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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Absent Teacher Uniform Assignment Format

Reposted from a terrific blog, 

Dedicated to All ATRs in NYC by David Hedges

Whether or you have been in the ATR pool for a long time or you are new to us and this is your third school so far this year, I want to reassure you that being an ATR is not just a wonderful opportunity for your own professional development but also, that your unique placement in each school can make a real difference in the lives of the students and the other teachers you meet.

We are the itinerate ambassadors of a learning culture from the past that modeled and taught the ideal of self-renewal.  We are rapidly becoming archaic and have very little time left in which we can transmit a sense of urgent purpose that is not data driven, but grounded in Humanism.

Most of us in the ATR pool are veteran teachers.  For instance, we are experienced in guiding students toward serving their long-term self-interests without being confrontational and without resorting to the “because I said so” attitude.  We have a lot to offer the younger teachers who are under a lot of pressure to take responsibility for things that are beyond their control, such as test scores and family problems that spill over into the classroom. [1]

 Younger teachers entering the system do not have the advantages that we had.  They don’t spend the first few days of professional development hearing pep talks about education. They are given the Teachers’ Handbook, told to analyze data, instructed to think like a computer programmer or a statistician so they can use ARIS effectively, and then, if time allows, inspect the book room for ideas.

Data driven instruction, like market driven corporation puts balance sheets first, and attends to the human experience after all the numbers have had their say.  A Social Studies teacher at a very good school in Brooklyn who has the reputation with his students and colleagues of being able to tell stories from history that capture everyone’s imagination, told me that his gift at making history come alive is actually viewed as a defect to his teaching by his supervisor.  Teachers are leaving NYC because we don’t want to be instructional marketing specialists.  We want to share that feeling of aliveness that comes when you are part of a community of people who love what you love: education. 

I entered the teaching profession for a number of reasons, but the most significant one nowadays is that I wanted to inspire students to learn without tests or grades as a motivation.  Intrinsic values, rather than extrinsic ones were the currency in my classroom economy.  My feeling was that everyone could earn a high grade.   I was lucky to have had teachers who were more inspiring than the grades were.  They taught me about learning contracts and showed me that if I set my own goals, rather than teach myself to submit to those of others, and do my best to meet them, then would be no reason why I can’t earn the highest grade I want.  I was taught to confront one of the most challenging existential crises very early.  A different zeitgeist haunted our consciences during the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Silberman’s Crisis in the Classroom is still excellent reading.

Now, back to what I set out to talk about with you.  We, as ATRs, are a specialized department onto ourselves and we have no support but that which we provide for ourselves.  In fact, we have to do this job in an even more hostile working environment than our juniors.  We don’t even get to have real pre-observation conferences nor have we a UFT chapter leader who knows how to keep the administration on the leash.  No community, no support, and higher risks for unruly classes and U ratings.

What we might do is create a “Uniform Absent Teacher Lesson” for each subject and grade.  Schools should have a uniform sub-lesson format so that students can recognize it instantly and comply with it, knowing that they will be held accountable.  As it stands, the absent teacher lessons are the weakest link in the instructional chain.  Imagine, in contrast, if, when a teacher is absent, students are provided with a standard format- a booklet that states, in plain language, what the learning objectives are, enumerates each step of the procedures, and includes a rubric for student reflection that (a) helps them to identify their strengths and (b) suggests alternative paths that may lead them toward even better results in the future.

I am including a link to an excellent self-contained Earth Science lab that has all of the qualities that I think belong in a good substitute lesson activity:

The cover page of the document might emulate the New York State Regents Examination. (see below)


The New York City Department of Education
Department of Curriculum Development

[Insert subject area here]
For [Insert teacher’s name here]

A separate answer sheet has been provided for you. Follow the instructions
for completing the student information on your answer sheet. You must also fill in
the heading on each page of your essay booklet that has a space for it, and write
your name at the top of each sheet of scrap paper.

If a Scantron is provided, be sure you answer all the questions in this assignment and write your name on the Scantron sheet in the appropriate place. Remember, stray markings scanned as wrong answers and will adversely affect your grade.

This assignment tests your ability to work independently.

Read all directions carefully. 

Learning Objectives:  By the end of this assignment you will be able to [insert specific subject area’s objective here]


Shows evidence of being able to read and follow directions

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