Saturday, January 31, 2015

ATR Hell - 1 Week Rotation VS. 1 Month

Why does an hour of pleasure feel like a minute and 45 minutes of pain feel like a year? It deals with human nature and if you're a spiritual person the very essence of the afterlife. I was reading one of the    
Apocryphal books and that very question was posed. It had me thinking about my ATR experiences.

Monday, I start a new school after spending almost two months in the best place I've been. (My ATR Heaven.) Last year I was in 31 schools! This year only 4. Great news right? Well that gets back to my original question. That two months seemed like a day. Some of you out there may have spent your last gig in Hades HS. I'm sure if you did, this weekend must seem like Mardi Gras.

Is it better to be in a place a week or a month? Well it depends on the place. You may be in a place where you are respected by the staff and students or you may end up in hell!

What is ATR hell? Well, you will be greeted on your first day by the first demon, X, the payroll secretary with, "Oh, you're the new sub. Fill out this card. Give me a copy of your drivers license, your social security number and your blood type. Fill out this time card. You have to punch in and out." You- "Do all teachers punch in and out? X- "No, but you're not a teacher, you're a sub." You- "No, I'm an ATR." X- "What's the difference?!" You- "Two master's degrees and 24 years of experience." X- "How nice for you! Go to the hall and patrol for the next two hours, then do cafeteria duty and then cover two self contained special ed classes. I hope you have a strong bladder because the last ATR didn't return the restroom key (smiling)". You can agree or refuse. If you refuse, you meet the second demon, M, an AP or one of the principal's girlfriends, who will insult you and threaten to call your ATR supervisor . Things will get progressively worse as you realize a teacher will call in sick daily because the students are completely out of control and the administration is there solely to police the teachers. The students realize you don't know them and ethier try to shit on you, or if you're lucky completely ignore you. If anything outrageous happens, the administration will blame you and you will get a visit from the third demon, the ATR supervisor, S, who will begin by asking why you haven't quit yet.  Each day will seem endless.

Last year I was in 9 of those hellish schools- (Dante's 9 levels of hell). This year I have been in 2. I can put up with almost anything for a week, but a month or more in Mefistofele High will push anyone to the edge of insanity. So for me, the weekly rotation was much better.

To all my fellow lion tamers, I hope you end up in a decent place.

Are ATR APs Being offered a Severance Package?

One  of my buddies called me last night and told me ATR APs are being offered a 10 week severance package, that disappears after March. A severance package implies layoffs. Would their union agree to this?! I don't know. Perhaps a buyout is the more accurate term. I hate to think of anyone losing their jobs. Why would this be offered now? What effects will it have on ATR teachers? If it is a buyout, I can't imagine many taking a paltry 10 week payout in the middle of the year.

UPDATE 4/11/15: Several of my friends, who are ATR APs took the buy out. I want to wish them good luck. Many forget how professional these APs were and they like ATR teachers were left without a position when their schools closed.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Should Union Members give Unconditional Loyality During this Perceived Time of Crisis?

Interesting question. Let's delve into its meanings, both overt and hidden. What exactly is a union member? The obvious answer is someone who pays dues. The less obvious is someone who is represented and has a voice. Are you a union member? Am I? As one of 1800 ATRs, with no chapter and one representative, I certainly don't feel like one. We have been given an abject and subordinate role - solidified and legitimized by the last contract.

What is unconditional loyalty? For most that would mean showing fidelity, unity, and solidarity.  For our union it is silencing the calls for fairness and democracy. It is taking oaths of loyality. It is voting as a drone, not as a representative.
It is allowing yourself to be purposely led astray, despite your mind and very being screaming, STOP!     UFT: "Don't be silly, be good sheep and follow.".

