary hire for a year at another school, and offered a position in my most recent school but, until the administration and others got to know who I was and not just another ATR, they were able to see that I was/am an effective teacher. I do not think that an administrator would just put someone into a leave without having some confidence in that person’s teaching abilities.

There are many flaws with the ATR pool and is there a better solution out there for teachers who are in these situations? I truly do not know the answer but to lump everyone who is an ATR into the “less-than-stellar” group is an insult to many effective educators.

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