Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Slugging It out over ATRs (and seniority transfers) Part 2

Arthur Goldstein, chapter leader at Francis Lewis HS, has written one of the best pieces on ATRs and in defense of the old seniority transfer system over at Gotham Schools.

In ATR — A Simple Twist of Fate, Arthur tells how he himself benefited from the system.

For a while, there was also a UFT transfer plan. If you worked in a building for a number of years, you could consult a list of openings in your subject area. You could then select from those openings and move to another school. Judging from tabloid editorials, the UFT transfer plan was evil. From what I’ve read, it was used exclusively by lazy incompetent teachers who moved around to inflict more misery in new and different places. This notwithstanding, I used the plan...

I can't imagine a school that would not want Arthur as a teacher. Well, maybe in today's world the all empowered principals would not want Arthur. He makes too much money. And he is willing to point out the idiocies perpetrated by so many administrators. How come we hear about how important it is to get rid of bad teachers, while the much higher rate of awful admins goes unnoticed?)

I know many superb teachers who used the seniority transfer plan. Most of them went from, let's call them "challenging" schools to places where teaching wasn't a wrestling match. They were often greeted with suspicion by administrators an fellow teachers. "Look where they are coming from. Failed schools. They must be awful teachers." Sort of the attitude we see today about ATRs, which I addressed in part 1: Slugging it Out Over ATRs at Gotham, Part 1

But in reality, those wrestling matches had prepared them very well to teach just about anywhere. At a Manhattan Institute luncheon honoring Christopher Cerf, in trying to prove his point that quality of teaching was the most important factor and that student success on tests was the key factor, he claimed that if we switched the entire teaching staffs (including supervisors) of a "successful" school with the staff at a "failing" school we would see the latter rise up into the stratosphere. I challenged him to try it. "Find a grant and test your hypothesis," I said. "I would bet my pension that the opposite will occur. That the teachers from the "successful" school going to the "failing" school would go through hell while the "failed" teachers would flourish."

All my friends who made such a switch did flourish. They were surprised at how easy things seemed at their new schools. No wonder the teachers never wanted to leave (often dieing at their desks), which was what made it so hard to get the UFT transfers in the first place.

Thinking back to my days in elementary school, I remember my teachers (who I mostly liked and thought were pretty good, though one did practically die at her desk) often gave us "work." Like, read for the next hour and answer these questions while they marked papers. In my 18 years in self-contained classes, the idea of giving "work" was a joke. I could see a 15 minute break here or there, but the day was spent teaching - or wrestling.

Arthur, an ESL teacher, decided to look for a transfer after an AP assigned him to teach Spanish

...I was appointed to teach ESL, and there was that bothersome UFT contract. She couldn’t force me. I’d already told her I’d been offered a 3:30 class at Queens College and she said it was no problem-so I’d accepted. She decided to make me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

She said, “Mr. Goldstein, I’m going to assign you to teach five Spanish 1 classes in September. If you don’t agree to do it, I’m going to give you a late class and you’ll have to forget about Queens College.”

This was a tough decision for me. What to do?.... I was just married, had just bought a house, and I really needed that second job. But I loved teaching ESL.

Thank goodness for Arthur there was a UFT transfer plan and he got into Francis Lewis HS, where his ESL AP took a different tack:

My new AP at Francis Lewis was wonderful. To this day, I’ve never seen anyone who could handle people quite like she could. One semester, she asked me if I’d mind teaching a Spanish 1 class. I told her sure. I’d have done anything she wished. I’d have put her statue on the dashboard of my car. She’s gone now, and so is the UFT transfer plan that sent me here. I miss them both.

Ahh, such a simple rule for so many idiot supervisors. Just ask and say "pretty please" and respect the UFT contract without rancor.

Arthur has a deep understanding of the situation ATRs find themselves, a point Ariel Sacks missed in her piece at Gotham that was critical of the ATRs in her school. Here is one of the paragraphs that has caused more than a few comments:

they do not want to be at my school, and they know they are not wanted either. In the classroom, they behave like incompetent substitutes. No order, no real planning, no real teaching. Some have been rude to students on occasion. Students get rude right back to them (and you know how middle schoolers can be when they feel disrespected). It’s not good.

Arthur's points responds to some of what she said:

I love to teach. It’s exciting to meet new kids and get to know them. It’s even more exciting if you’re an ESL teacher and they come from every corner of the world. I’m very proud I can play some small part in helping them along.

