Sunday, October 05, 2008

ATRs and formal observations: Where is Weingarten on this issue?

by Julie Woodward

The administrators at my school are for the first time going to be giving ATRs formal observations. I don't know if this is a new Klein directive or a local issue, but I do question everything about subjecting ATRs acting as per diem subs to formal observations when the case is loaded against them in so many ways.

What is the Union's position on this issue, since Weingarten has been so consistently non-proactive on fighting off many of the abuses against all excessed teachers. Her exceptionally milquetoast stance on all things ATR started with signing onto the Excessing changes in the contract in the first place. As TJC says: "Under the new contract, an excessed teacher, regardless of how many years of seniority, loses the guaranteed right to a teaching program."

That's unforgiveable right there, since teaching is just as much our vocation and career as much as it has ever been our "job." But Weingarten's unsubstantive and utterly indefensible inaction also includes: not being outraged that senior teachers with many degrees are treated condescendingly with a pamphlet on how to prepare a resume, not demanding that Human Resources send excessed people on interviews, not demanding that ATRs who have applied to vacancies dozens of times are told why they haven't been granted an interview in each case, not following up on DA resolutions to determine abuses in the system with regard to increases in LIFs and U-ratings, and not bothering to meet with ATRs at the start of a new year, especially with such a huge increase in the number of them.

Speaking for myself and for many others in our union, we need to know where the Union comes down on formal observations for ATRs, another potential weapon in the campaign to get these people out of the system. I know that some ATRs are paid by central and therefore costing the school nothing, but some are paid for by the principal and it is not in any supervisor's interest to have them on their books when they took such a grave step to get them out of the school by excessing them.

Any formal observation of an ATR acting as a per diem sub is prejudicial on many counts.

First of all, these people are generally not teaching their own subject, much less their own lesson. They are teaching someone else's, which they may or may not agree with, feel comfortable with (everyone has his own style), or have the equipment in the room to complete. Too many times an absent teacher assigns something that the kids cannot do: either it has not been taught well, or there aren't any reference materials or textbooks in the room for quick research. Much of the time, in fact, there are no lesson plans at all, or vague ones, such as "Let them finish their projects," without any instructions as to what the project is or how it is to be executed. On what grounds can you evaluate the ATR in this scenario with any fairness and equity?

Secondly, per diem ATRs are facing particular sets of students for the first time, since each class is different. In MSS and HSS, intruder students have to be weeded out quite frequently, since hallwalkers and cutters are slick and students are not traveling from room to room as a class under the supervision of a teacher. (There are actually some techniques for handling this, but you don't know them when you start subbing.) By the time teachers with regular programs get their formal observation, they know the kids and they've developed relationships with them. On what grounds can you evaluate the ATR in this scenario with any fairness and equity?

Thirdly, the contract calls for a pre-observation conference, which can only be scheduled when the ATR gets the schedule in the morning of a particular day. Even then, should the AP sit down with him for the pre-conference and arrange an observation later that same day, there might not be enough time for the ATR to prepare. As it is, he is already "winging" it, and now he has the additional pressure of performing without the same preparation time frame as other teachers have. On what grounds can you evaluate the ATR in this scenario with any fairness and equity?

Fourthly, the whole purpose of observations according to the contract is to "give each staff member choices and a role in his/her professional growth." I don't see how any formal observation of a coverage you are just winging can lead to the teacher's "professional growth." Even the UFT's "Know Your Rights: Classroom Observations" says that the purpose of these observations "is not punitive." A formal observation for the ATR is in essence punitive. The post-observation conference cannot help the teacher improve any skills other than those required of a substitute, namely, to take attendance, do a lesson if one is left and wing it if it isn't, maintain order in the room, and get the intruders out. None of us have Masters degrees in per-diem subbing, or even much experience in it. The formal observation is therefore only another vehicle the principal has in his arsenal to remove you from the school.

Lastly, Article 2 of the contract, Fair Practices, says that the Board cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of a "handicapping condition," which really is what this ATR business is. All the four points made above really are handicapping condition, and if someone tells me that's not the kind of handicapping Article 2 is referring to, I say Let's grieve it and make sure it does include these things. Equitability is part of contractual law, and ATRs put through formal observations with these things stacked against them are in no way being treated equitably. Let's take it all the way to arbitration if need be, and get it done.

