Saturday, October 24, 2009

Open Letter to Ariel Sacks

If you aren't following the Ariel Sacks saga, you should be. She is (to me) a newbie teacher who has seen fit to disrespect ATRs and veteran teachers alike by claiming how incompetent they are on Gotham Schools. Read it for yourself.

I was one of the first to comment on Ms. Sack's unfortunate post, and I blogged about it here as well. Then Gotham Schools blogged about me blogging about it. It has taken on Balloon Boy proportions in the local education blogosphere, as I pointed out in a comment to this post. Ms. Sacks herself responded, which was quite kind of her, so I thought the least I could do was write a personal response. So here it is:

Dear Ms. Sacks,

Thank you for taking the time to post on my humble blog. First, I'd like to correct a few aspersions you have cast on it. You called this blog a ..."safe space where you have a group that is on the same page about enough things that you don't have to explain yourselves to each other." In truth, I've posted on many blogs where I have meticulously explained my views. Blogs tend to be places where like minded people gather anyway. Far from your implication that I am somehow cowardly for posting here, I would remind you that I was one of the first to call you out on your post on Gotham Schools. Furthermore, I have posted at least ten times about the ATR situation--all of them long before your post to Gotham. Everyone has the opportunity to refute my views on this blog--including you. I don't delete opposing viewpoints.

Now, please allow me to address some other issues. In your comment, you tell me: "You're (sic) "scathing," or perhaps just rude, remarks make this into a personal not professional debate, which weaken your arguments." If that makes my arguments weak, yours must have positively atrophied by now. In your Gotham post, you call 37 ATRs unqualified to teach at your school (what your qualifications are that exceed theirs remains unclear). You smear these veteran teachers by presenting an ad hominem and a false choice argument in one (quite an accomplisment, BTW): "Are these teachers really the dregs of the profession? Or is it that they’ve become all too comfortable being ATRs with no teaching position and do not want to go back to the classroom?" Can you enlighten me, Ms. Sacks, on how calling veteran teachers the "dregs of the profession" elevates the level of discourse? You proceeded to say that ATRs are not welcome at your school, and that they "behave like incompetent substitutes". Would you not consider that scathing and rude? You say they are like "refugees" in the teachers' room. How should they feel, given your attitude towards them?

You wonder why you get negative reaction when, in addition to the above slurs, you appear complicit, or at least in total agreement, with the decisions of your administration to skirt the terms of the hiring freeze and education regulations. Your school passed on 37 candidates and numerous subs for a math class while "...we attempted to wait the hiring freeze out." (emphasis mine). How long did you plan to violate the terms of the hiring freeze? How long did you intend to allow a math class to be without a regular teacher because of your distaste for ATRs? You seem in full agreement of your principal's decision to pull a special ed teacher from a CTT class in order to avoid hiring a senior teacher. Do you really feel it was appropriate to deny mandated services to children with special needs because you prefer not to have any of the "refugees" mingling with you in the cafeteria? Shouldn't their education come first?

You seem to be resentful that teachers like me don't work as hard as teachers like you. In truth, I probably don't work as hard as someone like you. I don't need to. I know what I am doing. I've taught every grade numerous times and I know my subject area inside out. I have written plans for every type of class for every type of reading and writing assignment imaginable. I have a stockpile of tried and true lessons that I can adapt for any class and which I have refined over the course of several decades to be as effective as possible. Perhaps you work so hard because you lack the experience to draw upon when writing your own lessons. When I was as new as you, I had to work much harder, too. The difference is that I didn't resent senior teachers; I reached out to them to learn how to become the best teacher I could be.

You also seem resentful that veteran teachers make more money than you do. You specifically mention an out-of-license ATR who, while adapting to the class, irked you because " I feel like I’m training her, while she gets paid twice my salary." Perhaps you are unaware that teaching has never been a well paid profession, and it used to be much worse. I made about $18K in my first year--how about you? Do you resent the fact that I achieved my master's plus 30 (plus much more) and put in more than two decades of dedicated service?

I do have a question for you. As a young teacher, what gives you the right to judge all of your fellow teachers and paint them with such a broad brush? Did you sit in on the 37 interviews your principal conducted? Did you personally observe each one teaching? If so, what qualifies you to make an evaluation as to what you saw? What qualifies you to say that ATRs have an "apparent low ability to teach"?

