Tuesday, April 10, 2018

MIXED EMOTIONS AS I RETIRE

Middle College High School works on a trimester model to maintain a calendar in sync with LaGuardia Community College that the school is partnered with. Now that the second trimester is in the rearview mirror where my childhood dream of playing sports for money came true (I taught a physical education class in the winter and sorry Susan Sutera and Barbara Cohen, I did more playing basketball and volleyball than teaching them), it is as good a time as any to retire and so that is what I just did. I am one of the fortunate teachers who made it through almost 32 years in the system. It is a time when I am both happy looking ahead and back but also a little sad at the same time.

I was lucky with my big mouth and poison pen to survive in what is too often a corrupt school system that many times treats its teachers like they are garbage. I am grateful that I made it through 28 very memorable years at Jamaica High School, endured a few months as an Absent Teacher Reserve and then had 3.5 generally happy years at Middle College High School. I'm leaving now even though I still feel I have lots left in the tank. The Principal at Middle College, although she appointed me at little cost to the school's budget for this year and last, still looked upon me as a temp and I agreed I would be. She thanked me when I left and told the staff I did a great job "filling in." Once an Absent Teacher Reserve, always an ATR ladies and gentlemen.

I don't blame the principal for no longer wanting to carry me as schools are funded at a level about 10% below what the Department of Education considers full funding so for the last year and 2/3 MCHS had an extra social studies teacher that it really can't afford. There's no need to put a junior teacher at risk of excess so that I can go on working as the subsidy for hiring an ATR decreases and then goes away in 2019. Hence, I quit. I now have a life at home as a stay at home dad with two small kids: Kara age 8 and Matt age 3. They are thrilled that I am home all day. I am adjusting pretty well.

I seriously considered leaving last June but was completely blindsided by the ATR buyout which I was not eligible for as the UFT encouraged me to get appointed while they were simultaneously negotiating a buyout behind the scenes. I didn't retire in part because I didn't want to leave emptyhanded so I came back and I'm sure glad I did as I was able to get to know so many wonderful grade 10 students this year.

I will miss the staff and students at Middle College. I didn't think it would be emotional departing but it was. The kids, particularly Alan Wilk, Cindy Rodriguez, Jimmy Reyes, Daisy Vasquez, Kimberly Vasquez, Eric Fernandez, Asbin Gurung, Ashar Abbasi, Amanda Camacho, Kamar Elsayed, Omar Hernandez, Christofer Narvaez, Joseph Chiang, Jaleya Adams, Anrem Escatron, Jennifer Pintado, Janell Olivera, Jeremy, Juan, Bradley, Fatima, Melanie, House 6A and so many others were so great. Oh and I can't forget Daisy Ramos who was my first mentee for oral defense. No Regents except English as MCHS is a consortium school. Daisy had no idea I was twice as nervous as she was before she faced her Oral Defense panel to defend her final projects. Ixchel Ortiz, Deyssi Lopez and Rishav Osti were this year's mentees and I thank them too as they all excelled.

At Middle College I was in a different world compared to Jamaica High School or the other schools I was sent to as an ATR. For starters, the kids call staff by our first names.

My first day at MCHS I was greeted by former Jamaica colleagues Rachel and Ibeth as well as one time Jamaica Safety Agent, Officer Heath. They made me feel right at home. I so appreciated the support from all three. Ibeth shared her desk, her computer and her keys with me. She showed me where to park safely and cheaply and was so amazing to work with. Luli, Casey and Ilana welcomed me into their office as if I had been there for 25 years so thank you. Thanks also go out to Matt (taught me how to do House and teach phys ed), Virginia, Jordan (all the pictures), CL John Poon, Rob (I will miss the bus rides to field day) and the entire staff at Middle College. You were great colleagues.

I will never forget meeting with Social Studies Department Chair Felisa (a teacher not an assistant principal is our chair) who was an invaluable resource who became a real friend. Our first conversation when I arrived at MCHS went something like this:
Me- What do I teach?
Her-Whatever you want, just don't go overboard.
Me-What about curriculum?
Her-It's up to you. Do what you think is best; you're a professional. I can help if you need it.

I ended up reinventing myself as a teacher and in some ways became a better one. I still have plenty to offer but NYC would rather pay for bureaucrats than invest to fully fund the schools so although I already miss the students and staff, it's bye bye DOE. Hello new life as a stay at home dad.

