I have been working as an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) educator for roughly 4 months now. Again, an ATR is a full-time teacher who is assigned to different schools to teach everything and anything. We rotate from school to school on a temporarybasis.
As you may have read, even though I beat my 3020-a termination hearing, I was still made an ATR and removed from the payroll of Berta Dreyfus IS 49 last May. That also effectively stripped me ofmy UFT Chapter Leader title in that school. I finally left my two year exile and went back to where I belong,the front of the classroom.
“But Mr. Portelos, you didn’t beat the termination hearing, you just weren’t fired. Arbitrator Felice Busto found you guilty of 11 charges of the 38 and fined you $10,000. Isn’t that correct”
Well, yes, you are correct. Arbitrator Felice Busto dismissed two-thirds of the 38 charges, but sustained eleven in orderto keep her $1,500 a day position as an arbitrator. Which eleven I’ll paste here what I wrote to the Supreme Court judge in my attempt tovacatethe $10,000 fine:
“Five of the eleven specifications were for alleged conduct Petitioner committed as a concerned parent in the school community and/or in his role as United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Union Representative, which is also protected activity. All of the remaining sustained specifications related to Petitioners legal ownership of websites he paid for, owned, operated and still does to this day.”
In any case, the DOE has delineated a “NOPORTELOSZONE” in my own community and prevents me from educating my community’s youth. Even the school co-located in the same building, which needed a Science teacher, did not interview me or consider my extensive background. I filed a grievance for being madean ATR. It was of course denied as are98% of UFT grievances. What do you expect when the new DOE administration keepsBloomKlein’ssquad You get the status quo.
In any case, I would have loved to have been at the meeting where making me an ATRwas decided. It probably went something like this:
DOE Lawyer/Director/Strategist: “Hey guys we have to put this Portelos guy back into his school where we wrongly had him pulled from over two years ago. I have a brilliant idea. Why don’t we take Francesco Portelos, who has been making all this noise and organizing, and have him rotate around every school in Staten Island That should teach him a lesson tonot mess with us and shut his corruption finding mouth!”
Other DOE Lawyer/Director/Strategist: “Great idea! How can this ever go wrong for us Wehavedegrees in law.”
Life as an ATR
Now I will quickly brief you on myadventuresas an ATR the first four months. It’s been an amazing and wild ride. Did you expect anything else I always make lemonade with the lemons thrown at me.
First off, I always dress in a suit or at least a shirt and tie. Always. I always carry my personal laptop and have downloaded SMART Notebook 11.4 into it so I can connect to the classroom’s interactive boards. I found that unlike my former school, 99.5 % of the classrooms I taught in had these new interactive SMART Boards.
The interactivity of theboard, mixed with my engaging lessons and my professional appearance has made teaching even the toughest class a piece of cake. I mean seriously, what kid is going to want to make a paper airplane when they walk in and see an Xbox video game controller on the screen as a Do Now and the word engineering is in the Teaching Objective
Now remember, I am like a glorified substitute. I don’t know the students names, their assigned seats or their needs. If a class is chatty, I sometimes pull out my Samsung Galaxy smartphone and say “OK Google.” This activates the voice command prompt and beeps waiting for me to continue. The classes usually become quiet waiting to see what I’ll say next. I then follow up with “Set a reminder for 3 PM to speak to [Principal of school] about class [class I’m teaching]’s behavior today.” A female voice responds “Here is your reminder for 3PM. Do you want to set it” I look at the now quiet class and ask them “Do I want to set this reminder” “Noooooo.” is the usual response I receivein unison. I cancel the reminder, sheath my phone back to its holster and continue with the lesson. Works every time.
Before I get to my main lesson titled “Intro to Engineering,” I wanted to tell you about my very first day back to school.
Now imagine, I was teaching middle school technology in a computer lab for fiveyears, then I spent two years sitting in an office exile and on May 12, 2014, I was enteredan elementary school classroom. I never taught elementary and I was not used to teaching without a computer lab. I had emailed the principalof theschool the Friday before informing them that I was coming and what my license and specialty was. I never took out the www.EducatorFightsBack.org link from my email’s signature file as I do not hide who I am.
I walk into PS 4 in Staten Island and am greeted by an older gentleman in a suit. “Mr. Portelos” I smile and nodded in affirmation and he took me to his office. It was Principal Marc Harris. He actually just retired in June and was thelongest running principal in the DOE. I believe he was principal for 22 years. He sat me down at his desk. “Great.My first day back and I’m already in the principal’s office.” I thought.
“Look, I did some reading over the weekend and looked through your site. I see you have been through some tough times and I just want you to know thatall that does not matter here.” he stated. That was a sigh of relief and he was right. At least I did not experience anything related to my past there at his school. The only thing pertaining to my past, and this happens in every school, was theteachers who recognized me from the newspapers and gave me a wink, pat on the back or extra strong hand-shake. “Thanks for fighting the fight. You have guts.” (Sometimes they use other words for guts, but I won’t share them here.)