I suppose we should give you a break. Being lead teacher and department chair are heady things, after all. Your principal must think a lot of you. I can only hope for your sake that this principal stays around forever, because with a change of administration in a few years you may find yourself working in a school where you are considered the pariah for being one of those over paid veterans who soak up too much of the school budget. Should that ever happen, you may just find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder on the interview line with your fellow ATRs, avoiding eye contact with all the newbie teachers who consider you one of the dregs of the teaching profession.

It shouldn't happen to anyone. Not even you.


Anonymous said...

AT, Kudos to you and your response to Ariel! She's assuming that BloomKlein will live and reign forever, giving her enough time to move up the ranks of the future deformers. As a seasoned teacher with 21 years under my belt, thank you.

Pissedoffteacher said...

Well said! For once I am speechless and have nothing to add.

Chaz said...

You were too nice to her. Any person who lumps all ATRs together is not very intelligent.

My best friend is an ATR and he now does a math cluster for an elementary school, the Principal just loves him and can't understand why he is not teaching middle school math. All the interviews he went to for a middle school math position, he was not offered any of them. Instead all the principals are either waiting out the freeze or temporarily putting special education teachers in the positions. By the way he is 50+ years old. Get the message?

Child first ? No it is children last.

Pete Zucker said...

Excellent posting. Ariel Sacks is a RAT. Plain and simple. She is another of the rich, white, liberals who think they not only know more than anybody else.

But I agree with Chaz, you were too nice.

Ariel Sacks said...

Thank you for the clarity in your arguments and your professional tone in this letter.

I agree that I make a mistake in using my principal's comment about the 37 ATR's interviews, because that was hearsay. I wasn't there for any of the interviews, so I don't really know. I also had nothing to do with the decision to wait out the hiring freeze, or to use the ATRs as subs instead of filling the vacancies with them. You're right, I trusted my principal's judgment, and now recognize that there is a lot of room for error in that.

I also made a mistake in my post by implying that the ATRs at my school are representative of all ATRs in the city. I did make a false assumption there, painting with too broad a brush, as so many have pointed out. Today I've apologize for that on my blog in a new post.

You have one thing incorrect:
(1) I do not resent teachers who get paid more than me. I hope when I've been teaching 10 or 20 or 30 years I am making a lot more than I make now. I just resent it if they seem like they are choosing not to do their job well, or are unable to. I respect and admire veteran teachers for their expertise and commitment. I named my blog "On the Shoulders Of Giants" for that reason. I have learned most of what I know from wonderful veteran teachers who've taken time and care to teach me.

The part of my argument that I will hold onto is that I believe I can judge the work of the ATRs who I've seen teaching at my school. Perhaps I shouldn't have brought it up so publicly, but despite all the unfair conditions placed upon them, and despite the fact that they seem like nice individuals, they do appear to have low ability to teach. That was quite surprising for me to see, and it is a reality that affects students and teachers at my school. Those realities are the things I blog about (see my blog archives, I am pretty sure I've never before spoken negatively of teachers in general or at my school). I guess the best thing to do is to support them however I can, because they are my colleagues and teachers of my students.

But Mr. Talk, as much as we both hate the way the politicians and media paint teachers as the problem in public schools, do you admit that there are some incompetent teachers in classrooms, and that they make an impact on working conditions for all teachers? Should not the union care about that too? Do you believe the teacher evaluation system is efficient enough to remove the few teachers who are not fit to teach? If so, I suppose we just have an unfortunate situation that principals just need to take the time to deal with. But if not, we have a deeper issue that needs to be dealt with. If we do not begin to speak up about it, then policy makers from Duncan to Klein will come up with their own ways of dealing with it without any teacher input.

Mrs. Marm said...

Here's to yet another fascinating discussion at Accountable Talk!

I do agree with Ms. Sachs that virtually every school has a few weak links in the chain; teachers who seem less competent or who have lost enthusiasm or energy for their work. In my experience (out here in California), I find these teachers to be a small minority among a very large staff: maybe 2 or 3 out of 30 or more teachers at my own school. Everyone knows who they are, but we do not resent them, disparage them, or even find them entirely bad. And since I have never observed these few teachers in their classrooms directly, I would not presume to pass public judgement on any of them.