It just so happened that on my first day of retirement on Monday I was in touch with several people from Jamaica High School. We feel this real bond and still try to help each other out even after our school was  improperly closed. I just want to say thanks to some Jamaica friends: Debbie Saal, the aforementioned Barbara Cohen and Susan Sutera, my officemate Steve Heiss ( I used to boast to Steve how I would act indifferent as an ATR and then when I was an actual ATR and realized how miscast I was in the role, I did everything I could to get out of the ATR rotation), Mike Pallisco, Dena Gordon, Julia Schlakman, Marc Epstein, Nunzio Mostaccio, Rose Slaymaker, Tanya McKetney, Bob Klugman, Jeanne Quarto, Rich Covelli, the incredible Maria Giamundo and so many others from Jamaica and Middle College who I apologise for not personally acknowledging here. Also, much appreciation for Kimberley Walcott, Kevin Gonzalez and all of the other Jamaica students who did everything humanly possible to save our school.

The only question left is do I stay active in the UFT and follow in Norm Scott's footsteps or do I move on completely? I hope everyone who reads this signs our petition to change the evaluation system and if you signed already, spread it to all of your friends and families. Getting five signatures from everyone who reads this would be a great retirement gift.

Finally, thanks in so many ways to my wife Camille and my two kids for putting up with me as I tried to change our little piece of the education and labor world for the better. Your love and support I do not take for granted. Fortunately, Camille will be active for many years as a NYC teacher and we are public school parents too so I guess I can't completely move on.

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

Let me be the first to congratulate you for your years of service. As a 20 year veteran teacher here in NYC I know it is no small feat to stick with it for the long haul. You derserve every relaxing minute that retirement will provide. Sorry that you will not get the next 2 retro checks but peace of mind is sometimes more important than money. Are you taking terminal pay? Enjoy!!!

T.J. L said...

Thank you James for your tireless work to improve our working conditions. May you enjoy your well-deserved retirement.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Congratulations, James.

We are so much better for having had you teach the young people of NYC, and speak up for your fellow teachers, and are poorer for your having gone.

Happy well-deserved retirement!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, we hope you stay active in the UFT. We need people like you.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations!!!

Question: If an ATR was hired this year what is the school savings and how many years does it last?

waitingforsupport said...

Congratulations. I wish you many years of excellent health, non-stop joy with your family, peace of mind and pension. Godspeed.

Anonymous said...

If you retire you still get the retro

Anonymous said...


Congratulations James! Thank you for all you've done to try to improve the working conditions for NYC teachers.

I too am retiring at at the end of this school year. Yes, I'll definitely miss the kids but I certainly will not miss the DOE/administrative BS. Nor will I miss the aggravation inflicted on members by our Unity-controlled union which supports terrible things, like Danielson observations, that are crushing the spirit of teachers. One of the few things the UFT got right was the 25/55 retirement option which I am so thankful for. Maybe if they would have stood up for members things wouldn't be so bad that so many NYC teachers are dreaming of a way out.

I'll be in Ireland so I won't even be tempted to stay involved in UFT politics. I give people like Norm Scott so much credit for what he does and hope you have it in you to stay involved in some way, post-retirement. If you don't, I completely understand.

So, best of luck in your new role as stay-at-home Dad. Hope you enjoy it. All the best to your family.

Thank you,

Mary Ahern

Bronx ATR said...

You should be the UFT president. I get upset thinking about how different things would be with you at the helm. (It's disgusting that Amy knew there was a buyout and you were pushed toward taking an appointment.) You have helped many people and you are a gentleman. I wish you all the best.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your well deserved retirement. I always read your posts, but if you have had enough, I completely understand. I want nothing to do with my former district.

Abigail Shure

Anonymous said...

Congrats and best of luck James. You are one of the good guys. The last of a dying breed. I hope you keep up the fight here, this screwed up union really needs you.

NYC Educator said...

Congratulations and best wishes for a happy and productive future James. Our loss is your family's great gain. Very happy for your children.

Bennett Fischer said...

Mazel tov! Congratulations on your retirement! Enjoy yourself, have a great time with family and friends, and keep on keepin' on...

Anonymous said...

Best wishes for all that you do in your future endeavors. For me, the clock is ticking to a June, 2019 retirement. Not looking back and can't wait not to deal with the DOE nonsense ever again. Once I'm out, I'm out!

Ken Kelly

Harris L. said...

Good for you, James!

The trick is to get out while tpyou’ve still got something in the tank.

I retired, after considerably fewer years teaching but more years in other parts of City and State government on May 1, 2012. I’ve never looked back. I’d never presume to advise you on how to use your time but don’t get too stuck in/with the UFT. The joy of retiring when you’re still young is to be able to explore new and unexpected things and to develop new gifts—perhaps some you never previously imagined.

