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My Sub Makes More Than Me

Bronx Classroom Tales

My Sub Makes More Than MeJust when I thought I’d orchestrated a near-perfect first day of classes for all the students and teachers at my school, in walks Mr. Bowen…


One of the roles I’ve taken on as a teacher at a small school is programming. I look at what classes students need taught, the number of students we have, the number of teachers we have, the number of rooms we have, and a very flexible empty grid. Then a lot of boring stuff goes into making it eventually work. 


Yesterday on the first day of school, after weeks of programming then shifting then shifting again the schedules for both teachers and students, I felt confident that there wouldn’t be any major melt downs in organization. There were slip ups – Antonio somehow got programmed for the same two periods in a row and Melissa didn’t have a period 5, but by and large, teachers and their students were showing up to the same place at the same time, and that felt nice. 


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Then, at lunch, I was introduced to a new teacher: I will call Mr. Bowen.


Now I had nothing against Mr. Bowen personally. He seemed like a perfectly nice man but, what?! A new teacher?! The first day of school?! How was it that I didn’t know an extra teacher would be looking for his classes come day one? 


Like many things in the DOE, the answer is an acronym: this time it’s the ATR or Absent Teacher Reserve. 


Teachers who lose a job due to a school closing or downsizing, are placed in the ATR where they still maintain their salary and benefits whether they find a new job or not. Those who aren’t rehired elsewhere are assigned to schools where principals try to utilize them. Most typically, they serve as substitutes. 


That’s how an ATR teacher with over ten years experience can make heaps more than younger teachers in the building, while potentially not teaching the entire year. Perhaps substitutes deserve to be paid more for having to put up with insolent students and a lack of guidance from building supervisors, but the highest paid salary in the building? 


Yesterday, the problem for Mr. Bowen, and I’m sure many ATR’s around the city, was that I had no classes for him to teach (he’d spent the morning sitting in the teacher lounge literally lost). 


We asked him to sit in on classes and assist a second year teacher in the content area where he holds 20 years experience. Perhaps because my pride often goeth before the fall and then doesn’t learn to stay down, I feared that Mr. Bowen would be offended teaching second fiddle to a sophomore instructor. Being a better man than I, that wasn’t the case and he seemed pleased after the first afternoon. When I asked the teacher he is assisting how he felt about sharing the class he noted, “20 years experience can’t hurt.”       


That’s something that I still struggle with as a young, naïve teacher surrounded by mostly young naïve teachers. Is 20 years experience enough to get the job done? When we interview teachers in the ATR for permanent positions, I have a hard time imagining their success in the classroom. 


A past ATR teacher in our school was given her own class for an entire semester and didn’t get much past having students copy definitions from a glossary into their notebooks. They seem to lack the energy to start over and take control of a class all their own perhaps because many have spent multiple years outside the classroom. It’s a lousy situation that has yet to be solved. Even after the chancellor told principals this year they couldn’t hire teachers new to the system, around 2,000 teachers remain in the ATR, surprising programmers across the city and asking, “where do I go?”      


Have you had a difference experience with ATR teachers? Am I wrong about the system? Please share your view on the system in the comments section!

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