Monday, December 19, 2011
Yes, it is true. I have been appointed to a vacancy in a High School in my District. I waited until I met the Administration and believe they are serious in giving me a chance to show my stuff. Like all appointments, this is provisional until the year end and if it turns out to be a good fit, I will have a permanent placement and no longer be an ATR.
The school is not great, in fact it is a restart school with real issues and poor grades and yes, it could face closure down the road but for now it is an easy commute with available parking. Therefore, I will give it a shot and see if I am still that great teacher I once was. While my days as Traveling ATR are over for now, I intend to stay active in advocating for ATRs and will in the future be a guest blogger on chaz's school daze and write about my experiences on what I find in my new school.
I thank everybody for their support and encouragement and hope that we all outlast Mayor Bloomberg.
Friday, December 16, 2011
My last school showed me what those poor District 76 ATRs have to go through when traveling between Brooklyn and Staten Island. I was sent to my first (and last) Rockaway school and it took me a good hour by car, including a $6.50 bridge toll to get there. The school is one of those small schools that co-exist with a closing large school. This school and all the other small schools in the Rockaway Peninsula are fighting tooth and nail to get the dwindling middle class students who don't go to the local parochial school.
The school has struggled to keep their school environment, requiring students to wear proper pants and shirts. However, there are just too many students who pull their pants down and show their underwear and nothing is done about it. Teachers in the school see a rise in student disrespect and it is becoming a concern. Furthermore, the students complain that they are treated as elementary school children as teachers are required to pick them up in the cafeteria when they first come in and after lunch. Of course the Administration comes from elementary school roots and are quite vindictive when teachers dare to complain about this and other issues. There is not enough hallway supervision as boys are seen hanging out in the stairwells and twice as many boys seem to go to the bathroom than girls. The reason being these students don't want to stay in class. Furthermore, the middle school where many of the students come from saw their grade drop from an "A" to a "C" as academic achievement has stagnated and violence has risen.
Overall, the school is competing with the other small schools for the limited number of high achieving students available. However,this and the other small schools in the Rockaway peninsula are isolated and victims of a slowly worsening and changing social-economic conditions on the peninsula. Worse, is the dumping of low achieving students in these small schools as the closing school can no longer take then in and they must go somewhere? The prognosis is bleak. However, that is the future. Therefore, I must grade the school based upon the present.
Friday, December 9, 2011
This week I found myself in a mid-sized school located in one of the best neighborhoods in Queens. The school is relatively new, has plenty of parking, and a nice Administration. However, I must point out, I never met the Chapter Leader at all. To continue, this school has a diverse student body from the surrounding communities and for many years the school climate was more suburban than urban. However, the school is in the process of experiencing a slow moving tsunami as the school desperately neeeds to fill student slots and face a dwindling source of high achieving students who live in the community.
In the last few years the school has reluctantly accepted an increasing number of students outside the nearby communities because they couldn't compete with the powerhouse large comprehensive high schools in Northeast Queens and has steadily lost ground to these schools and others in attracting the high achieving academic students to the school. Therefore, to keep their student numbers up, the school reluctantly started to accept the lower achieving students from South Queens and even Brooklyn. These lower achieving students brought a more urban culture and attitude to the school and it seems have created a schism in the school environment.
The school has tried to maintain their suburban environment but haven't adjusted well to the less disciplined urban culture brought in by an increasing number of students from Southern Queens. For example this school allows the students to wear hats, hoods, and, dare I say, those thuggish paints down to their knees with the underwear showing. Further, study hall does not require a pass in this school and some of the students spend more time in study hall where they socialize and play cards then they do in class. Finally, the students all carry Ipods, and cellphones and many of the students use then in the classroom with no consequences. Interestingly, the school has to some degree has rubbed off on these students, even the most thuggish are relatively respectful and follow orders. Now if the school can get them to go back to class.
This school has deteriorated over the years but is still a good school.
Friday, December 2, 2011
I was fortunate enough to be sent to one of the few remaining large comprehensive high schools that has not been targeted for closing (yet). This school is located in a solidly middle class neighborhood and the students reflect the diverse neighborhood. The students are, for the most part, academic achievers and take advantage of the many Advanced Placement classes and electives the school offers. The school has numerous clubs and extracurricular activities that can be only found in a large comprehensive school.
While this school, like many of the large comprehensive schools in Queens, have seen an almost doubling of students with IEPs. The school has managed to maintain its reputation as a high achieving school. During the two weeks I was at the school recruiters from West Point, Binghamton University and Hunter College came to the school. After experiencing what was going on in schools #3 and #5, I was more used to seeing the only recruiting being done were by the "Bloods, Crips, and MS-13". More importantly, the only "Latin Kings" at this school were the top students who take Latin and not the street gang.