What does a time of crisis mean? I would say its when there is a threat of irreparable damage. Does Cuomo represent a crisis? He would like to think so. He wants to be noticed and he wants a fight. Does he have the power to do what he wants? In my humble opinion, he does not. Am I forgetting Silver? No. That sword cuts both ways and its still swinging. Does the UFT feel threatened? I don't think so. You don't respond to a threat with a "tweet". It does however feel threatened by its dissenting members. The rallying cry for (and from) unity is a ploy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A New High School Fad - Beating Up Your Teacher and Videotaping It

There have been two recent incidents of teachers being physically beaten up by a student. One in Yonkers and the other in New Jersey. Both were videotaped. As a man and a teacher, I can only imagine the humiliation they must be going through. In the Yonkers case, the family went on Channel 12 news and blamed the teacher. Tonight, on the Joe Walsh radio show, he is questioning why the NJ teacher didn't fight back!

The explosion of cell phone video and the rampant disrespect of teachers by everyone, seems to be seeping into the classroom. As no one is respecting us as people or professionals, I expect these attacks to increase. It's been happening for some time, but as more and more school districts allow cell phones into the schools, people will see some hard examples of our students and society's ethical negligence.

I won't put video links to these incidents. They are crimes. They are disgusting. I believe the Yonkers student got a five day suspension. I don't know what happened to the student in NJ? If this happened in NYC, the teacher would be charged with hitting the the kid's hands with his face.

Where have all the School Libraries, Teacher Cafeterias, Staff Rooms and Save Rooms Gone?

On my Odyssey through Bronx schools, some buildings stand out for what they have, others for what they lack. As a typical example, lets look at the Kennedy campus , a hugh building with 8 floors. There are 6 student cafeterias and no teacher cafeteria. Some of the schools there have no staff rooms or SAVE rooms. Against the union contract, but who cares? I heard they finally opened the library, which had been closed for years.

Why does any of this matter? Well, teacher cafeterias and staff rooms are needed to share ideas, recharge your batteries (figuratively and literally), and bring a sense of cohesiveness to the staff. They were also invaluable for union activities. SAVE rooms are needed to have a place to remove students. Libraries are invaluable for student research, projects, homework and literary leisure. Many large schools don't have them or they are unmanned (and have deteriorated rapidly, i.e. Morris).
What's the reason for all this? Breaking up the schools created redundancy. Instead of needing 1 principal, you now need 6. Instead of 5 APs, you now have 25. Well, you get the idea. Same premise with space. The schools don't want to share space, so they create their own with whatever was controlled by teachers. For areas that had to be shared with other schools (and the costs accordingly) - no one wanted to pay (i.e., libraries). (Increase that attitude by 10 for charter schools.)

So what's the effect of all this? Many teachers eat lunch in their cars. I've seen many teachers grading papers and preparing lessons there as well. I recently met a teacher (at a student desk doing his classwork) in a small vestibule inside the men's room. Union activity is so fractured it is basically non- existent in most buildings. (I believe this is one of the main reasons for Bloombergs planned redundancy.) Why isn't the union insisting on one Chapter leader for each building? (The CL would be protected from most of the principals and APs. It would give real teeth to the CLs again.) Students and teachers have nowhere to go for quiet study or research. Unruly students are not removed and learning goes down to nil for many motivated students. There is no school spirit, it's like visiting a fast food restaurant. Go in and get out quick.

I personally hope that the large campus schools eventually come back as the great schools they once were. Redundancy is costing the city tremendous amounts of money and penalizing students and teachers in a myriad of ways.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Survival as an ATR - A Brief Overview

