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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

From David Hedges: Dumped ATR sings a sad song

A veteran contributor, Dumped ATR, reflects on her first day back to school, 
and back in the ATR. 

Dedicated to All ATRS In NYC
Why don't they mention the pain?

Chita Rivera
When Kander and Ebb wrote
the song "Why don't they mention
the pain?" for Chita Rivera's
autobiographical cabaret act,
they were giving a veteran
and a star a moment to be
both comic and honest about the
difficulty of performing even
for someone talented and fortunate
in her career. It is tremendously ironic
for me to invoke this song in
discussing the substance of my
conversation with other ATR teachers
on this first day of school. But, I
remember what it felt like to hear
this song: to look into Rivera's eyes
and feel the physical and spiritual torture that comes from trying to
succeed as a dancer. 

Five ATR's showed up at a medium-sized high school in Queens.
Two of us had done leave-replacements last term--and all of us had
filled in for another teacher more than once. We were all in our 
forties, with over twenty years of experience. We should have been
able to get our rooms ready, make copies for the upcoming days' lessons,
touch base with colleagues about their summers, etc. Instead,
we attended meetings with the faculty who shared their concerns
and congratulations. We tried to be helpful and offered our advice too
eagerly to people who don't know us in an effort to show our knowledge
and usefulness. At lunch, however, we talked about "the pain." The
times we expected to be hired and weren't. The school supplies we
bought for classes we weren't offered, after all. The many times we
blended into the wildness and the chaos of schools in which we
didn't know students' names. 

The supervisors who made use of our energies, who lent their phone
numbers to our lists of references, who were thankful, but did not
make us permanent staff, may not have been thinking of us this
afternoon. But, we were thinking of them--of their demands, and in
some cases, their gall. The supervisor who threatened to put a letter in
a file, and then tried to "pull us from the rotation"--use us an ATR
for a few weeks without even the dignity of a provisional hire
for a leave replacement. The supervisors who went out of their
way to try and keep us and couldn't. The students we would probably
never see again. 

It's especially difficult to have spent a good part of your professional
career having tried to make a difference in students' lives, and now find
yourself "disappearing" almost as soon as you begin to teach classes
of kids. I don't know where most of the students I taught in a leave-
replacement two years ago went to college. Principals don't invite
you to graduation--they have more pressing things to do, but you still
wonder what happened--did the kid who was struggling to pass math ever
score above a 75, or is she heading for remedial math in college? If you
do find out that the latter is the case, you feel guilty. Of course, other
people taught that student after you moved on. But you will never be
sure that you got any one part of your lesson right--did the skills stay
with that kid in September? People are busy with the kids and demands
in front of them, and so are you. 

I have managed to stay in touch with some colleagues and that
has been wonderful. But, as I went to my assignment today, I missed
what I might have shared with the people I worked with last spring as
a leave- replacement for someone who is now back. What did they decide
to do about that 11th-grade curriculum question? I'm still thinking about
it--sure, I've texted back and forth, but I'm way behind the conversation.
It's like tweeting to players on a sports team after the regular season is
over--they are in their playoffs. The question is no longer the same.

And they know I wish I were there. And that it's painful. But, I 
mention this for my colleagues who are in pain and who may 
not be acknowledged by anyone. And for all of us for whom the pain 
is also cumulative.

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