Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Blog: Is It Still a Random Event If You Know It's Coming?

It's only the Third of December, and already there's a digression. That's why I love blogs: the very randomness about them. Randomness, probability, math. The circle of circles.

I have been bouncing around the New York City educational system for a few years now, and that's okay. I know that I'm wanted and there will be a soft landing somewhere. I figured that if I didn't get back to where I wanted to be in a reasonable amount of time, I'd find another suitable position. In the meantime, I'd be in the Absentee Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool. The downside to being in the pool is that you never know where you're next assignment will be: good neighborhood or bad, conveniently located or not. The upside? Well, no lesson plans, no mindless nights grading mindless papers writing meaningful comments, which likely wouldn't be read anyway. And I can most likely reset my alarm for a later time. Currently, I have a tendency to get to work an hour early to prep for a first period class because I don't wish to do all that work the night before when I could be sitting in front of the television, watching the insides of my eyelids.

A quick summary of the past few years: my school was shrinking because Bloomberg was trying to close it down despite its high grades on his own report card system. It stayed open but lost staff, including half the Math Department (which was three people, not counting the Support Services teachers). That event inspired this comic: Kiss Today Good-bye. After nearly a decade, I was leaving what felt like home.

That fall, I spent a month in Williamsburg at a small school that really didn't need any substitutes, and I mostly circulated the rooms, trying to help, which was easier to do when the subject was math. That was followed by a week at a school ten minutes from my home. At that point, a teacher at my old school retired, and I was on my way back. Things had changed a little. I had mostly freshmen, unlike the previous year, and the schedule was a little ... challenging. One could theorize that the classes were particularly rough because they wanted to encourage the former teacher to retire sooner. I think he had his plans set from the first day of school. It was a bit of a rough year, but I was promised a better horizons the following year ... and then I was excessed again.

My personal Year from Hell started in August. (I actually asked an A.P., who called to request an interview, if he had time the following day as I would be busy on the day he proposed, attending a funeral.) Professionally, it wasn't a bad year at all. I was called into Bed-Stuy, which sounded worse than it was, and spent a month there, watching them build the sets for The Knick, literally, right outside my window. Note: I am NOT misusing the word "literally". I have pictures. And Clive Owen even retweeted one of them! (Actually, it later turned out it was a FAN account, but I didn't know that at the time.)

This was followed by a few week in Park Slope, at my old zone school, which had been broken up years ago. Park Slope went through Yuppie-ville into Hipster Haven, but many of the kids traveled there from other areas. It wasn't an impressive place, and said to say that the teachers I worked with weren't fully versed in the topic they were teaching. I was able to nonchalantly correct a couple of things as if something was simply misspoken, but one thing in particularly was just so wrong, I kept my mouth shut. I figured that it was a tough topic and I could help individually with the students, but I couldn't undermine the teachers for the rest of the year. They weren't idiots, and I didn't want them to be thought of that way. (And I did explain their mistake later, during a prep period.)

Sometime in October, I got a call from a school in Staten Island. It would be a bit of a hike, and the Verrazano Narrows bridge has an incredibly expensive toll. (Not kidding -- even with a discount, it was costing me more than $10/day to get to work over one bridge.) It was supposed to be temporary, which worked out for me, because I knew that there was going to be an opening for me in Brooklyn at any given (i.e., random) moment. Except that there wasn't. For whatever reason that the teacher was on leave (I wasn't told; I never asked), she didn't come back. I was there until June, and I had settled in and had started to make friends. I attended a graduation dinner for a colleague, a summer barbecue. I even met a parent who I hadn't seen since we were both 13, some mumblemumble years ago.

At the end of the year, the AP asked me what was next. She didn't ask if I wanted to stay. maybe she assumed I wanted back in my old school ... or just my old borough on the other side of the bridge.

Which brings us back to randomness and inevitability. I went back to my old school during the summer for Regents Review classes, and subbing for a little spending money. One of my former colleagues was 8 months pregnant. She would be out on the first day of school. The AP of school organization started the paperwork to get me back on a temporary basis, and I was happy to go back. The only problem was that I hadn't a clue how long I would be back for. No one seemed to know how much time she would be taking. It was going to be six weeks plus whatever sick leave she had saved up (as far as I could guess) but I hadn't a clue how much that would be. Three months? A semester? Two marking periods, it turns out.

And here I am. Ready to leave again. Probably for the last time. I don't seem them -- at this moment -- turning things around. I don't see them expanding the student population, and with it, the budget. How long do I stay in the ATR pool? Sooner or later, I will have to find a position. Sooner or later, I will be subbing in a good school and I'll seek a position. (And maybe even regret not seeking last year's position again.) But in the meantime, I can count on two things:

A high probability of randomness, and an absolute certainly of zero lesson plans.


Dennis Stout said...


Well, your comic shows off a fair amount of math knowledge. Not sure what all of your plans are, but Houston, TX is hurting so badly for math teachers that they're giving anyone who knows how to count a 5k$/yr increase above standard teachers pay.

Some friends of mine got math degrees and were immediately told by the school district that if they want to teach, the district will buy their teacher certification for them.

I'll wrap up my BS in math in another few years, then hopefully I'll go on my way to Masters. If I could squeek out a PhD somehow.....

(x, why?) said...

I like numbers even if my higher math skills are a little rusty.

I'm settled with my family in NYC, so Houston isn't in my future, but thanks for the tip. Other educators are reading this, so maybe they'll investigate.

I shouldn't have a problem, and my (former) school will need help in the fall because a recent hire (if scuttlebutt can be believed) wants out already. Whether I'd go back again ... ? I wouldn't close any doors at this point.

Dennis Stout said...

Yeah. The nice thing about being a teacher is that the more politicians try to make it seem like you're unnecessary and expensive, the more harshly society will be reminded how wrong those politicians are.

It's amazing to me that people will continually vote against schools and teachers, while then complaining about not being able to get correct change or whatever.