Does the school have problems? Of course, all schools do. One problem is that the school lacks a lateness policy for students. While most students follow the rules and get to class as quickly as possible, a few students know that if they show up ten or more minutes late, nothing will happen to them by the Administration. The second problem is that this school has three additional unnecessary Assistant Principals that gobble up a minimum of five teaching positions and with the school suffering from budget problems, that is a pity. Moreover, teacher morale in the school has declined over the last few years because of a very weak and "do as I say, not as I do" philosophy of the school's Administration. However, looking at the school from an outside perspective this school is like heaven, when compared to the other schools I have been sent to, with the exception of school #1.
In summary, this school is exactly what a high school should be.
- Loads of electives.
- A wide variety of clubs and extracurricular activities.
- An active and involved PTA.
- Good student-teacher rapport.
- An academically achieving and educationally engaged student body.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Well, I just finished another weekly assignment and found this once great school is struggling to survive. This large school is in Eastern Queens and has seen an influx of "academically challenged students". Quite a few of these students were pushed out of the middle schools either due to their age , behavior, or academics, maybe all three. This school bore the brunt of the closing of Springfield Gardens and Jamaica High Schools and the result was that many of the higher achieving students that , in the past would go to this school, have decided too go to other schools farther North in the Borough.
This school, unlike the "Restart/Transformation Schools", have so far avoided that fate However, the teachers at the school have seen a steady worsening of the school environment. Too many students wander the halls, especially in the "Special Education" wing where Deans and School Safety Officers (SSOs) are not to be found. This school Administration gave out the most "unsatisfactory" ratings than any other school in the Borough which further lowered teacher morale.
The discipline in the school is uneven. At times the hallways are clear when the Deans and School Safety Officers occasionally sweep the schools. However, where there are no Deans and SSOs available, especially in the "Special Education" wing, where the students congregate and disrespect teachers who try to disperse them back to class. I heard one student tell a teacher to "suck my d**k" and another student called a female teacher a "white b*tch". This disrespectful group that reminds me of school #5 are thankfully a minority of a reasonably well-behaved student body. However, it is a sizable minority and growing and that is a problem.
Academically, the school has few higher level courses, especially in Math and Science". In those two subjects Advanced Placement courses are no longer offered and Pre-Calculus and Physics are only given to two classes. The school has a Special Education vacancy that is not advertised and a hidden Math vacancy.
The school is not in immediate danger of closing. However, they did receive a poor grade by the DOE and we all know how the DOE feels about large High Schools. There is plenty of parking in the area. The staff is friendly and I did receive a key to the bathroom and classroom (I admit I needed to ask the custodian for it). Finally, like most schools I have been to, many of the teachersand AP's did not leave meaningful work to do and the students tend to misbehave if they are not given meaningful work. This issue is an ongoing problem for many of the ATRs, not just myself. Oh yes, this was another school where the Chapter Leader never came to greet me and I never met him or her. I guess Michael Mulgrew's message haven't reached the Chapter Leaders of the schools I end up in.
If offered a position in my subject area I would probably accept it.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
I found myself in another "Restart School" and expected the worst since my other two experiences in school #3 and #5 where like being part of a horror show, with the students as the flesh-eating zombies. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the school was orderly and the students respectful. Yes this school has many problems, it wouldn't be a "Restart School" if it didn't, but I must admit my stay was pleasurable.
I did spend the election day doing unprofessional development and hear the "Restart Company" speakers (ex principals from Atalanta, the cheating capital of the nation) tell the staff that they are the blame for the school's poor grades over the last three years. They blamed the teachers that "they look out the window rather than looking at themselves in a mirror" when it comes to student achievement. The short version it's the teacher's fault for the students shortcomings academically.
First, let me tell you about the good things in the school. The APO greeted me with a hello and three keys (bathroom, classroom, and elevator). The first school to actually give me a bathroom and elevator key! Second, the students were relatively well behaved even for me. Third, the hallways were empty during class time and the few stragglers were handled quickly by school safety agents who patrol the hallways. Finally, there was ample parking and the staff, including the Administrators were helpful and friendly.
Unfortunately, this was a "Restart School" for a reason. The students are low achieving as they enter the high school with serious academic needs. To expect teachers to raise the academic standards of "1's and low 2's to pass rigorous high school courses is not realistic. Because higher achieving students don't attend this school, higher level courses are not given. For example, there is no Physics and only one class of Chemistry at the school. Further, the 16 Earth Science classes are taught by teachers who are not licensed in the subject with one being a Math teacher! The result is that few students pass the Earth Science Regents and can't obtain a "Regents Diploma". To cap off the problem, quite a few students come from Brooklyn and they seem to have the most problems adjusting to the school's culture and act up both in class and on school property, thereby increasing the violence associated with the school.
