On Teachers in Limbo, Contract Satisfies Few

Friday, May 30, 2014 - 04:00 AM

at Pathways in Technology Early College High School, P-Tech.  He's a member of the Absent Teacher Reserve Leonard Robertson is a New York City teacher without a permanent position in a school (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

Leonard Robertson is a licensed music teacher with a decade’s experience in the public schools but this month he spent a week filling in for a high school business teacher. In what’s called the Absent Teacher Reserve, or A.T.R., Robertson rotates to a different school each week to fill in where he's needed or, worst case, to sit in the teachers' lounge all day.

New York City has more than 1,100 teachers in limbo like Robertson; more than half lost their positions because their schools closed or faced budget cuts. The city pays the teachers' full salaries while they work as substitutes at a cost of more than $100 million a year. Many of the teachers said in recent interviews they wanted permanent jobs while many principals told WNYC that the teachers they encountered in this pool were not performing on a professional level.

The new teachers contract proposes a more aggressive approach but one that critics said doesn't go far enough: education officials would interview and place the teachers in schools with openings that match their licensed training and skills. If principals are not satisfied after one day they can send the teacher on her or his way. Mayor Bill de Blasio said this solution strikes a balance.

"There are some very capable teachers in the A.T.R. pool who deserve an opportunity," he said. "There are some other people who may not belong in the profession at this point."

One omission from the contract proposal: there is no time limit on how long teachers can bounce from school to school without finding a permanent spot.



Comments [7]

Lima from New York City

As a former student of Leonard Robertson I can personally say that this situation is very unfortunate for such a talented and effective teacher like him. The mayor makes a striking point when he states that some teachers no longer belong in the profession while there are capable teachers stuck in A.T.R. Teachers like Mr. Robertson deserve better opportunities when faced with budget cuts because they are actually able to teach rather than stand in front of the classroom and throw a bunch of information to you. Mr. Robertson was great to have as a teacher not only because he was immensely knowledgeable in his field of expertise but also taught other valuable things to his students. I say that we need to re-shape the whole system to give future generations of teachers and students a better quality of education.

May. 31 2014 06:29 PM

@Richard: If there are more teachers than there are jobs, why does New York City have its own alternative certification organization (NYC Teaching Fellows) which accepted about 700 new Fellows in each of the past two years? The city has also partnered with Teach for America, which brought another 800 teachers to the city (many TFA teachers do work in charter schools, but it's not all of them). It seems likely that 1100 jobs have been filled by NYCTF and TFA members in the past few years.
Additionally, not all principals follow the rules about ATRs and hiring. I worked at a school that excessed several teachers, due to 'declining enrollment'. The next year, basically the same number of students showed up (meaning the budget was unchanged) and did not rehire the first teacher until October, and the last not until March. Those teacher worked as ATR, with salaries paid by the city, while the school sat on the money they weren't spending on desperately needed teachers.

May. 30 2014 02:40 PM
Dave From NorthEast Bronx

@ Richard
I'm not a lawyer but the I've discussed this isssue with a college buddy who is on several ocasions and he concluded that its most likely that these boards of educations can't really prove in court that the kids are failing because of one particular teacher.In other words, If say 60% of the students in a 10th grade English class in NYC fail the states standardized test (I don't remember what the test is called), is it only the fault of those 10th grade teachers who probably only had those students for 5 months? Wouldn't all the teachers those students had up to that point be culpable as well? Can you really blame the teachers alone for these kids not passing?

When you get down to it, the issue seem way more complicated than just labeling a person a bad teacher because their students did not pass a test.

I attended NYC public schools in the 80s and I remember my teachers teaching us well, yet there were a large group of students who could care less. Many became dropouts because they would rather have a good time than actually study. Without solid parents I might have done the same.

May. 30 2014 01:11 PM

Richard...Red up on the history of civil service jobs especially teachers before the union. The Principals were virtual tyrants. One of my pet peeves is the argument all the time it isn't that way in the private setor. What makes the private sector superior to the public sector? Certain protections were written into civil service laws for all civil servants in exchange for the lower pay they received.

