Finally a reporter who actually interviews ATRs about what is really happening in the ATR pool. Too bad the UFT leadership continues to not only ignore the issue, but is with the DOE to help fan the flame. Two more months until Amy Arundell has her once a year boilerplate meeting with ATRs as the UFT works with the DOE’s office of Teacher Quality and Recruitment to hire over 5,000 new teachers.
Don’t expect articles like this in the UFT’s NY Teacher newspaper.
It ain’t necessarily so.
That’s what New York City public school Teachers who have been relegated to Absent Teacher Reserve—the equivalent of a “rubber room” for educators without an assignment—say in response to critics who contend they’re unfit for regular classroom duty.
In mid-June, dozens of activist parents from across the city rallied on the steps of City Hall, loudly demanding that Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña “End the Absent Teacher Reserve Coverup!”
Under the banner of the advocacy group StudentsFirstNY, the nearly 200 demonstrators angrily charged that Teachers in the ATR pool were banished there—with pay—because they’d been accused of “inappropriate behavior,” or had been judged to be “ineffective” in the classroom.
The activists further alleged that the city spent “over $100 million a year paying Teachers who never enter a classroom.” And they argued that all too often, “poor-quality” Teachers who were ultimately reassigned from the ATR pool were “dumped” into schools in poor neighborhoods where students were in need of the top-notch instruction common in the system’s highest-rated schools.
After reading an article about that rally in THE CHIEF-LEADER, several Teachers who have been or are currently relegated to the ATR emerged to say that their critics have got it all wrong.
“The public is terribly misinformed about what being an ATR Teacher really means,” said Lawrence Zajac, 63, an Art Teacher with 16 years’ experience teaching in city public schools who first became a member of the ATR pool after being excessed from the closing Franklin K. Lane High School in 2008.
“The claim that ATR Teachers are being sent to poor-performing schools, versus the claim that ATR Teachers are being paid for never setting foot in a classroom, those are contradictory statements,” he said.
“StudentsFirstNY is not a grass-roots organization; they’re a pro-charter-school group that has an agenda,” Mr. Zajac contended. “Their true goal is the privatization of public education. The charter movement paints Teachers as lazy, incompetent or untrustworthy, with the goal of discrediting the Teachers’ union.”
He further noted that poor-performing schools in impoverished neighborhoods “sometimes have problems with student discipline, and as a result have difficulty attracting and keeping Teachers not skilled in handling discipline problems. And if the administrations in these schools are not supportive of Teachers, then the Teachers don’t want to stay.”
Another veteran of the ATR pool, Earth Science Teacher Eric Chasanoff, recently charged on his education-related blog, “Chaz’s School Daze,” that StudentsFirstNY “has decided to go after ATRs by falsely claiming they are ‘ineffective teachers’ forced on schools. This big lie has been with the StudentsFirst organization for years. Now they have told ill-informed parents that their school woes are caused by ATRs being forced on schools who must pick up their salaries.
“The real truth about the ATRs,” Mr. Chasanoff wrote, “is that many of them are ‘quality teachers’ who came from the 163 schools that [former] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg shut down, or were accused [of some wrongdoing] by a student or administrator and won their 3020-a termination hearing [after] the Department of Education failed to prove their charges.”
Mr. Chasanoff stressed that the ATR pool—which, according to the DOE, contained 1,083 Teachers as of January—“is dominated by veteran Teachers, who have more than 15 years in the system and are usually 50 years of age or older. These ATRs are near or approaching top pay and schools under tight budgets are forced to hire ‘the cheapest and not the best’ Teachers. The result is a revolving door of ‘newbie Teachers.’ Instead of a ‘quality Teacher’ from the ATR pool, the schools are putting in inexperienced Teachers with poor classroom-management skills and that hurts the students.”
Francesco Portelos, a veteran Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Teacher, said he was bounced from his teaching position at the Berta Dreyfus School on Staten Island and placed in ATR status after he blew the whistle on a Principal he suspected was misappropriating school funds.
He insists that often Teachers who are pulled at random from the ATR and reassigned to vacancies without regard to their teaching specialties suffer as much as the students in the schools and classes they are reassigned to teach.
“I was reassigned to I.S. 34 on Staten Island, and given nine classes of Italian to teach,” Mr. Portelos said. “the problem is, I don’t speak Italian. I had to go on YouTube and take a crash course on Italian. I was evaluated and given an unsatisfactory rating for not teaching Italian properly. I fought the unsatisfactory rating and they ended up pulling me from the Italian classes after just three weeks…and replacing me with another Teacher who also didn’t speak Italian.”
Inexpensive Over Seasoned
“Under the current system and budgetary constraints schools and Principals are under, there’s an incentive to keep experienced, highly-qualified Teachers out of the classrooms, in favor of newbies,” said Mr. Zajac, who stated that his annual salary is “approaching $86,000 to $90,000.
“I have a master’s degree and over 30 hours of additional study beyond my master’s,” he said. “That’s hurt my job prospects. These days, to be hired as a high school Teacher in New York City you don’t have to have a master’s degree, you only have to agree to get your master’s in three years.”
In a statement released earlier this year, Chancellor Fariña’s office said that the 1,083 Teachers currently in the ATR were “249 fewer than at this point in January, 2014. As we have worked to get Teachers who do not belong in the classroom out of the ATR, we have also worked to get high-quality Teachers out of the ATR and back into regular assignments.”
As far as Mr. Portelos is concerned, that would mean “properly placing ATRs into permanent positions, instead of hiring 6,000 to 7,000 new Teachers, like they’re planning to do.”