A close-up look at NYC education policy, politics,and the people who have been, are now, or will be affected by acts of corruption and fraud. ATR CONNECT assists individuals who suddenly find themselves in the ATR ("Absent Teacher Reserve") pool and are the "new" rubber roomers, and re-assigned. The terms "rubber room" and "ATR" mean that you or any person has been targeted for removal from your job. A "Rubber Room" is not a place, but a process.
In Mayor de Blasio’s New York, when a kid curses you out in a crowded hallway, all you can do is call the kid’s parents. That’s what the new discipline code says.
Our job is already tough. You never know what’s going to happen when you’re face-to-face with 34 teenagers five times a day.
Over time, you develop strategies. When they work, you repeat them. Eventually you create a toolkit to create an environment in which students can learn. You learn what to do when they test you, which they do constantly. You learn which kids cannot be near which other kids. You learn when to speak up, and when to keep your thoughts to yourself.
Kids are unpredictable, and each one has a unique set of problems and triggers. It’s on you to create an environment of mutual respect: You respect them, they respect you, and they respect one another. It takes time, but once there is a positive culture, learning can take place.
Discipline is the last thing you do, the last place you go. But every student needs to know you will go there when it’s necessary, or your classroom will quickly become a chaotic mess. I consider it a personal defeat if I have to remove a student from the classroom.
The last time I did that it was because a girl threatened to beat up a boy, and I was absolutely persuaded she would do it. Removing her removed that possibility. The next day she was a little calmer.
In our school, kids aren’t supposed to wear hats. They aren’t supposed to use their phones without permission, and in my class, they don’t. (Well, they do, but if I give them a look they stop.)
The hallway is a different place altogether. I don’t know the kids in the hall. They don’t know me. I am not a stickler about rules in the hallway. But some things are beyond the pale. A colleague of mine, a rather large man, saw a boy and a girl getting passionate and physical in the hallway. He asked them to go to class.
The boy instructed my colleague to perform a vulgar act that may or may not be possible. My colleague was able to handle it in a professional manner, but found the consequences for the kid’s act to be mild indeed.
Why? Because principals must now get explicit approval from the central Department of Education for suspensions involving student insubordination.
These are new regulations, brought to you by the kinder, gentler Chancellor Carmen Fariña — intended to lessen suspensions that disproportionately remove black and Latino kids from school.
The way things work on the front lines in school buildings, requiring approval from DOE is almost as good as flat-out banning these suspensions.
The new rules are working exactly as intended. Suspensions are way down — by 32% between last year and this year.
De Blasio and Fariña see this as a success, because fewer kids are missing class.
I see it differently, because now, baked into the system, there are only very mild consequences for wearing hats, using prohibited electronic devices or mouthing off to teachers. The most extreme thing you can do in most of these cases is remove a kid from class and schedule a parent conference. Of course if they occur in the hall, as a great many things do, you can’t even remove the kid from class.
I understand the chancellor’s interest in calling in guidance counselors and social workers before using disciplinary measures. I value them greatly, and often seek their help. But they’re overburdened, and some things are simply not their domain.
I understand that in the past, and in some places, suspension was overused. But every problem, like every kid, is different.
I’ve been teaching 32 years, and I’ve had a student suspended exactly once. But suspension was part of my toolkit, and like my classroom, I covet my toolkit. In fact, even talking about suspension was part of my toolkit.
Taking it away is not going to improve the education of even one single New York City schoolkid.
Goldstein is an ESL teacher and UFT chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School.