If you take that away from me, I’ll be lost, and that’s precisely the sense I get from ATR teachers I know. I read one writer speculate about how wonderful it would be to not have the day-to-day responsibilities of lesson planning and follow-up, but I’ve yet to meet the real-live ATR teacher who was happy about it.

I can imagine most teachers who had learned their craft in their particular niche and finding themselves totally out of their context being more than a bit flummoxed. If one day I was teaching in an elementary school where I knew all the kids and the next was sent to sub at a middle school I might just be a bit perturbed. And probably look like an incompetent sub. I spent my first year and a half in teaching as an incompetent sub, one of the hardest teaching gigs I had. And I was in the same school and actually termed an ATR - and that was in 1967. But while I learned how to handle basic discipline, it was much easier to do when I had my own kids. Thrown back into subdom in another school and possibly with a group of kids of an age I wasn't used to....

The first comment on Arthur's piece out of the box came from the UFT's defender to all things UFT, Peter Goodman. Goodman, who writes the Ed in the Apple blog, was a district rep in Brooklyn for many years, as was his wife in the Bronx, two district reps with double pensions. And when the UFT was looking for a principal for one of its charter schools, after a long an expensive search, their son Drew Goodman was chosen. He didn't last too long after numerous teacher complaints. Goodman also served in paid positions on panels that lead to the closing of schools, which is a major cause of the growth in the number of ATRs.

This statement by Goodman was astounding:

"By the time the UFT and the DOE agreed to end seniority transfer more than half of all city schools had opted for the SBO Staffing Plan, that exempts them form seniority transfers … each year more schools were opting to participate in the SBO plan and it was clear that the SBO plan would replace seniority transfers."

So we ended up with a system, in a world of total principal power, where most teachers play no role in most schools.

If half the schools didn't have SBO plans, mostly because the principal didn't want to give teachers any role at all, then half the schools were still available for UFT transferees. However, we know that schools that are troubled, and there are an awful lot of them, were not targets for UFT transferees. As I said, generally, the UFT transfer plan allowed a teacher who had put in years of work in a tough place to try to find some place that might be a bit less stressful to teach in and closer to home. Of course under BloomKlein, they have tried to make every place enormously stressful. And of course, there are the cases where awful administrators were on your back. Or just take Arthur's own personal story as to why he transferred.

The UFT transfer, had flaws in it, but still gave about 5-600 teachers a year an option. But it became a whipping boy for political reasons and instead of defending a plan that worked in its own narrow sphere, the UFT went along with the attacks. That Arthur would not have these options today is a sign of what has been lost.

The flaws as I remember: The current principal had to sign off I believe and that was unfair. I heard of people who got good jobs but the principal stopped them from leaving. My memory could be hazy.

Teachers put down a few choices and were sent to one of them. Some often didn't get the school they wanted and passed and could not reapply for 2 years I think.

Principals often tried to intimidate some of the tranferees into not accepting the position, as they often had someone in mind.

They also found numerous ways to cover up positions. For years people who lived in Staten Island or New Jersey and wanted to transfer to SI, mostly for travel reasons - kept getting rejected while noticing a number of young teachers who were somehow working in the positions they had hoped to get.

So Goodman's follow-up comment in responding to Arthur's question about going back to the old system "as far as returning to seniority transfer … is there a consensus among members. I doubt it. Teachers want to control who teachers in their schools," must bring laughter to the overwhelming majority of teachers who have less than zero power. That argument is pure sophistry, but totally logical, given Goodman's slavish allegiance to UFT policy.

He has the nerve to say "I don’t speak for the union," which sparks much mirth in those of us who have been involved in UFT activities for many years. Of course Goodman speaks for the union position. There is not one thing he has written or said publicly that contradicts any union position on any issue and he would find a way to justify just about anything the union decides to do. So, here's another question for Goodman not to respond to:

As a member of Unity Caucus isn't he bound to support every position taken by the Caucus which runs the union or face expulsion (and the loss of those trips to conventions, jobs for friends and family, etc.) ?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Open Market is a catastrophy. Veteran teachers or ATRs do not have a chance to move on to another school because principals will only hire untenured teachers or inexperienced teachers who can be easily manipulated and intimidated. The union must close the Open Market and bring back seniority transfers.