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Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Day in the Life of an ATR, a Title Without Rights

One of my favorite blogs, NYC Educator, had a guest ATR post again this week that needs to be read. The fact of the matter is, there is a new subgroup of union members who have no rights: "ATR"s. Who is an ATR? First, "ATR" stands for Absent Teacher Reserve. Second, who becomes an ATR? You would think that if a school closes, that's when someone with a tenured position becomes a sub, temporarily. Or, in situations where a school loses students so that the number of classes offered are downsized, then a career teacher leaves the school and is assigned a substitute position somewhere else, temporarily, while the UFT works to get another full teaching position...right?

Nope, not exactly. An employee may hear from a supervisor that next week they will be assigned a different school as an ATR. No other explanation. If a person is charged with 3020-a, either fairly or unfairly (in NYC a person is charged first, then the case is created afterwards by "legal", Office of General Counsel), and is given any kind of penalty for any reason, he/she will suddenly become an ATR. Dont spend too much time on how this happens, no one is told. I mean, no one outside of the DOE and UFT/NYSUT reps.

Teachers/ATRs call me and tell me that they are told to go to "job fairs". When they go, they go with their resume, in good faith, ready to interview for their license area. But there are no jobs offered in their license, or when there are, they hand out their resumes never to hear anything about that position again. So they go home, and go to the substitute position and work in whatever office they are assigned to, waiting for their next assignment or next "job fair". They may see the exact same position listed as vacant later on. Principals do not hire ATRs for permanent positions often, if at all.

Some hear that they are working at a school for a month, but then are suddenly told to go to another assignment for week 2 of the 2012-2013 school year. The ATR, happy that at least he or she is getting paid, does whatever he or she is told. Even assignments are changed arbitrarily.

The only "good" part about this process is that ATRs cannot be observed because they are working outside of their license. I think this is going to change. I think that ATRs are going to be kept in a school for more than 1 week, then charged with something. And remember, if the person has "become" an ATR because he or she was found guilty of incompetency or misconduct at 3020-a, then is charged and goes to a second 3020-a, this in most cases means termination, more or less automatically. Also, the employee brought to 3020-a is placed on the Ineligible/Inquiry List" by Theresa Europe (NYC Gotcha Squad) and Andrew Gordon (NYC DOE Human Resources). Much, much more on this List very soon. 

Puleaze, folks, why are so many teachers "allowing" this process to occur? 

I am working on ending it, so anyone who wants to know more should email me at Watch for a press release soon.

Below are the posts on NYC Educator from "Guest ATR" which I think need to be read.

Betsy Combier

NYC Educator

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to Crush a New Teacher in Five Short Years

 by special guest blogger Suddenly ATR

Summer 2012: "I'm sorry to inform you that you've been excessed for the school year." Early morning calls are the worst, and this was no exception. I'd go on the open market except I was excessed the day open market ended.

Summer 2007:
I moved back to NYC to join the "Teaching Fellows" program. I had no teaching experience, but that didn't matter. I was told that the NYC school system had a "critical shortage" of science teachers, and since I had a science background, I applied.

The teaching fellows
training was fun. By fun, I mean it was entertaining and laid-back, and left us completely unprepared for the realities of teaching in an urban classroom. We learned the basics of a "lesson plan," and some important skills like "scaffolding" (still don't know what that is, all these years later), Bloom's taxonomy of questioning, and got a debriefing of some educational and developmental theories. I remember I read about Piaget's stages of development. After the daily training was over, the fellows-in-training would often go to the local bar and drink till the wee hours of the morning.

Summer 2012: I still see the NYC Teaching Fellow ads. I wonder why they are still hiring teaching fellows when there are so many ATR's floating around the system. I realize that I was excessed because of my lack of seniority, but in terms of salary, I am now considerably more expensive than most teaching fellows. I do get some encouraging words: "You might get hired because you're a fairly cheap ATR."

Summer 2007:
All teaching fellow trainees were placed in a summer school classroom to observe a senior teacher. I was placed in a large Bronx high school that is now closed. The school looked run-down -- paint was chipping, random doors were broken, and if the school possessed a smart board or projector I never saw it. The rooms had no air conditioners, and the students were miserable. The summer school teacher I observed was very old-school. His tests and worksheets were from decades ago. He wrote voluminous notes on the board. But he had the respect of a very large and impatient group of students. He diffused angry students with a mix of humor and sarcasm. I'm sure if he were observed today they'd say his lesson wasn't differentiated.

