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.