Enjoy your new life and enjoy the time you’ll now have with your kids.

You are a very lucky man.

BRIAN DENTON said...

Congratulations.

Juliet Marinelli said...

Mr. Eterno, as a 20-year NYC DoE veteran, I have been reading your blog for years, and have enjoyed your evenhanded and logical arguments. I wish you the absolute best in your retirement, and your children will benefit immensely from having you around so much more. You will be missed by colleagues and students alike! What a loss for the NYC DoE!

Anonymous said...

You deserve the peace, James. Congratulations and thank you for everything you've done. Selfishly I am hoping you stay involved but would completely understand if you did not. Enjoy your kids and your freedom. Roseanne

Anonymous said...

Wish you well in your retirement. So many new opportunities to look forward to with children and family, savor the moments. Good luck with beginning this new chapter in your life.

Pogue said...

All the best to you and your family. Your/this blog was a daily-early morning read. Your hard work, posts, and the comments from other colleagues throughout the city had more integrity and meant so much more than any UFT leadership drivel that was being pushed. I hope you still stay involved. Enjoy your family.

P.S. Good fathers are always highly effective.

burntoutteacher said...

Congrats and thank you for all your timeless work on our behalf over the years. I was one of those teachers who was forced out too early and so never had the chance to say goodbye or acknowledge all the wonderful colleagues I worked with over the years. When South Shore HS, where I had spent 22 wonderful, fulfilling years, was "closed" I became that dreaded ATR and was pressured to take a line under an awful awful principal. I never made it to the 25 year mark, I who intended to "die in my 90's in front of a blackboard with chalk in my hand!" So your heartfelt goodbye and thanks to the staff and students was something I enjoyed vicariously. Have a fantastic time in retirement. It will take you at least 6 months not to feel weird and guilty walking around the City on a weekday, 6 months more to not feel the morning panic of "where are my lesson plans?", and 6 months more to recognize the new normal of retirement. And I hope you continue to work on our behalf, only this time for those of us in retirement who still care about education, about teachers' rights, about the kids.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for always keeping us "in the loop" about what's really going on. Enjoy your retirement and congratulations. Your knowledge and insights have been greatly appreciated by all who read your blog.

Highly Effective King Clovis said...

Congrats on your retirement! I am in my 4th year in the ATR but hope I can get an appointment so I myself, can reinvent myself as a teacher. Love your blog and hope you continue writing it.

Anonymous said...

congratulations to you my friend. I am just another DOE slob working in the trenches who happened to read your posts just about every day. So sad that the NYCDOE is an organization that is so dysfunctional they do not even know how dysfunctional they are.

We are living in times like this where a great professional such as yourself moves out of a system that is actually starving for great professionals to teach these kids who live lives like third world kids do around the world . However the DOE does not understand the dynamics of society or of education for that matter as I have never seen such incompetent people all bunched together in one organization.

Finally, I really did love the part where the administrator of your school said you did a great job "filling in". Yes indeed I was able to get a nice chuckle out of that one. Godspeed my friend.

Alan Wilk said...

Congratulations for your retirement James! You are the best teacher I've ever had. You are an example of The Perfect Teacher. I believe this because through the classes I've taken with you, have all been entertaining. The way you did this was by creating debates on current events and compare them with past events. The most impressive thing I've seen that differentiated you from other teachers was that you were extremely neutral. You also let the conversation go on its own. In other words, you never moderated or censored anything making many people's voices heard. Weather the class time was spend debating, learning or just generally talking, we always learned something new in the class and it wouldn't be possible if it weren't for you. Regardless I hope you have a wonderful retirement and enjoy your time with your wife and your 2 children. You've earned it. Thank you for your 32 years of service and your inspiration.
-Thanks for everything Alan Wilk

PS: I really hope you can attend our graduation in 2020 as we move to the next level or the next chapter in our lives.

gloria said...

James, I wish you the best. You deserve no less. spending more time with the kids is probably the most rewarding thing you could do. Should you stay clear of union work it'll be our loss but you'll still be an activist parent no doubt. Thanks for everything

Anonymous said...

Best wishes to one of the best! And if fate decides you should be involved in union affairs, don’t let it be behind the scenes.
If you decide to run for office...and kick Mulgrew to the sidewalk, you got my vote.

Schoolgal

waitingforsupport said...

@2:50pm...you sound like such an engaged student. I wish you and your peers success throughout the remaining hs yrs and post hs. Remember to always keep your eyes open and make sure you receive a CHALLENGING education. It's vital that you and your peers ensure that you leave school better than when you arrived. It's more important to be EDUCATED than to have a diploma. A diploma is just a piece of paper IF you do NOT receive a quality education. Don't accept less than. You deserve the BEST. It's YOUR future so make sure you are prepared by us teachers. Good luck.