There's also Art. 22.A., which says under the Definition (2) that a grievance shall mean that a teacher "has been treated unfairly or inequitably by reason of any act or condition which is contrary to established policy or practice governing or affecting employees." [There's an exception to this statement which I'd have to think about for a while and consult with others on, but I think, as in the case of those LIFs that the arbitrator just sorted out, this needs arbitration to sort out as well.] The question is: do I file the grievance against Art.22.A before the observation, when the outcome is still unknown, or after the observation if I get a U on it. I feel strongly it should be filed before the observation, because I don't want to be, or look as if I am, contesting the U when I am contesting the whole thing in the first place.

In any case, the formal observation should never be used in the ATR's final rating for the year, since the act of "teaching a regular program in your license to stable group of kids" is one thing and "covering an absent teacher" is a different thing altogether. The job description itself varies from school to school: in some schools they're happy if the kids stay in the room and don't mess around. In others they want more teaching. Apart from all this, the circumstances for each class the ATR covers is wildly unpredictable and the teacher should be not judged in some things that are bound to go on in that room.

It is not so much that I am worried about the quality of the way I handle a coverage. It is that in this climate of trying to get rid of ATRs, the Union has been doing precious little to protect us from the obvious weapon of a U-observation. The U a principal may give an ATR on any of these formal observations may be nowhere near the truth of their skills in normal teaching circumstances. What is blatant and true is that they will be looking for any number of ways to get ATRs out of their buildings when they have excessed them and still have to pay for them.

I call on Randi Weingarten to tell us her position on which specific things she thinks the ATR can be held accountable for. That would be the fair and equitable thing to do, to know these things before the pre-conference, not after it's all over. After all, every teacher in a regular position knows pretty well what the ground rules for observations are. The ATRs are in treading through some very swampy turf and the union to this point has given them no help at all.

And I will go one step further: ATRs should be able to take any UFT member of his or her choice with them to all three parts of this formal procedures, the pre- and post-obs. conferences and the observation itself. I don't trust principals these days to self-restrict and be "judicious." ATRs remain in teacher purgatory, contractually at this point set up to be picked off and pushed out of the system one by one.


Sean Ahern said...

Lest any member feel that they are a "good" teacher and the undefined status of the ATR is somehow the fault of the teacher concerned, consider for a moment how any precedent established for giving an ATR a U rating may be used against those permanently assigned teachers.

Why couldn't a permanently assigned teacher be observed and given a U rating for a coverage?

Chaz said...

Thgis is the next salvo in "U' rating an ATR and needs to be nipped in the bud.

Anonymous said...

If you are a satsifactory, tenured teacher, put in writing a request for an individual pre conference or to take it one step further, put in a request for an alternative to observations for your annual performance review. You have a Contractual right to ask for either one of these options. I recommend you do so in writing at once.

James Eterno

Woodlass said...

Yes, to all of you.
James: Even if you choose the other provision, guess what: there are still no criteria for the JOB YOU ARE NOW DOING. It doesn't solve the problem.

Until THIS job and all the expectations for it are actually defined, ANY method is fundamentally inequitable BY THIS CONTRACT and should not be able to stand.

And even if this ATR per diem subbing were to be defined at this late stage, with the contract already negotiated and signed, it seems to me that any evaluation for this "new" kind of job for which teachers were never intended to be hired has no legal standing.

They've created a monster, but it's THEIR monster, and our careers should not be imperiled because of it.

Anonymous said...

They could rate a day-to-day substitute unsatisfactory. They could do the same for an ATR. Just do your job as best as you can.

JW said...

Anon., of course anyone can get a U, but that's not the point I was making in the post.

At least with day-to-day subs, they want them and hire them. I think if they don't want a particular one, they let someone at sub central know. I keep seeing the same per diems in the building. Obviously they have some kind of preference system going.

But it's different for ATRs they're paying for and whom they don't want in the building. With no ground rules for the ATRs, this observation thing is a vehicle to terminate careers, and preemptive action is called for, not "Do the best you can" -- which I've absolutely done my whole career, not just now.

ed notes online said...

There's a difference between a particular principal writing someone up in an observation and an organized, underhanded approach to "solve" the ATR problem in case the union doesn't give them up quicker than you can say "parking permits."

The DOE has set up a situation where ATR's drag a school budget down the tubes, thus leaving principals with an incentive to use the U-rating/rubber room strategy to force as many out as possible. We were warning about this scenario years ago. No matter what the contract says, the UFT is left standing flatfooted while Klein runs around their flank.

Anonymous said...

Lets all realize that this was a great set up of ATR's. First Randi did not acknowledge us and now we can be fired. This is just another way to get rid of ATR's who cost too much and are not wanted.

