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Monday, January 16, 2012

ATRs as Field Supervisors: Or How To Turn the Tables on the DOE

Phil Nobile is a former Rubber Roomer now unfairly designated as an ATR (Absent Teacher Reserve).
 ATRs as Field Supervisors: Or How To Turn the Tables on the DOE
By Philip Nobile

One of the pleasures afforded teacher tourists, otherwise known as ATRs, is savoring a different school every week. Despite the burdens of enforced nomadism, it can be vaut le voyage if you eroticize (i.e., anthropologize) the experience. 

Apart from hardship commutes to remote Staten Island, I enjoy the chance to compare and contrast institutions in District 76. My past two assignments at Automotive and Boys and Girls high schools in Brooklyn tested my theory about indiscipline and college un-readiness.  The more I travel the more I see that low achievement correlates highly with prevalence of lewd language and the popularity of pants on the ground.   

Automotive is an educational carwreck like all thirty-three transformation and restart schools. Hyper-segregated (97 percent black and brown) with a 53.6%  graduation rate and .9% college readiness, the school is not a favorite to survive.

The first class I covered during the week before Christmas was a perfect storm of mismanagement leading to a dangerous fistfight. The regular English teacher (and football coach) had been mysteriously suspended and replaced by a long parade of substitutes. Nobody gave me a sub-lesson and the paraprofessional had none either. The twenty or so kids were loud, unruly and unreachable. A young female dean popped in and sternly complained about the noise. The boys addressed her as “Gorgeous.” “I don’t have time for that,” she said in character and left. Soon after, I called her back to extract a wiseguy’s I.D. I mentioned the absence of a lesson. “Turn on the History Channel,” she said, and departed again. Adrift and undistracted, the boys started flinging paperballs. One hit the wrong fellow at the wrong time and fisticuffs ensued to the cheers of the crowd. I nimbly rushed into the corridor to hail security agents who had to club the locked door to enter the room and subdue the gladiators.

Later, I told the new male AP Security that the mayhem might have been avoided with the provision of a lesson plan and some handouts, which is the normal procedure.  “I can’t disagree with you,” he said. Does the Principal know that English chair isn’t giving the kids lessons?” I asked. “The Principal is the English chair,” he replied. Hmm. Not much changed after Christmas. I returned to the class. There was still no lesson, no regular teacher, no learning, no interest from the principal, but no donnybrook either.
Flash forward to 8th period on January 6, my last class on my last day at Automotive. It was a filthy interlude in a computer room. Again, there was no lesson. About twenty students went online and the mischief took off. I could live with the loud music but not the words and the dirty dancing by the only two girls in the class (Automotive’s’s overall M/F ratio is 9/1 that cannot be good). Before exiting the premises, I wrote a fed up note on the coverage sheet circling 8th period. I delivered it to the office of first- year Principal and acting English head Caterina Lafergola:

To the Principal:

This class was a disgrace, full of rolling obscenities—like “suck my dick”—via the computers despite two dean visits and AP security. I’ve been here for [9] days. Despite many pleasant encounters, your school discipline is atrocious. Your deans are too friendly which plays into the hands of the students. Regrettably, [Chancellor] Tisch was right about Automotive [when she zapped its chronic dysfunction the Dec. 6 NYT]. I urge you to get serious.

P.S. What kind of school are you running where students feel free to defy teachers and administrators with the grossest language and gestures?


Last week was my second algorithmic go round at Boys and Girls, another near-dead school walking. Hyper-segregated (2% white and Asian) with a 45.7 grad rate and 4.2% college readiness, B & G is also swimming against an F on its 2010-11 Progress Report. (Automotive’s grade was a not so gentlemanly C.)

B & G’s culture, like Automotive’s, seems woebegone. I never met a contented teacher there. Despite the DOE asteroid speeding in its direction, the faculty appeared to be bravely holding on and keeping the place together. On the other hand, I was told that so much STD popped up in a student blood drive that all the donations were rejected. The only fight I witnessed was a screaming clawfest between two girls that left clumps of hair in the corridor.

More memorable was a loutish oral sex debate in a geometry class the day before the final exam. I instantly intervened with the instigator via a lowkey tete-a`-tete in the hallway. He did not get the message and recommenced the maledicta. I called a dean. The boy and his conversational partners were removed. But enough. I decided to write up the three boys and personally hand my incident reports to the AP Security, which I did.

While I had the AP’s attention, I brought up the gap that I noticed between the ubiquity of electronics and pants on the ground and the prominently posted rules forbidding both. I said that the scanning was ineffective and the dress code commanding “no pants worn below the belt or ‘sagging’” was equally so. Enforcing the latter, I suggested,  could swiftly move the culture of the school a few more feet from the street. As I heard a principal once say to a School Leadership Team, “Our students should look like they’re going to college, not to Riker’s.”

The AP listened politely and did not disagree. He said he would look me up before I disappeared on Friday. But he never did. Even so, B &G is the only school I’ve seen with a wall poster protesting male prison swag:








We ATRs are unintended field supervisors of the entire system. From now on I’m going to rate my assigned schools and principals on their enforcement of the Chancellor’s Discipline Code, specifically Level 2 B15 against “using profane, obscene, vulgar, lewd, or abusive language or gestures.” There is no Tweed standard re pants on the ground …not yet. A year ago, during an ATR term at Abraham Lincoln High Principal, I asked Principal Ari Hoogenboom why he didn’t outlaw the Riker’s swag, he said: “I have to pick my battles.” I have chosen mine. Please join me in your own way.

To be continued … 

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