Roll call!

At union meeting, jobless teachers decry ATR deal "shell game"

Tensions ran high at the United Federation of Teachers Brooklyn office on Tuesday, as union officials volleyed questions, demands, and some cries of exasperation from nearly 100 teachers without permanent positions.

The union office was hosting the second in a series of meetings for members of the Absent Teacher Reserve — the large pool of teachers whose jobs were eliminated when their schools closed or cut costs.

The union is holding the meetings to explain changes to the way teachers in the ATR pool are deployed, based on an agreement struck this summer between the UFT and the Department of Education that stipulates that ATRs must travel to a different school each week. The first weekly assignments are set to start going out today.

But union officials spent much of the meeting deflecting criticism from teachers who charged that the constant upheaval would not make use of their expertise and make them less likely to land permanent positions.

Amy Arundell, a UFT special representative, told the roughly 100 teachers at the meeting that the point of moving teachers weekly is to position them for jobs that could open up at the schools where they are temporarily assigned. The previous arrangement, in which members of the ATR pool often stayed at one school for an entire year, allowed principals to use them as free labor, she said, without necessarily incentivizing them to offer the ATR teachers permanent jobs.

Above frequent interruptions from the standing-room-only crowd, Arundell told teachers they must report to their new assignments next week, even if the principals at the schools they were assigned to for September tell them to stay put. She and several teachers in the room said some principals are asking ATRs to ignore their DOE placements and stay on, in violation of the agreement.

She encouraged the teachers to “be proactive” with the principals and press them to find money in their limited budgets to create permanent positions.

“Otherwise, you can’t stay,” she said. “Unless a principal tells you, ‘I hire you,’ Central DOE won’t know that a principal wants to keep you. You know that saying, ‘Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?’ That’s true here.”

That logic sounded hollow for a Manhattan-based teacher who said after the meeting that the normally “pro-teacher” union had agreed to a deal that does not put ATRs’ best interests first.

“This weekly assignment nonsense is meant to aggravate people so they get disgusted and leave,” she said.

During the meeting, attendees called on the UFT to create a chapter just for ATRs and to file a discrimination lawsuit against the city on their behalf. But the union officials present, which included LeRoy Barr, the UFT staff director, rejected those requests, arguing that discrimination is difficult to prove and that chapter leaders at the schools where ATRs are temporarily assigned are equipped to advocate for them.

Arundell urged teachers to contact their temporary chapter leaders with complaints about hostile principals or requests to teach subjects out of their license.

But several teachers complained during the meeting that they had reached out to the UFT and the DOE with complaints, and received no response.

“It may be news for some of you, but there is not union representation in every school,” one teacher called out from the audience. “I was at one school that had no chapter leader.”

Several teachers complained about being assigned by their new principals to lunch duty or clerical work, which Arundell said was not part of their contract. Others spoke of being asked to take on subjects they are not licensed to teach.

One Manhattan-based librarian, who came to the Brooklyn meeting because the Manhattan meeting is not until next week, said her current principal is using her as an assistant to two kindergarten teachers at an elementary school because the school’s library is closed.

“I take the kids to the bathroom every period. That’s about all I do. My principal said to me, ‘I don’t want you here. You’re not going to work anyway.'” She paused for emphasis and whispered, “I think it’s because of my gray hair.”

Teachers throughout the room clapped when one attendee called on the union to file a class-action lawsuit against the city. Union officials shot down the idea, saying that courts require a high burden of proof for discrimination suits that the union would be unlikely to meet.

“But it’s happening everywhere,” another teacher called out. “Stop the shell game that’s taking place.”

Several teachers in attendance said they would like the union to create an ATR teacher chapter to represent them — something the union officials said was not likely to happen.

As the 2.5-hour-long meeting wrapped up, Vincente DeSiano, an elementary school teacher in the ATR pool, collected names and contact information from the roughly 40 people still present, after union officials said they would not provide information about who had attended.

“We have power that we don’t realize,” DeSiano said. “I want us all to be able to share information with each other and see how we can help the situation.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”