Randi was screaming in the papers the other day about the right to wear political buttons to school and she will go to the highest court in the land to fight this. What about the 1400 ATR's who you forgot about, what are you doing for us. An age discrimination case, what happened to that?
What we need is action not talk or her BS we get that from Margie Feinberg in the newspapers.Some of us have been in three schools since the term has started and don't get too comfortable because you will be moved again
Leters were just sent out by the DOE to go to seminars about excessing and knowing your rights and finding jobs. I threw it in the circular filing cabinet today when I received it. ATR's need help not BS from the special reps that you speak to on the phone and who get angry when you ask them a question, frankly I am sick of them, especially Charlie Turner who is no help at all.

Anonymous said...

vote for ICE-TJC in the next election. They told you so.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday I received a letter from the DOE about an excessed teacher meeting on Wed. October 8th. Nice its Yom Kippur at sundown I think that this was purposely done. I am calling the EEOC and what is the UFT doing about this. Nothing

Anonymous said...

To Anon 3:38,

I am an excessed teacher and I did not received any info. about a meeting on Thursday. Who sent the letteer to you?

Anonymous said...

The ATRS were left to fend by themselves while the rest sits and drinks coffee in their offices. The Union does not care about the ATRS at all. It is unbelievable to have 1400 excessed teachers. Where is the UNION?

JW said...

I have not been home in two days and won't be in time to get the message. Totally agree with you about interference with Yom Kippur, which I find amazing since this particular DoE actually bothers to give the day off. It's not as if they're forgetting that Jews teach in the system.

Can you report the gist of the letter here?

Anonymous said...

I never thought that I would hate going to work everyday but I do now. It's like i am starting my career over again as I did when I was a per diem sub coming out of college. This is like a bad dream instead of finishing my career in a decent school I was put in a mini school and made a slave. Everyday a new assignment is given to me as part of my daily routine. Lets thank Randi for giving up seniority transfers and forgetting about ATR's.
And now we can be observed and rated teaching out of our subject area, another way to get rid of ATR's who just want to teach
And what about Randi? How can she do two jobs at the same time? Its impossible for her to accomplish anything and we can see with the way that she handled the ATR situation.
I newer heard of an ATR policeman or fireman or CO or sanitation. Their union would never let this happen. Lets face it she sold 1400 teachers out.

Anonymous said...

This is scary stuff.

Pogue said...

Two jobs?! She's not even doing one job! As teachers we are the middle class. Her silence and lack of fight for us is criminal. She is to be lumped in with Bush, McCain, Wall Street greed, Bloomberg, Klein, and Michelle Rhee. Absolutely horrendous.

Anonymous said...

You nailed it. There are no more words to describe this KGB UNION and their associates.

Anonymous said...

Will people vote against them in the next UFT election?

Woodlass said...

The fact is that a lot of rank-and-file members will have to take up the slack in schools where union is not happening. They'll have to do the communicating, educating and organizing, there is simply no other way. Forget top-down union management. That's over.

Weingarten has some core positions she'll never back off from: things like "cooperation" with admin, non-differentiated professional development, charter schools, merit pay, using test marks for evaluations, stifling oppositional voices, and particularly, making sure the threat of withholding labor remains anemic. Each one of these cuts at core union principles.

Weingarten gets to the new teachers really efficiently at initiation conferences, hawking her leadership and her "brand." It's clear that she likes a good chunk of the force to stay inexperienced, overwhelmed and maniputable as much as Klein does: she needs their dues, and she needs them to believe everything she says, writes, pushes for or doesn't act on is the best that union can buy. Recruits don't know the enormity of the givebacks. Only the vets do.

There's no way to wrest votes out of Weingarten's control without tenured teachers in middle and senior careers to do the real work of labor unionism.

Anonymous said...

Now you understand how substitutes feel with "Sub Central" scrutinizing us for issues of "classroom management" or sending letters to subs about them being deemed "uncomfortable with the population" two years after we completed the assignment, and then threatening to terminate us. Subbing is a hard job, and we need a lot more support and protections written in the CBA for all teachers in these trenches; subs and ATRs etc.

Anonymous said...

And this is why each teacher who is also a city resident needs to contact their own council member along with Speaker Quinn, who by the way seems to be supporting Bloomberg. If you want changes in the UFT, it won't be done as long as Bloomberg gets a 3rd term. And, noticed we haven't heard from Randi on this subject, but since she has gone along with everything Bloomberg wants, I wouldn't be surprised if she backs away from this.

There is a public meeting scheduled this Thursday on the topic of term limits. Since many of you are working, it is imperative that you contact Speaker Quinn and your council member now!!!

I hope ICE picks up this cause.