Saturday, August 12, 2017

A first-person account of an ATR teacher in New York City Public Schools - Seeing The Positives

I've told my story (Attacks on ATRs is Spear at All Teachers Plus Why Not Have a Permanent Corps of ATR) of being an ATR in my first year and a half as a teacher from Sept. 1967-Feb. 1969 -- an experience that I believe turned me from a no-nothing 6-week summer trainee -- ala TFA -- into a confident teacher. So I found this email from Ed Notes reader Nick Weber confirms my thesis that using a permanent ATR corp for beginning teachers as a sort of apprenticeship would make sense --  also cost so much less because it would consist of beginning teachers -- we need subs anyway so why not make use of them but add the mission that schools they are attached to would also function like teaching hospitals? Re-branding the ATR program in this way would lead to buy in -- having extra hands on deck in schools can never hurt.

Here is Nick's intro:
As one of the youngest ATR's in the city (30) I have been an ATR for the past three years, and have been reading the accounts from "journalists" that fail to even ask an ATR their take on the process. While I note the difficulties inherent with not being given a restroom key, unfair evaluation, and being treated by some as a second class citizen; this is not the totality of my experience.

As the old adage goes, when life throws us lemons...  In light of this sentiment, below you will find my positive take on the experience, and the positive experiences I have been able to collect from it.  It has provided me one of the most unexpected life experiences, and one that has enriched me as a professional and person.   I humbly offer the following account below, in the hopes that you may publish it with my name, so that we may turn the tide on the representation of what is a cadre of highly trained and brilliant professionals, enriching schools across our City in wonderful ways.

----ATR Nick Weber
I can imagine the storm this posting will incur from a certain segment of the besieged ATR community. Nick is 30 years old and has a long way to go in the system so he has a perspective that may differ from long-time teachers. I do want to echo some of the points he makes about being able to visit many other classrooms as opposed to the isolating experience when you are a "normal" teacher. We know from some prominent ATRS - Eterno, Portelos, Zucker that they have managed to handle things pretty well -- James is the only one who has had a stable situation - relatively.

The press doing reporting on ATRs might want to chat with Nick and get his perspective. 
A first-person account of an ATR teacher in New York City Public Schools 

The Traveling Teacher

It is a rare and select opportunity for an educator to receive an invitation to visit another classroom within their own school site, let alone a chance to visit over three dozen school sites as a faculty member of each community.  In spite of the rarity, my assignment for the past three years within the Department of Education has been to do just this:  teach students in classrooms across schools, grade levels, and content areas.  It has been an unexpected blessing that provided me an opportunity to grow in unique ways I never imagined possible. To help populations of students I never imagined that I would work with, and learn from dozens of professionals who, in total, have several millennia of classroom years of experience. This account of my experience has to be abridged in order to present some of the insights of my time as an ATR.  It is an account that reveals, a side of being an ATR which has been beneficial to increasing my teaching ability and practice. 

The assignment of schools for ATR teachers remains a veiled calculus that is beyond analysis.  For our purposes, ATR teachers are sent into literally any DOE institution and regardless of their licensure and work to “cover” any topic or grade level.  My personal experience teaching as an ATR ranges from Pre-K all the way through senior year. A non-exhaustive list of content domains I have taught are as follows; Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, Chemistry, American History, Global History, Art, Design, Physics, Spanish, Latin, American-American Literature, American Literature, Theater, Music, Economics, Physical Education, Business Marketing, Coding, and library sciences.  This constant rotation has afforded me insight into how students learn, across content areas, and among the most diverse student population in the world. It has granted me the opportunity to peer into diverse school communities and learn how they function from my interactions with principals, assistant principals, teacher leaders, teachers, students, food service workers, School Safety Agents, and custodial staffs.  With reflection, these experiences have enabled me to understand public education in New York City as an ingrained member of a school community, with teaching obligations parallel to fellow educators, yet under a rotating set of conditions.  

Switching both the school and classroom setting permits an amazing level of professional growth, should one engage in the teaching process with fidelity.  My experience being an ATR was to treat every classroom, as my classroom.  Every lesson, as if I had weeks to craft it, not merely hours.  Every student, as my student.  

