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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New York City's ATRS: Teachers In Limbo

City's Unwanted Teachers Drift Through a Life in LimboUpdated January 17, 2012 7:12am

Charles Pollak in Day Care Room Charles Pollak, a health teacher in in the 
city's Absent Teacher Reserve, was recently assigned to a day-care center in a Harlem high school. 
(DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe)
MANHATTAN — Hundreds of city teachers show up at schools they've never seen 
before every Monday morning.
The lucky ones get assigned to classrooms, maybe to teach the subject in which they 
were trained. Others do paperwork. And some waste hours doing nothing.
On Thursdays, they get a notice from the Department of Education telling them where  
to report the following week, and the cycle repeats.
This is what the DOE calls the Absent Teacher Reserve, a pool of nomadic educators 
who are paid their full salaries to work as substitutes. Most have been "excessed" by 
budget cuts or school closings and have been unable to find new jobs. Others have 
been liberated from the department’s notorious "rubber room," or have survived “unsatisfactory” ratings, and were deemed fit to keep teaching.
Until recently, the city allowed ATR teachers to remain at a posting for a full school 
term, during which the school principal could decide whether to hire them. That 
changed with the weekly reassignments, which went into effect in October as part of 
a deal with the United Federation of Teachers to avert layoffs.
The department says this is a fairer and more efficient way for the castoffs to find 
new jobs. The regular reshuffling gives them more opportunities to impress more 
potential bosses, officials say. They also have access to job fairs, online job 
announcements and recruitment consultations.
Hundreds of displaced teachers get placed in permanent jobs through this “free 
market” system, the DOE says.
But critics say the city isn’t doing enough to help teachers adrift.
In an audit of the ATR last year, Comptroller John Liu said the city could have spared 
millions of dollars by filling open positions with ATR members instead of hiring new 
Many of the teachers who remain stuck in the ATR, especially those with the most experience — and highest salaries — believe the DOE is trying to force them out to 
make way for younger, less expensive, talent. For proof, they cite a comment by 
former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who proposed eliminating the ATR because it 
cost the city $100 million.
Rodney Nightingale at P.S. 87 in the Bronx Rodney Nightingale, a reading teacher, outside P.S. 87 in 
the Bronx, his 12th school this year as a member of the Absent Teacher Reserve. 
 (DNAinfo/Jon Schuppe)
“That’s money that could be spent on teachers that we desperately want and need,” Klein said in a December 2010 memo to principals.
The teachers feel stuck, and see no way out.
“It’s very stressful. And very frustrating,” said Rodney Nightingale, a licensed reading instructor with 19 years on the job. “It’s frustrating because I consider myself a good 
 teacher, and I enjoy working with kids. This is not what I had in mind when I decided 
to do this for a living.”
Nightingale, 61, was placed in the ATR in 2009, after his position in a mentoring 
program was eliminated. He spent the following year in the pool as a reading-
intervention specialist at a school in the Bronx. The next term, he taught gym. This 
year, he has worked at a dozen different schools in the northern Bronx, filling in for 
whatever staffer happens to be absent.
When a principal compliments him on his work, Nightingale replies, “Then hire me.” 
But the principal usually says there isn’t a spot available, and that his $86,000 salary 
— nearly double the starting salary of a new teacher — is too high.
“I used to like teaching,” Nightingale said. “I still like it when I make a connection. But 
it’s not very satisfying because you know you’re not going to see these kids again.”
Many members of the ATR commiserate on blogs in which they share their stories. 
One of them, NYC ATR, is run by a former member of the pool who recently landed a 
“provisional” job at a school he likes.
“I wish I knew what the point was, because it certainly doesn’t serve the students… 
and it doesn’t benefit the teachers,” said the blogger, who asked to remain anonymous 
out of fear that his new principal would cut him loose. “They are given meaningless assignments, so I don’t see who it’s benefitting.”
Charles Pollak, a health teacher with 27 years in the system, joined the ATR after 
reaching a settlement with the DOE that freed him from a “rubber room,” one of the reassignment centers for teachers under investigation for incompetence or misconduct
 — a system since abandoned.
ATR Job Fair 
 Teachers on the city's Absent Teacher Reserve flooded a job fair in July 2011. (NYC ATR)
Pollak, 66, earns more than $100,000 bouncing around the city, often doing nothing 
related to his expertise. At one recent stop in Harlem, he spent half his day in a 
day-care center, where students struggling to graduate dropped off their young 
children. The other half of the day he had nothing to do.
“With this economy, you pay me top salary to let me watch babies sleep?” he said. 
The principal stopped by, and said he was just as frustrated by the system, which 
he described as “a computer pushing people around to drive them crazy.”
Pollak said he had finally decided to ride out the next few months and retire.
Nightingale said his wife wants him to leave immediately, but he has decided to hang 
on a little while longer, when he becomes eligible for a full pension.
“I didn’t plan on retiring,” Nightingale said. “I’d rather not give them the satisfaction, 
but they’re forcing my hand.”
Last Thursday, he returned home from his posting at P.S. 87 in Wakefield and 
checked his email, where he found a note from the DOE's human resources 
department. It ordered him to report the following week to P.S. 89 in Williamsbridge.
Thirteen schools this year, and counting.

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