Summer 2012: I feel as if I'm a passenger on a train to Nowhereville, and that somewhere along the way, there must have been stops where I could have gotten off the train. I envy all the teaching fellows that got off the train. Some of them got off after a few days, some after a few months, some after a few years, but two out of three fellows get off the train one way or another by the end of the fifth year.

The strange thing was, I had started off the 2011-2012 school year with a definite plan to get off the teaching train. The plan was to teach one semester, and resign the second semester. I was quite frankly miserable for a lot of reasons, and thought I needed a fresh start. But the 2011-2012 school year ended up being by far the best school year I ever had, despite little things like my school being on the list of 24 schools Mayor Bloomberg tried to close. I had great classes with some of the sweetest, smartest kids. My portfolio was filled with good observations. Some days I'd admonish students with a "Don't write on the board!" but saw that the students were writing "We love you, Ms. __."  I didn't even consider resigning by the time February rolled around. Why resign when every day was meaningful and happy?

Summer 2007:
I went to many interviews after the 6-week training program was over. I was finally hired by a school that had been desperate for a science teacher. On the first day of school, I heard that the last science teacher they hired had also been a teaching fellow, but after a terrible day in February, she quit the next morning. A student had made some crude comments to her and she wanted the student suspended. When the student wasn't suspended, she walked. The principal apparently thought very highly of her and tried several times to contact her, but she cut off all contact with the school, and didn't even bother to return to retrieve her personal belongings.  I gulped for a moment when I heard this story, but I was convinced that it couldn't be that bad.

Summer 2012: I flip through the pictures on my phone. I had taken pictures of all the chalky love letters my students had written on the board this year. "Ms. __ is awesome." "You look so pretty Ms. ___." "Happy Valentine's Day Ms. ___!" "Happy birthday, Ms. __!" ""We will miss you, Ms. __!"


Thursday, September 06, 2012

Am I Real? Or Am I ATR?


 By special guest blogger Suddenly ATR

I showed up to my assigned school Monday. I walked into the main office, introduced myself, and explained that I was assigned to the school for a month as an ATR. The secretary nodded, and I tentatively asked what I'd be teaching. (I knew I'd be subbing in some capacity, but I still expected to be in a classroom.)

"Teaching?" she said, horrified. "You're an ATR, you don't get classes." 

Ok then. What was I supposed to do? 

"Well every day you show up at quarter to nine, and you're going to be helping out in the office. You know, answering the phone, lots of paperwork, stuff like that. Are you good on the phone?" 

I was a little surprised. But I went to the "welcome back" staff meeting, where the principal, who seemed a nice enough lady, introduced me as a new ATR and said I'd be there for a month. Nice school, I thought. It'd be nice if I was teaching here. There was a brand new teaching fellow, and another completely new-to-the-system teacher that were joining the school.  

After the meeting it was time for department meetings, but since I was an ATR and not part of any department, I had nowhere to go. "You could go sit in the teacher's lounge and read your ipad or something," the principal told me. The other ATR assigned to the school decided to do exactly that, and spent the rest of the day in the lounge reading a newspaper. I instead went to the meeting of the department I'd be assigned to. Everyone was nice, and one teacher suggested that since I knew the subject, I could be used in the month that I was there to tutor some students, when I wasn't busy in the office. 

Lunchtime. The new teacher showed me a place close by the school to get lunch, and it felt so strange, me talking like a grizzled veteran of the school system to the brand-new teacher. He asked me how it was that I was a teacher but I was going to be working only in the office. 

"I was excessed," I told him. 

He paused. "What does that mean?"  

After lunch all the new teachers had some workshop to attend, but I was sent back to the main office where I was told there was a lot of work to be done. The other ATR was still in the lounge reading his newspaper. Well, there was a lot of work to be done. I had to make about 2000 copies of some entrance exam sheet, and then I had to alphabetize all student files. The person who had alphabetized them before had messed up completely, and they were glad that I "knew the alphabet." 

Several paper cuts later, I was told I could go home and tomorrow I'd continue with the filing, copying, and various other office duties. "Thank you for helping out," someone yelled as I left the office.

Showing 21 comments

  • I can understand how someone with a low tolerance for idiocy might become more forgetful than usual of things like the alphabet.

  • Anon
    I have to commend this ATR for at least trying.  I know many ATRs feel defeated, but this ATR was at least welcomed to the school.  And it was wise to attend the meeting.  I also hope that being assigned to a school each month may give ATRs a chance to prove they are real teachers and not office workers.  But that might be asking too much.  However, if the next school is hostile, at least you have an out at the end of the month.  The rest of the staff is stuck there. 