     When I was teaching I never thought I could become an ATR. The 2005 contract seemed like a win-win and most teachers trusted the union. At the time my chapter leader said the seniority clause really didn't mean anything - unless you wanted to change schools and bump someone. (Most of us wanted to stay in the school we were in until retirement.) He went on to further explain it would stop someone from bumping us. No one imagined school closings and the creation of the dreaded beast "The ATR". As time went on the number of school closings increased, as did the number of ATRs.
     Today many teachers are deathly afraid of becoming an ATR, partially because it's inevitable for experienced teachers. I now know many ATRs. Almost all are over 40 and professional individuals. (The stereotypes that abound are disturbing , especially when it comes from our union and fellow teachers.) Depending on your teaching background, some will have a much more difficult time than others.
     Everything is taken away from you, except the pay check. You will have no routine. You won't know the kids, teachers, administrators, building, or neighborhood. You will spend a lot of money in parking garages or on tickets. You will have a new cold every time you change schools, because of the different populations and stress. You will have to carry everything with you- coat, bag, food, etc.. You will start at 9 in one school, 7:35 at another. If you had a miserable time in the past, this may not be so bad. If you had a great time teaching, this will be hard on you. How to survive?
     Try to have a positive attitude. Try to exercise more, preferably before work. Watch yourself for depression and addictions ( shopping, overeating, gambling, and any of the more illicit ones). I have several friends who have become seriously ill and quit. Dress in layers - some schools are 90 degrees, others 40. Carry hand sanitizer and earplugs. (Yes, believe it or not, these rooms can get so loud your hearing will be in danger.) Carry some generic class work. Expect no help from the UFT and you won't be disappointed. Pick your battles, because you may win the battle and lose the war. Most importantly- don't lose your head.

Monday, January 19, 2015

What's Wrong With Teaching Vocational Classes to Our Students?

     A few years ago I looked for a contractor to build an addition onto my tiny home. After securing one, I noticed not one of his 25 workers were American. The contractor was a Vietnam Vet and as patriotic as anyone you could possibly imagine. The workers were all legal and he considered them family. (He even legally adopted one of them!) We got into a discussion about it. John said, "American schools aren't offering vocational classes and the few American guys that I hired had no work ethic. They would show up late, hung over, and smoke weed at lunch.".  He went on to say he went to Smith HS and went to work right out of high school. I asked him how that public school education worked for him. John frankly replied that he's a wealthy man. We became friends and I visited several of the Victorian mansions in Yonkers that he collected like matchbox cars.
     At the time, I was still teaching Business classes in one of the few vocational schools left. John asked me about my experiences there. I told him that many of my students went on to become small business owners or accountants. During that week one of my former students visited, after getting her CPA and making a high salary with one of the big 8 firms. She laughed and told me her mother didn't believe her salary and thought she was up to something illegal. She got permission from her firm and visited all my classes.
      That school no longer exists. Those vocational classes are no longer being taught. I'm now a glorified babysitter (ATR). Even our beloved UFT President Michael Mulgrew is a former wood shop teacher. (I don't understand his lack of empathy for us considering he would be an ATR if not for his union position.) The schools are pushing college to every student, regardless of academic readiness. No one knows carpentry, plumbing, electrical work or how to socially interact in business situations. What's wrong with teaching those skills that will earn NYC high school graduates a good salary? My son wasn't academically inclined. He graduated from a vocational high school in Westchester and went straight to work. He has the opportunity to make more money than me, doing something he loves. That's what I want for all NYC students. (And teach again!)

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

I always look forward to a day off - usually not contemplating the reason for the day. I looked at MLK's tombstone today and realized he was only 39 years old when he was killed. It caused me to think about the nature of martyrs. How many have given their lives for a cause? Many. How many are unwilling to give their lives for anything? Many more.
How about speaking out against injustice? "Well, I guess so, if it's not too troublesome and might be considered cool." Where to start? Start with those closest to you. You, your family and your students. How can you go march for ideals in society and ignore the plight of those in front of you? Do you spend time with your kids? Are you willing to spend your own time helping a struggling student? Do you look down your nose at those less fortunate than you? Did you vote for the last contract, even though it discriminates against the rights of your colleagues? None of us are perfect, but I believe as teachers we should hold ourselves to a higher ideal. I certainly am not considered a teacher any longer, (he's the sub), but I try to maintain my dignity under very undignified circumstances.
So on this MLK Day, I'm going to try to persevere as he did.