What concerns me more however, is the entire teaching force in this country being disparaged. The achievement gap is being blamed squarely on teachers, in a clear union-busting, anti-public education attack. Ms. Sach's post on her own blog simply adds more fuel to the fire, and was poorly considered. It drips with the arrogance of youth, and frankly, inexperience.

You might whisper such things to your closest friends, but it is ill-considered to post them publicly. Teachers need to present a united, and mutually supportive front, or it's divide, conquer and dismantle public education.

NYC Educator said...

I don't really know if I'd be a good teacher as an ATR. Science today, math tomorrow, no relationship with the kids, abuse upon abuse and a lack of ability to control the kids the way I do best--through parental contact. How seriously would parents take the complaints of a teacher who wouldn't be seeing their kids tomorrow, or possibly ever?

I don't take subbing nearly as seriously as I do my real job. As you can see, I don't even consider it my real job. I do it only when I have to. Many teachers leave crap assignments, and even if they leave good ones, I'm often unqualified to even discuss them.

There's really no way you could compare what I do as a teacher to what I'd be forced to do as an ATR, wandering about and covering odd classes of random teachers--teaching subjects with which I may or may not be familiar and kids I don't know at all.

I'd hate to be publicly judged on my performance in such a situation. I'd feel like a podiatrist being condemned for my shoddy brain surgery.

Anonymous said...

Ariel, Every veteran teacher sees that there are a few incompetent teachers, but we are not their supervisors. Let principals do their job. If a principal is allowing incompetence to exist in the school, then the principal should be removed! Period! Principals get paid from $130,000 to $138,000 a year to document through classroom observations those teachers that are masters in their field or to start the 3020a process to have them terminated. It is a lengthy, lengthy process to terminate a tenure teacher, but that's why it is the principal's responsibility to make sure that students are not short-changed. But, I've seen lazy principals who can't deal with the lengthy process and the enormous amount of paperwork. Nonetheless, in the grand scheme of things, there are at least 95% of the teachers who are caring, dedicated and hard-working people, but because of Bloomberg and Klein have now been given the short end of the stick by displacing them from their schools and making them teach out of their license. Could you imagine if you were placed in a high school and now you have to teach chemistry? Unless you are an expert in that area and I know that's not your area of expertise.

Principals who were veteran teachers before becoming administrators know a good teacher from the minute they walk into the classroom. Unfortunately, we are in a Darwinanian system, and there too many inexperienced administrators, who may have taught less than 3 years, running schools. So they wouldn't know a good teacher if a Bloom Taxonomy Chart was to hit him/her in the head!

Let principals do their job and those teachers that may show signs of incompetence help them.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:04, I'm so sick of that damn Bloom's Taxonomy that I've heard about since my master's degree days in the '80's. Your description of this system being Darwinian is just so dead on!! It's the educational world of my youth being turned on its head. Unfortunately, people like Ms. Sacks can't get over themselves enough to learn from anything us career educators have to say or pass on. Senior teachers were my mentors; the former "dysfunctional" system allowed that process to occur naturally, and we learned from experienced, seasoned people. Now the system does not allow that natural process of passing on true knowledge and wisdom. A true teacher is a master at the art and the craft of teaching. Ms. Sacks misses the entire point of why people are career teachers by not putting herself in her colleagues' ATR shoes for a moment. She barely questions why the CTT is mssing the "team". She will thrive in this presently soulless environment.

Anonymous said...

Office of Teaching Initiatives

Person Inquiry
Issued Certificates
Description Effective Begin Date Effective End Date
English Language Arts (Grades 5-9) Initial Certificate 09/01/2006 08/31/2011

For your information:
Ariel Sacks you just have an Initial Certificate issued on 2006. I would like to know why in four years you couldn't get your PERMANENT LICENCE. INSTEAD OF CRITICIZING The ATR teachers take sometime to get your permanent licence. Did you pass the teachers' test?

Fred said...

Ms. Sacks said, "In the classroom, they behave like incompetent substitutes. No order, no real planning, no real teaching." What does this mean? Does it mean that the ATR('s) in question is being treated like a substitute teacher, or does it mean that the teacher has been assigned to teach and is not professionally competent. I think Ms. Sack's is simply stating her observation, with all of the "interests" that go into those. But, I also think that everyone knows what she is talking about: treating an ATR as a substitute is unfair. Administrators should know better, expectations should be in place and accounted for. Ms. Sack's inexperience is merely at the level where she does not understand who is responsible.