  • bob schwartz
     As an ATR, why should you try.  Schools treat us as glorified subs and do not want to deal with us.  I will go in, do the coverages and at the start of October, go to another school and do the same each week.  I will not kiss the principal's back side and go out of my way to do anything more.  Been there, done that.  Last 2 Septembers, I was doing a vacancy in my license and the principal and both APs both years who were head of the SS dept. refused to observe me even though I asked in writing. What did they do, you ask?  They hired someone who makes 25K less than I do.  I am a real teacher and I do have a job, just not an assignment.  This is why some ATRs look 'defeated' as you put it.  Please, put yourself in the show of the ATR before you pass judgment.  Here's a tip, anyone can become an ATR in this system

  • Bedouin Teacher
    refuse to do scut work. You are not a school aide. The contract defines your duties, They do not include wasting your time or demeaning you. Go and read the paper. Only fill in classes when directed. They will use you as much as they can. Go to the teachers room and do as little as possible. Expect no help from the uft. Their mantra will be rudeness, or "we are looking in to it". There needs to be a class action suit against the UFT.
    Bedouin Teacher

  • Join the ATR listserve where ATRs share stories and strategies by sending an email to 

  • guest
    How sad is it that this happens to teachers, and how sadder is it that this seems like it could be a better deal than being in an actual classroom with all the bs paperwork, "data worship" and "gotcha squad" spot checks?

  • bob schwartz
    How many atrs are there citywide?

  •  Last I heard, we were pushing a thousand. But I don't believe that figure counts the teachers who are conditionally hired, many of whom do not make it beyond that single conditional year.

  • bob schwartz
     that's bs. an AP told me today there are 2-3 in each school and over 3,500 citywide

  • Former Teacher
    from what I have heard there are up to five in these schools- additionally we now see ATR AP's .  Why can not we have an accurate count?

  • What class sizes were there at the school, and could they have used you to teach & reduce class size?

  • suddenlyATR
    The classes are small, and they have hired several new science teachers, as well as some day-to-day subs for people who are on leave. 

  •  They could have used you to tutor kids. They could have used you to work with groups within classrooms. They could have created new classes. That they don't even consider such possibilities speaks volumes of the vision and imagination these administrators utterly lack.

  • bob schwartz
     administrators only want ATRs as 'free labor' for coverages so they can hold off on giving their own staff paid coverages and delay that with the 1 free coverage you do a semester

  • guest
    See what transpires next week.  Since you will probably just be there four more weeks, there is legitimacy in not giving you an "extra", i.e. not needed, long term committment.  But helping a new teacher in your license, or tutoring, besides any necessary coverages, would make more sense.  This is my 3rd year as an ATR and I have had a variety of experiences, included regular class assignments.

  • bob schwartz
     this, too, is my 3rd year as an ATR.  the past 2 Septembers I did a Social Studies JHS vacancy(both in my license area) to which I was not hired or even considered.  I even asked to be observed both times by the AP and principal(so 4 administrators) and I was told I was not the proper fit(by proper fit, I had tenure and a higher salary than a 24 year old).  Both times when I asked what proper fit meant in writing, I was not given an answer.  Ah, well, those poor young teachers are now being bullied, harassed, and having their lives held ransom in exchange for possible tenure while I do what I have to do and do not get bothered by a neanderthal AP.  and get more money.  not a bad deal

  • Jkq2
    If you come to Jamaica high school( what is left b/c we are in year 2of a3yr phase out) we may not have a locker to lock up your stuff, but there is a refrigerator in the teachers cafeteria and plenty of people to have lunch with. It's a disgrace what they have done!!!!

  • Efrankbayer
    The UFT should file an age discrimination suit against the NYCDOE. It is a giant waste of money and resources and demeaning to every educator who put in years of experience.

  • Mikkemadden

  • Mikkemadden
    when we have new mayor with the atr system change?

  • bob schwartz
     I think the ATR situation is here to stay.  Principals love new teachers out of college.  They are naive, can be bullied into working nights and weekends, kiss up and sip the kool aid.  Meanwhile, a veteran in the system that has kids, is married, has a life and makes more money is less desirable.  The city wants to force the veterans out and have a revolving door of 22 year olds.  Gone are the days where this was a 'career

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sad to say that in this economy ATR's should be happy they have money coming in.