Working with over seven thousand students and hundreds of colleagues, it is a rare day that goes by when I don’t run into someone who I taught or worked with over the past few years. Sharing a smile and pleasant conversation to catch up with them, has been a true blessing of this constant rotation.  Updates abound with their college success, career growth, entrepreneurial endeavors, volunteering, military service, and persistent growth and learning, among a cadre of students who face no shortage of adversity against them.  The more students I teach and professionals I work with -- the more I discover that the human condition is categorically similar.  When we invest with kindness, support, and care for a generation; the result is a success all around. 
ATR teachers are often considered merely substitutes. This is an unfortunate understanding,  and should the ATR view themselves as such, would result in a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The facts are less glamorous than sensationalist accounts.  In contrast to the experience of being a substitute, the average ATR teacher has years, even decades of experience.  Hence, divergent from a substitute walking into a classroom, ATR educators are full-fledged teachers, who understand classroom dynamics, pedagogy, learning theory, and evaluation. 
That is to say, ATR teachers who constantly strive to perfect their teaching methods and reflect on every lesson, are able to experience an enormous amount of growth within a framework where change is the rule, rather than the exception.  With every class and student I teach, I reflect on what aspects of the lesson were successful, and what aspects of the lesson should be altered next time for improvement?  Research and our own personal experiences reveal that when teachers remain static, their lessons slowly ossify, and student interest decreases. Any pedagogue will acknowledge, that decreased student engagement results in lower student learning.  Teachers who remain, avid learners, are the ones who meet the greatest success. 

Within the United States, the current method of teacher preparation frequently compartmentalizes teacher training into both grade and subject-level specializations.  Frequently, this specialization comes at a cost of understanding the continuity of learning from pre-K to grade 12. While it is imperative to prepare teachers to understand the content and pedagogy with respect to subject domain (i.e. Middle School math, high school Chemistry; grade level 12 Economics), the process of teacher preparation may serve to isolate the teacher beyond what is needed or beneficial.  Teachers must be able to understand how learning occurs, and see the connections across grade level, student populations and understand barriers to learning. 

Evidence of hyper-specialization within education abounds. Teachers often identify strongly as history teachers, math teachers, and science teachers.  Yet, does not every subject impact another?  Should teachers (and administrators) not understand how students learn across content areas? Are not the most brilliant discoveries often found by researchers working outside their field of direct experience?  If so, we must expressly ensure teachers see connections, strategies, and methods across content areas. 

The world of today places great emphasis and opportunity on students who can see connections across domains and specializations. Our economy values individuals who have diverse skill-sets, and are able to reach across specializations. Innovation demands that we prepare students to create, rather than solely to perform within a limited task range. Thus, our teacher preparation must reflect this. 

Preparing an English teacher to teach High School, results in teachers who encounter challenges with supporting who enter high school reading at the 6th-grade level.  Alternatively, middle school math teachers, may not understand the rigors of Algebra on the 9th-grade level and thus fail to prepare a continuity of instruction for their pupils to engage with instruction on the high school level.  This is not a fault of the teacher, but rather a system of teacher preparation that focuses on a single subject and grade level.  I title hyper-focused content area specialization,  ‘silos of instruction’. These silos, unfortunately, carry all the way through teacher preparation and are maintained within many schools.  My integration into around three dozen school communities, permit me to see the inefficiency many schools experience with single subject content area teams.  An example of this is when high school math departments, fail to realize many of their English language students perform poorly on state math exams as a product of language deficits, rather than mathematic difficulties.  A partnership between these departments could address such concerns.  

Teaching across student populations and content domains,  aided my ability to view how student psychological, social, and academic development occurs.  In contrast to remaining with solely one student population, being an ATR grants insight into how students acquire knowledge at all grade levels of the public school. The ATR teacher, given their expansive placement with regard to grade and content domain; has the opportunity to see not only grade level benchmarks but additionally content area connections.  They have the chance to see the connections between literature on the elementary level, and mathematics benchmarks on the tenth grade.  No other teaching opportunity within our City or nation provides this diversity of applied growth and learning for teachers.  For rather than being an observer there to 'evaluate' learning, ATR teachers are in the classroom as a co-constructor of knowledge.  For example, I have witnessed how deficiencies regarding reading, translate as barriers to understanding math concepts when instructed and evaluated with a high degree of written instructions.  Using the tools  I have gained while teaching both concurrently,  has helped me to facilitate student learning to address these challenges. 

Teaching methods are critical to engaging students in the learning process.  One of the benefits of ATR rotation is the chance to acquire new "tools" or teaching methods.  Working with around 70 co-teachers (classrooms with both a special education and general education teacher in the room) I have had the chance to acquire a host of teaching strategies. One of my favorite teaching growth activities is to adapt and implement strategies in unconventional manners to increase student learning.  Take for example my use of "foldables" (a  project most often associated with English Language Arts methods) to increase Algebra passing rates.  Along with a co-teacher, we planned lessons using these manipulatives and found that students increased their pass rate of the state Regents Exams to one of the highest in the school.  The process of working with so many different and amazingly talented educators in the City, has been one of true joy and a professional honor.  Viewing how teachers adapt to students, integrate their interests and needs into the lessons they teach, and passionately support students far beyond the scope of their duties, reveals the level of professional dedication of so many teachers.  While the role of ATR is particularly suited to working with diverse professionals across content areas, I encourage regularly assigned teachers to simply ask around their school to find amazing educators, and engage in peer observation with fellow teachers. 