Sincerely,
A proud and dedicated NYC educator.

Alan Wilk said...

@5:28 Thank you for your kind words.
-Alan Wilk

waitingforsupport said...

You're welcome!

Ibeth said...

Congrats James! Thank you again for your dedication and hard work in saving Jamaica and fighting for teacher's rights ...I hope you stay active with the union. CHEERS TO A HAPPY RETIREMENT JAMES!! ENJOY!!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your retirement James!!!!!! Enjoy it with health and happiness.All the best.

caprice240k said...

Congratulations James on your retirement. I hope you will still be writing your blog. I retired last June after 32 years as an attendance teacher. I was at the retired teachers chapter meeting yesterday getting signatures for my nominating petition for delegate. Good luck Bill Palmer

Ms. Tsouris said...

Congratulations and best wishes for a very long, healthy, and happy retirement.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your retirement! I never personally met you, but my buddy James Barrows, a former student and work as teacher, football and basketball coached at Jamaica spoke highly of you. I always read your blog and found you to be knowledgable and sensible in this fight as Union members! So again, thank you and good luck in the future!

James Eterno said...

Say hi to James Barrows 10:57. Alan, I am speechless. Thanks. And thanks to everyone else too. I've been so busy since "retiring" I haven't had time to update the blog. We'll see where this goes.

It's promising to see the petition getting more signatures.

James Eterno said...

4:34 pm Tuesday, It is a 50% subsidy for 2017-18 and it goes down to a 25% subsidy for next year. I really should have answered that question sooner. By the way, my phone has gone off over and over the last few days with union questions. I guess people don't want me to move on. I guess I could become Norm. I always did this as a labor of love but it is so frustrating because of the union we have. Everyone should read today's NYC Educator piece which sums up our situation nicely.

Gregory Di Stefano said...

James congrats on your retirement and all the Union Work. Hope to work with you for many years to come. Greg Di Stefano

Bronx Teacher said...

James, congrats on your retirement. I hope it is a very long one. I am a better person having known you. Please, stay active in the union. We need someone with your wisdom.

Stephanie Abrams said...

Congratulations on your well deserved retirement. Thank you for representing us at Jamaica HS for many years. Wishing you great health and much enjoyment in your new position!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, I am very happy for you, James. I consider myself very fortunate to have met you and the rest of the Jamaica HS family. As a result, I became one as well. In my retirement the best memories, for me, stem from the years we worked together. Your integrity and moral ethics I will always admire. All that you have accomplished for so many UFT members, including myself, is astonishing..
I am touched by your kind words but I'm the one that thanks you from the bottom of my heart for everything.
Enjoy your retirement and your family, and know that you truly did make a difference for the better for so many of us... Maria

James Eterno said...

Maria, You are a force as always. Without your dedication, Jamaica would never have put up half the battle that it was able to and I wouldn't have lucked out to get to Middle College as I would have been ATRed years earlier before MCHS had any opening in social studies. In addition, you helped my family find a house and I almost forgot you got everyone out to Leonie's Awards to raise money for Class Size Matters. You did so many things to help so many people. We all owe you.



Anonymous said...

james james james... hello this is bradley. I will miss the times you used to teach me in class and the daily news reports. Congratulations. I'll miss you, stay safe and come to my graduation next year!

Anonymous said...

oh james, I was so sad to hear that you weren't in our school anymore because I didn't get to say goodbye. However, thank you for being a wonderful teacher, you'll be missed. Be safe! -fatima

Anonymous said...

Hi James, it was so sad to hear that you had to leave and we all miss you! Stay safe! -Melanie

James Eterno said...

Melanie, Bradley and Fatima, I miss all three of you. Tell all I said hi please.

James Eterno said...

House 6A rocks.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your retirement, James! So sad I didn't get to see you at school before you retired. You are one of the best and first teachers I had when I transferred here. I learned a lot in class too! I was planning to do your final project as my gateway presentation though. But anyway, I hope you're having a great time with your family. Wishing you all the best because you truly deserve it. We all miss you and take care always! - Anrem

Anonymous said...

Also, thank you very much for your patience and kindness whenever the class starts to be loud and aggressive. I always look up to you on how you manage certain situations and yet you can still handle it with a positive attitude. I hope you could visit the school sometime! -Anrem

James Eterno said...

Thanks Anrem. Your comments made me very happy. Please say hi to all.