During the decade or so in which Mayor Michael Bloomberg totally controlled the public schools of New York City, he relied on test scores as the measure of students, teachers, principals, and schools. His was a managerial mindset devoid of any philosophy of education or of any concern for the lives of individuals or communities. Collateral damage was unimportant, and many people fell under his wheels. His primary strategy was to close schools with low scores and open new schools. He believed in small schools, even though few of these schools had the facilities or staff for English language learners, students with disabilities, or advanced classes in math or science or anything else. After he had been in office for a number of years, he was closing some of the new schools. The central office could literally murder a school by directing large numbers of low-scoring students to it, which was a death sentence. As schools began to die (and he had a particular hatred for large schools), good students moved out and the death cycle was accelerated as the stats looked worse and worse.

What happened to the teachers in the schools marked for closure? Some got out as fast as they could, others stayed in their post, either because they were devoted to the school and hoped it would be saved if they tried harder or because they felt committed to the students. When the school at last was closed, many tenured teachers were set adrift. They could apply to other schools but because they were experienced, they were expensive and many principals preferred to have two new teachers than one veteran. So the teachers without a school were placed in what was called the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), where they stayed on salary but floated through the system as substitutes or short-timers. The press regularly ridiculed them as incompetents, although most had lost their job through no fault of their own, and some or many were expert teachers.

In this post, Lynne Winderbaum tells the story of the ATRs. She is a retired ESL teacher.