Between the NYSUT election campaign, a ridiculous quality review for my phasing out school, trying to keep up with the notorious Danielson Framework's absurd demands and of course helping to take care of the family, my plate is kind of full. However, I have lately been spending an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to fight multiple unsatisfactory observations for colleagues who are part of the Absent Teacher Reserve pool.
ATRs were basically created by the infamous 2005 contract when former UFT President Randi Weingarten and then Chancellor Joel Klein ended preferred placement for teachers when schools were closed.
There are great teachers in the ATR pool. Some have been working for decades and have never seen an unsatisfactory observation in their careers. In 2011, the UFT leadership, for some reason known only to themselves, agreed to send teachers without a regular position because a school was closed or downsized into the traveling ATR circus where every week they have to go to a different school to be substitute teachers.
Since teachers in the ATR pool do not have a regular class or classes, they are not covered under the new observation system that our union agreed to have Commissioner John King impose on us last June.
The observation system for ATRs is a colossal fraud. Roving supervisors visit and observe the ATR in one of his/her daily substitute assignments. ATRs do not know the students in front of them. The ATR is not the teacher of record so there is no accountability for the students with the ATRs. This is a pure "gotcha" system. Since the Department of Education is holding us to the letter of so many ridiculous standards, we should respond in kind and hold them to the exact letter of the law.
When a former colleague at Jamaica was given an unsatisfactory ATR observation, we filed a grievance based on numerous procedural violations. While preparing for the grievance, I looked, as I usually do, for documentation to prove that procedures were being violated. It is a waste of time to study the content of the observations as our union leadership gave away our right to grieve inaccurate/unfair material placed in our files in that horrific 2005 contract.
Article 8J1 of the current contract, the part covering teacher evaluations, states: "The reviews must be based on the agreed upon characteristics of good teaching, including consideration of positive student learning outcomes and parent involvement." How is someone covering a class for a day (an ATR) supposed to involve parents? It's impossible. Notice the word must in the contractual language.
The contract also talks about linking teacher performance to a school's education goals and related professional development activities. What does a roving supervisor coming in to see someone covering a class have to do with any of this?
In addition CEO Memorandum 80, which clarifies contractual Article 8J, says teachers new to a school are supposed to have an observation early in the term by a principal and then should be able to decide, in consultation with a principal, whether they want to be observed formally or choose another way of being reviewed. No ATR I know of was given this option.
I also reviewed a document called "Teaching for the 21st Century," the paper which is the basis for the evaluation system and is embedded into Article 8J of the contract. I found pages and pages of material in Teaching for the 21st Century to prove the ATR observation system is completely illegal.
For example, on page 12 it says the following in paragraph 2, "The Publication Teaching for the 21st Century, the new teacher review resource handbook, will be distributed in a three-ring binder to every New York city public school teacher and supervisor." Did any ATR get his/her copy?
There is so much more. On page 23 we see the following in a section called Developing School-Based Procedures: "Both teachers and supervisors must have input into developing a school's procedures for annual teacher performance reviews." Did any ATR have any input into these procedures? I don't think so.
Then there is another gem on page 23: "Teacher performance review procedures must be developed at the school level by teachers and supervisors which integrate the Characteristics of Good Teaching with the school's plan for achieving its educational goals and objectives." Again, notice the word must when discussing teacher participation in setting up review procedures. However, ATRs are not involved in any of this development.
I could go on and on but I think the point has been made. We have a very strong case to throw out this observation system.
We of course lost our grievance at Step I (principal's level) but felt some confidence when the UFT agreed to take it to the Chancellor's level. I should have known better. Upon reviewing the documentation, we discovered the Union would only ask that a prescriptive remedial plan be removed from an ATR observation but they would not ask for the observations, which are all being done illegally, to be stopped.
When I questioned our representative at the hearing (a very decent guy who I respect and have a good working relationship with), he told us we could fight these numerous procedural violations if the Department of Education tries to terminate a tenured teacher in the state mandated 3020A process. I told him I respectfully disagree with his view. This is what the grievance process is supposed to be for. Why wait until someone is going to be terminated? Stop the cancer at the first sign of it?
Unfortunately, my phone is ringing constantly with other ATRs complaining about unsatisfactory observations.
I would like to leave it up to the ATRs as to what we should do. Do you think we should file a class action grievance, or other kind of action, to stop the DOE from observing ATR's in violation of our contract? Or should we wait until we are about to be terminated before we take a stand?