This school, like the other "Restart Schools" I have been in have two vacancies that they cannot seem to fill. Moreover, they also have hidden positions where teachers left on long-term leave and are not coming back. These positions are covered by day-to-day substitute teachers from outside the DOE and not ATRs. In addition, the elimination of one day of Science means that two or three Science teachers don't need to be hired. The Principal is a "Leadership Academy Principal" who has never taught in the classroom and has an "F status" Principal shadowing her.
Teacher morale is poor as they told me that in three years, when the "Restart" money ends, they will be ATRs and the academic ability of the students the school attracts make meeting the "Restart" conditions highly unlikely. There seems to be less "ineffective ratings" in this school than the other "Restart Schools" but still many teachers fear that it will still lead to a "two-year and your terminated" and nothing the union tells them changes that feeling. I ran into the Chapter Leader and he has worked hard to tell the members that this year's evaluation does not count. I believe he is wrong but to the teachers the evaluation system is just a termination process, when combined with the uniformity low academic achievement will allow the Administration to target selected teachers.
Overall, I had a pleasant experience at the school and would consider a position there, if offered, even if the school closes three years down the road.
Friday, November 4, 2011
I was sent to another "restart school" in the southern part of the Borough and found that this school rivals the other "restart school" (school #3) in how badly run the school is. This school is underutilized and it appears that only students that were not selected to go to other schools are students there. The majority of the students come from the low-income projects just blocks from the school and almost all the student body are low achieving and struggling students.
Many of the problems in the school comes from an Administration that looks the other way on imposing student discipline. The hallways always seem to have groups of students walking aimlessly around, knocking on doors, screaming obscenities, and socializing. Even during the official attendance period, the school allows students to come in anytime during the period and require the teachers to admit them in their class and mark them "late"(in the world of the school's Administration attendance is more important than real learning). Students threatened to go to the school administrators when teachers rightfully refuse to let these students in during the last 15 minutes of the class.
The student culture of "disrespect & aggression" was the worst I have every experienced in any school. The students "disrespect" each other, school staff, and even their own teachers where cursing seems to be the norm. Many of the students use the school as a social event and believe just showing up to class entitles them a passing grade, or so teachers have told me. These very same teachers informed me that the Administration pressures the teachers to pass the students even when they don't deserve it. The culture of violence is very evident in the school as it is very common to see the male students slapping the girls in the face or punching them on the upper arm and grabbing them with impunity as if they are a "piece of meat". The girls hit the boys whenever they feel like it and simple assault seems to be the normal for both sexes at the school. The boys dress "ghetto" with pants down to their knees, hats and hoodies. The girls act just as badly as the boys with obscenities and threats in almost every sentence spoken between them.
The school has three unfilled official vacancies and science classes of only four periods a week, instead of the required five, savings the school from hiring two Science teachers. Labs are done in a classroom rather than a laboratory room and it seems that some teachers are required to teach an additional science class that is not in their certification area.
Finally, the teachers are subject to the teacher evaluation matrix and many of the teachers complained how easy it is for administrators to abuse it and some have already been through two of them and are not happy about the results. Teacher morale is low and may plummet further as the "ineffective" teacher evaluations pile up.
This is another school, I am happy to leave and for this school to survive, it needs a new Administration and a zero tolerance student discipline code that is presently lacking. I pity the teachers stuck there.
Friday, October 28, 2011
After the horror show of my last school, I was placed in a very nice neighborhood small school. The school was carved out of thier middle school and the vast majority of students come from the middle school. The school is out-of-the-way from most other areas of Queens and there appears to be some selective weeding of out of the neighborhood students who have discipline or academic issues.
The students are well behaved and have been trained in the middle school to not enter a classroom until the teacher gives them permission to do so. The halls are clear of wandering students and the hallway Dean looks bored to death. They are very respectful to the teachers and the school's Administration praises the teachers publicly for their efforts. The respectful nature of the students and supportive Administration is a breath of fresh air after surviving the previous school. Better yet, there is available parking near the school and the rooms are loaded with technology. What was most impressive was that the students never took out their cellphones or ipads during my week there. Furthermore, no hats, hoodies, or sagging pants. Wow!
There are some downsides to the school. The Principal, who really is a good person, has gently encouraged teachers to have at least a 90% passing percentage otherwise he might make more frequent visits to the teacher's class, not nice. Moreover, he just loves technology and some teachers are questioning whether too much technology is a crutch and not an aid to student learning. He also demands that the classes do a pretest before giving the actual test. Many teachers are uncomfortable with the pretest issue since it results in grade inflation and doesn't contribute to student learning as it substitutes more test preparation at the expense of student understanding of the subject.
