Friday, June 23, 2017

Day by Day in the ATR

A lot of us have no idea what ATRs go through. I speak to ATRs frequently, and I have a very good idea of how I'd feel as an ATR. Over at ATR Adventures, Bronx ATR tells it like it is, and pretty much like I thought it would be:

 Everything is taken away from you, except the pay check. 

Many ATR teachers tell me that the answer they get when they complain to UFT reps is that they still have a job. I'm glad for that. But as for me, a lot of my identity is wrapped up in what I do. If I were coming to work every day to teach Chinese, physics, trigonometry, or whatever, I would feel very differently than I do now about the prospect of coming to work every morning.

You will have no routine. You won't know the kids, teachers, administrators, building, or neighborhood. 

That's pretty depressing. We make little connections that make our lives meaningful. Our relationships with our students deepen and blossom over the year and we're eventually able to understand them fairly quickly. Of course, on the first days they're testing us to see what they can get away with. Thus the saying, "Don't smile until Christmas." If you're an ATR, Christmas never comes and every week could be the first week.

You will spend a lot of money in parking garages or on tickets. You will have a new cold every time you change schools, because of the different populations and stress. 

You sometimes need to get the hang of parking. At some schools, people rent driveways so they won't have to spend time looking around. That last part, about frequent colds,  was unexpected. But I do know several ATRs who have frequent colds and health issues. 

You will have to carry everything with you- coat, bag, food, etc.. You will start at 9 in one school, 7:35 at another.

School schedules are notoriously fickle. I think at our school this is the first time in a while it's stayed the same two years in a row. But imagine going from one school to another. Every time you make connections, it's time to leave. In our chronically overcroweded school there are places to hang coats. But bags and such, well, you'd have to be lucky.

And don't forget the rampant prejudice against ATR teachers, by both us and administration. Back when I used to write for Gotham School, where they subjected me to brutal editing, they gleefully posted a piece by a young teacher full of stereotypes about ATRs. I'm lucky that, in my school at least, admin seems to take them one at a time. There are four former ATR teachers permanently appointed in my department, though one is technically an English rather than ESL teacher.

Bronx ATR has some good advice for his ATR colleagues:

  Try to have a positive attitude. Try to exercise more, preferably before work. Watch yourself for depression and addictions ( shopping, overeating, gambling, and any of the more illicit ones). I have several friends who have become seriously ill and quit. Dress in layers - some schools are 90 degrees, others 40. Carry hand sanitizer and earplugs. (Yes, believe it or not, these rooms can get so loud your hearing will be in danger.) Carry some generic class work. Expect no help from the UFT and you won't be disappointed. Pick your battles, because you may win the battle and lose the war. Most importantly- don't lose your head.

I'm going to first say I understand having low expectations. But I'm also going to say that people in leadership do help ATR teachers. I learned this when Amy Arundell, who I did not know at all at the time, called me out of the blue and demanded that I help an ATR teacher get a job in my school. I was pretty happy to get a request like that. It was much better than previous requests, like, "You MUST support this thing/ candidate/ bad idea/ whatever." Those requests were easy to ward off, with, "What are you gonna do if I don't? Throw me out of Unity Caucus?" People who work for the union don't expect to hear that.

Anyway I managed to get this person an interview, my AP was impressed, and this person was temporarily hired. Alas, the principal was not impressed, and this person was gone at year's end. But a year or two later we got a new principal who actually liked what he saw, and now this person is permanently appointed. I was very proud to be part of a loose group of people who found common cause and made this happen.

Of course low expectations mean never being disappointed. I make it a point to enter certain enterprises with very low expectations. The rest of the advice is on point, and I've seen bad things happen to those who don't take it. I'd add that blogger Chaz has a very healthy attitude about being an ATR, and that's worth emulating too.  He strives to find the humor in his situation, and manages to overcome the worries that bother so many ATR teachers.

Be kind to ATR teachers you meet. They're usually in that situation for the crime of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Show them around and introduce them to people. Try to make them as comfortable as you can. Always remember, there but for the grace of God go you, or indeed me.

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