ATR assignments to school communities for myself have ranged from a single week to around eight months in duration.  Within so many school communities, I have discovered that the school climate and culture may be radically divergent. The diversity of school environment is something to be encouraged.  For example, students at Art and Design High School in Manhattan often express their creativity via sketches and artwork they draw in their portfolio notebooks, purchased in the school store which sells them to students at cost.  In contrast, schools such as Grammercy Arts, focus their artistic expression most profoundly through theater arts such as drama and dance.  To comparatively evaluate the “quality” of such radically different environments, using the same basis, is a fool’s errand.  Success in the classroom is similar to success in real life, it simply looks different for everyone.  Different populations of students with unique needs and teachers with unique skill-sets are invariably different. Society must come to embrace the diversity of excellence, and how it manifests across schools. 

Successful schools tailor their course and extracurricular offerings to match the student and staff interests and abilities.  Student interest is a critical ingredient for school success.  Being an ATR has allowed me to witness how the same student, engages in learning across different content areas and classes. That is to say, a student who thrives in group work in a History class, may be reserved and quiet in a science class.  Discovering indeed that a particular student learns best through group activities, may be a critical piece of information that educators fail to notice with some students. Why would they not? Indeed the single content area focus, as well as departments based on subject area, often place barriers in terms of teacher's  knowledge of students. Exploring how an individual student learns, is a critical feature of student success, and one that must be understood by members across of a school community. In an ATR role, it becomes apparent that every student has learning preferences, and these must be understood to best support student learning on a student-by-student level. 

Overall, rather than viewing the ATR experience as one of diminished responsibly and growth, I have engaged these past years in this role in a manner which illuminated me to the experience of learning within the public schools of New York City.  Teaching in a plethora of schools, across grade levels, across content domains, and with some of the finest educators to wonderful students who strive forward each day in spite of the many obstacles, has been one of the most enriching teaching experiences I could have ever imagined. 

- Nick Weber, ATR

17 comments:

  1. What a load of horse shit! You're 30 years old, with a line of bs like that and haven't been picked up? Why? Are you the dude that pisses his pants during interviews? Come on up to the Bronx, Nicky.

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    Replies
    1. Big words from someone that chooses to be anonymous.

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    2. Big words from someone that chooses to be anonymous.

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    3. Hey Tony, why do you want my name? You wanna come up to the Bronx and kick my ass? Maybe I'll pick one out of a hat like you did. Call me Justin Truth.

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    4. anon. 12:27 you must be back from your rally in Charlotte. Another gutless big shot.

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    5. So you are a black asshole.

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    6. And gutless too. Color know no bounds when it comes to being a jerk.

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  2. Replies
    1. You're falling for this, Peter? A 30 year old ATR that has been one for 3 years? No way.
      James T. Kirk

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  3. All that, 30 years old and is still an ATR. Is it clear now how this system is rigged.

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    Replies
    1. Norm must have made this guy up because it is not possible for an ATR to have these views. We prefer to wallow in misery. And isn't Peter also in the Bronx? He isn't a cry baby like you.

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    2. Huh? All I said was the system is rigged. Who's crying? You'd have to be an idiot to believe Nick Weber - no offense to you.

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    3. WOW WOW and WOW!!!! Nick Weber posted his name.. Nick Weber sharing a personal ATR experience.. Nick Weber will now receive bashing from fellow professionals.

      Why is it that you choose to bash instead of supporting colleagues and adding your experiences is this so called RIGGED system??
      Why is it that we don't begin to hunt down the individuals that add fuel and mastermind this RIGGED system??
      Why is it public professionals are scared to say there names in a forum such as this one??

      Hi everyone,,,, My name is Aristotle.. I am the only Aristotle in the system so that makes it easy to ID if i am real. Just like Nick Weber is easy to ID.

      Nick if you are reading this.. "THANK YOU for making every administrator in your path uncomfortable at every turn and Thank you for making a stand by only using LOGIC, LAW and your personal intellect..

      KEEP ON TRUCKING.

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  4. I enjoy watching Ancient Aliens and Searching for Bigfoot and believe both are more likely than Mr. Weber's story.

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