Overall this is a good school and I would gladly work there. However, if you take mass transit, good luck getting there.
Friday, October 21, 2011
I just finished my weekly sentence in a large comprehensive High School targeted by the DOE for failure. This school is one of the 33 schools who are required to use the "teacher evaluation metric". This school has been getting an increasingly larger population of low achieving students who were not selected by other High Schools. Some of these students travel up to three hours, round trip, to go to this school since no other school will accept them. Many of these low achieving students are quite disruptive and the Deans have their hands full keeping the hallways quiet. In addition, every student has cellphones and do not hesitate to take them out and ignore the lesson or the teacher for that matter. Worse of all, the students look and act "ghetto", with saggy paints, underwear showing and wearing hats and hoodies Student disrespect is a very common problem in the school and adds to the low teacher morale. It is very obvious the DOE is targeting this school for closing in the near future.
Teacher morale is terrible as many as half of the teachers in the school have expressed a desire to leave the school for a more academic and safer learning environment. To make matters worse, quite a few teachers have already received their first "ineffective" observation, based upon the new "teacher evaluation matrix". A few told me how lucky I am that being an ATR and that I will be gone from the school next week. I guess it is "the grass is greener on the other side" syndrome. Of course, being in the school for a week is a week too long.
The Principal is not well though of and blames teachers for the many ills of the school. There is talk that the school is being set up to fail with an increasingly low achieving population and a demoralized teaching staff, it certainly looks that way. Thank goodness I am not teaching there on a permanent basis.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Well, I just finished another week of visiting another High School and found myself teaching in a subject area that I am not certified to teach in. I had five freshman classes who still have not had a regular teacher since the school year started and no one certified in their subject area. I really feel sorry for these students since they are already a month and a half behind their peers. However, more about that later in this post.
The school I was sent to was one of those small themed schools that now inhabit a building that once housed a large comprehensive school that was closed down. The staff was fine and the teachers were welcoming but the Administration had some issues and were usually unavailable to teacher needs and had a reputation as not addressing teacher complaints. The school had too many students roaming the halls during class time and because I was a substitute, some of the less than stellar students would see a friend in the hallway and get out of their seats to open the door to greet them. Classroom management was an ongoing problem and getting these Freshmen to do meaningful work was like pulling teeth. I asked a teacher " is the hallway always this crowded with students during class time"? His response was yes, the Administration hides in their offices all day. The students rule the school. Only the Dean scares the students and he can only be at one place at one time. By Friday, I was quite happy to say goodbye to the school and their undisciplined student body.
The Freshman class I had has four words that they use throughout their vocabulary. For the boys the "n" and "f" words are common adjectives and for the girls it is the "b" word that most invades their flowery language. They even call the boys the "b" word!. Many of the Freshman refused to make an effort to learn and work. When I asked them to make an effort I was met with either an icy glare or simply ignored. Some of the worst would say "You are not our teacher and we don't have to do anything you say". How common that was, especially by the girls. Some of the boys would simply put their heads down and go to sleep. The funny thing is that some of the worst students said they were sorry to see me go because I really tried to connect with them. Of course the real reason they wanted to keep me is that they could simply ignore me and not have any consequences for misbehaving and not doing work.
Well, I must end this post as I prepare to go to another High School in my excursion through the Queens High Schools and experience more examples of the DOE's "children last" policy in action.
GRADE "C -"
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
My first assignment as an ATR this year was a five week placement in a specialized school who, by the way, didn't even have my subject area in their curriculum! Yes, you heard right the much vaulted DOE algorithm placed me in a school that had no use for me!
For the five weeks I was there the school staff, especially the teachers, treated me with respect and sympathized with me and the other ATR which also taught a subject that the school didn't have in their curriculum. Another shining example of the DOE algorithm not worth the money used to develop it. Both of us were treated well be the Administration and in my case the Principal tried to find a vacancy for me but to no avail. I also must say that the students were wonderful and well-behavd as well as smart. It was a pleasure to teach them. If all my weekly assignments were this good, I might learn to like it. However, I do expect that since the DOE wants the ATRs to quit, I look forward to the difficult challenges in store for me as I cruise the various High Schools in Queens.
What are my concerns as I start this journey into the "black hole" of the DOE algorithm? Here are just some.
- Who is going to rate me at the end of the year?
- Where do I get my pay stubs?
- Is there parking available?
- Can I get a bathroom and room key?
- Will the union ensure I am given teacher and not clerical work?