Monday, August 21, 2017

The ATR and the Big Lie

I've never been an ATR, so I can't speak from experience here. My experience is limited to being an occasional substitute teacher, not one of my favorite things. I was in my school a few times this summer, and one day a secretary asked me to cover a class. I thought I'd maybe help out, so I asked, "Which class?"

She told me she needed a teacher for a day, and that there were three classes, two hours each. I told her thanks but no thanks. Two hours is a long time to work as a substitute teacher. I generally sub exactly once per semester, because that's what the contract requires. Some teachers volunteer to do more for extra pay, but not me. I don't even want to do the one.

As a teacher, I form relationships with students. They're not always the best, but they're always relationships. That's why I make it a point never to have students removed. I always think it's better they worry about what I will do, rather than some dean or AP. Really, what can they do that I can't? I also feel like allowing students to bother me that much signifies that they've won somehow. I've given up and shown them they are too much for me. I don't like to give them that.

However, when I'm subbing, I don't really give a golly gosh darn what the students think. I never have to see them again, so I'm happy to toss someone out so everyone else sees I'll do it. Of course, that works two ways. Obviously all the students know they won't see me tomorrow either. So why should they be on their best behavior, or anything remotely resembling it? Why not toss absolutely everything at that substitute teacher, and why not literally? Who's gonna know? Who's gonna care?

Now imagine that you're an ATR teacher, and your stock in trade is showing up and teaching whatever to whomever. Physics today, Chinese tomorrow. And then there are the principals, quoted in reformy Chalkbeat, who say how awful ATR teachers are. I'd only hire 5% of them, maybe, they say. And there are two issues with that.

Issue number one, of course, is if I were teaching Chinese or physics, I'd be totally incompetent. I know virtually nothing about either. Even if a teacher were to leave me lessons all I could do would be follow instructions, watch the kids and hope for the best. And the fact is that I get lessons for subbing far less than half the time I do it. Sometimes I hear that teachers should give lessons in their own subject area. Now mine is ESL, so it would be ludicrous to give such a lesson to native speakers. But even if I were to give one in ELA, imagine the reaction of a group of teenagers when a sub they will likely never see again gives a lesson on a different subject. And even if it's the same subject, it's ridiculous to compare the class culture of a regular teacher to one of a sub.

Issue number two is that principals, already overworked, now have to do way more observations than ever. NYC demands double the state-required two observations per year. Even if that were not the case, if I were a principal, it would not be a high priority to observe teachers who were just passing through. I'm chapter leader of the most overcrowded and largest school in Queens. My job is nuts (and believe it or not, I'm not complaining). The principal's job is crazier than mine. There is just no time to fairly assess teachers who aren't around very long. Frankly, I very much doubt the principals who cavalierly toss out these percentages have even bothered to look. The impressions we read about in Chalkbeat are fomented and reinforced by the stereotypes promoted by, among others, Chalkbeat itself.

If someone wants to make me ATR for a day, or a week, or whatever, I'd be happy to participate and let a reporter follow me around. Then they could see what it was really like. Personally, I doubt they have any interest. My success rate as a sub, by my own estimation, runs around 50-50. Sometimes kids are cooperative and I let them do what they want. Other times, they need to make a show, and I need to have one or two removed before they settle down. Sometimes, they never quite settle down and I can't wait to be out of there.

I wonder if any reporters from Chalkbeat ever had or saw a substitute teacher. To compare a classroom with a culture, developed over time, with one led by a total stranger the students expect to never see again is preposterous beyond belief. Watching Chalkbeat and others work up this nonsense so that "Families for Excellent Schools" can organize a dozen parents to protest teachers going to work is beyond the pale.

ATR detractors are mad the teachers are getting paid without regular classes. They're mad the teachers are getting regular classes. Their demand is that all these people be fired for no reason whatsoever.

For my money, they can all do what Mooch says Steve Bannon does.
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