Those protections, unfortunately, are still necessary and the reasons the ATR pool came to be are an illustration why. The fact is, the vast majority of Principals who came out of the Leadership Academy are not qualified to judge a teacher's performance nor to provide the help many need to improve. Period. That only comes with experience and nobody is qualified to be a Principal without at least 7 years of classroom experience and a further 3 years as an Assistant Principal. That is absolutely irrefutable. What happend when Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg were allowed to destroy the school system, especially the large high schools, is hundreds and maybe even thousands of decent teachers were excessed. Along with that, Klein changed the funding method where all teachers in budgeting counted as 1 unit using the average salary of a teacher but rather each Principal was charged for the actual salary of a teacher. Bloomberg also had the idiotic idea that a Principal is CED not a CIO (Chief Instructional Officer) which filtered all the way up to Chancellor of course (see Black, Cathy). Result. Principals preferred to hire younger teachers who were paid less and would be more amenable to some of the insane ideas some inexperienced Principals have of the proper way to teach various subjects, especially on the secondary level. I know of one lady in the ATR who taught AP Calculus in her school for years and every Principal who interviewed her said she didn't know how to teach math in a modern way because she didn't believe in any of the new fangled "reform" math programs which have destroyed math education throughout the country. So after a while, she rightfully decided she didn't want to continue playing this moronic game and who could blame her.
That is repeated time and time again under the destrouction of the school system that was orchestrated by Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott and now King and people such as Selin who don't know the first thing about education.

Learn the facts and stop with this it's not done this way in the private sector. This is all a result of an insane policy of closing schools for no reason at all and only 10 or 15 years down the line will people realize what a mistake it was when we try to put the High School Division together again.

May. 30 2014 12:43 PM

re Dave's comment-it costs several hundred thousand dollars PER CASE from the beginning of the process to the end to attempt to remove a teacher. Even then, the outcome is uncertain. That is why, in the entire state of California in a recent year, 9 teachers (out of just over 300,000 total ) were removed for performance reasons.

re: Jeff S-let's assume you are correct and all the teachers in the ATR pool are "fine teachers". What is incontrovertible is that there are more teachers being paid than there are jobs for them to fill. They should receive decent severance pay (say a week for each year of service up to 26 weeks) and let go. This is what happens in virtually every field of endeavor in this country. It is criminal to keep paying people for an indefinite period of time when they are not working, regardless of their qualifications, their past history or their motivation.

May. 30 2014 11:11 AM
Dave From NorthEast Bronx

If they city thinks it has a good case against these teachers, why not fire them and defend their position in court?

It is my understanding that many of the positions once held by these teachers were filled by younger/cheaper newbies. If that's the case, isn't it age discrimination?

In a city that retires and hires thousands of teachers each year, wouldn't it be more financially prudent to place these people into permanent positions and save $100 million?

If you place one "so called" bad teach in a school with 50 good teachers, what are the chances that this school would suddenly start to perform poorly?

In many fields (I'm more familiar with German manufacturing) when a worker performs poorly they are placed with high performing workers and 9 out of 10 times they get better. Couldn't the city at least experiment with this model?

May. 30 2014 08:35 AM
JEFF S from New York

The vast majority of teachers in the ATR are fine teachers. They were in schools where Bloomberg pulled his short sighted policy of closing large high schools. Statistics show that these so called small boutique high schools have done nothing to improve true education despite the doctored graduation rates, the college prepared rate has not gone up one iota.

And now we have these self proclaimed "experts" like Ms. Selis who goes around as if she has any idea of what she is talking about and the newspaper editorial writers listen to their garbage and repeat the constant lies. There are procedures for removing incompetent teachers. Don't believe the nonsense that it is impossible to remove an incompetent teacher. Also the vast majority of these new Principals, some of whom may have one or two years of classroom experience, in many cases wouldn't know a good teacher when they see one. They only know they can hire two teachers at $40,000 each rather than one senior teacher neear maximum. Another idiotic dcision by Joel Klein to change the funding methods of budgeting for personnel.

There are civil service law protections which this nonsene has shown to be necessary that state that layoffs can only be done on a city wide basis within license area. If indeed lay offs are necessary, then it must be done on the basis of fair hearings. Many of the discipline cases are based on very flimsy evidence and again don't listen to know nothings like Students First who tell you it's impossible to get rid of an incompetent teacher. A competent Principal knows how to properly prepare a case if indeed the teacher is incompetent. It's just a tragic situation for people who have devoted their lives to providing quality education to their studens while know nothings like Ms. Selis run around spreading their lies.

May. 30 2014 08:10 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.