As I went from school to school I continued to becomemore comfortable being myself again. Lowering the heavy shield. I would still dress very professional, even though I was sometimes the pre-kindergarten gym teacher or the 2nd grade art push in. One time in June I remember getting dressed in the morning. As I put on my tie and my wife her make-up, I said “Imagine I am the gym teacher today.” and we laughed. That morning I walk in and was handed a physical education program. “Do you have anything to change into” asked the payroll secretary. “Who cares I’m not running around. They are.” I replied smiling. That afternoon I was playing kickball with afourth grade class. Nothing like scuffing your dress shoes on a big red bouncy ball and having sweat marks on your dress shirt.
At one school I was on lunch duty in the school yard. We took the students out forrecess. As I was looking across the yard, scoping out for bullying, a first or second grade girl ran to me from the other side and wrapped her arms around me. “Mr. Portelos, you remind me of my daddy.” I quickly pried her arms off me and said “OK great. You shouldn’t hug strangers.” She ran off backto playing. I looked across theyard again and saw the principal of that school looking at me and staring at me through her sunglasses. I looked away and when I looked back, I saw the principal making hugging motions with her arms to a school aide and pointing at me with her walkie-talkie. “Oh crap…..here we go again.” I thought. “Which OSI investigator is going to come talk to me” I quickly scanned the perimeter for security cameras and spotted two facing my direction. “OK, I will FOIL the footage of that camera and thatcamera and I have 60 days to do it.” That’s the approximate retention time of video footage. Nothing happened. I was in the rubber room with a woman who was hugged by a child. I’m not kidding. Principal Amato from a Brooklyn elementary wasted countless tax dollars and experience by sending a veteran whistleblower to the rubber room for over a year. The case was unsubstantiated but Chancellor Carmen Farina’s lawyers are trying to fire her anyway.
Another time I was the 8th grade female gym teacher. Yey! I wanted to pull my hair out. “Ok ladies…out of the locker room…start walking around thegymnasium. No running.” I put on Pandora music station on my phone and connected it to a wireless speaker I carry.
“OK..a little faster, but still no running.”
“Alrighteveryone to their floor spots.”
“OK, now what you just did was improve your physical health. Now let’s work on our social and emotional health from our health pyramid. On the count of three, you will group up into groups of six and sit in a circle. You will then chat and discuss. Work on your social skills and introduce yourselves if you do not know each other. We will change groups in ten minutes.”
The para in the room looked at me laughing. “Hey…I had to come up with something. Maybe they meet new lifelong friends.”
By far my worst day as an ATR was when I had an 8th grade ELA coverage and had to project Common Core Codex work on the screen for thestudents to copy. That was it. No teaching, just slowly scrolling down. I asked if I can deviate from thisgrueling task, but another teacher said no. They need this for the test. Again…45 minutes of copying notes off a projector screen. The kids hated it. I hope I never have to educationally hurt students again. “But Mr. Portelos, all those notes we are copying are in our textbook already” Just copy.
One thing that was constant in every school is that I would fix their technology. From thesecretary’s desktop shortcuts and printer to the teacher’s Wi-Fi and SMART Boards. In one school I was assigned to no one was absent one day and I volunteered to go around to resolve tech issues. I wound up fixing five SMART Boards in one day. The secretary walked in on my standing on a desk that I pulled up to a ceiling mounted projector. I had taken apart a Bic pen and used it as a straw to blow the dust off thevent. It had an overheating issue and I assumed the fan was not cooling the bulb causing it to shut off. It worked.
“Mrs ——— the ATR just fixed another SMART Board with a straw. A straw!” I heard the secretary run to the office across the hall and say to the principal.”
Overall I have had very cordial and professional relationships with administration in all assigned schools except one.
As great as it is to have all these great technology tools working and making it easier and more efficient for educators to educate, my favorite thing to do on this rotation is TEACH and SPREAD UNIONISM. Of course theunionism part takes place only during lunch and off-duty hours. (Nice try)
Johnny Appleseed of Engineering
I feel likeJohnny Appleseed, who went around planting apple trees, reading to thecolonists and educating all in what he knew. I walk into a classroom, scope out the lesson left for me, if one was left for me, and make a judgment call. If I feel I have been left busy work, or a review, I usually go to my own lesson. I connect my laptop to the SMART Board and teach intro to engineering.
It is constantly evolving and looks something like this below. Now imagine the slides are accented with many quirky explanations and great discussions between the students and I. Sometimes Ieven use my smartphone as a Bluetooth wireless mouseand walk around theroom controlling my slides. Fun stuff.
The students love the lesson. The paras in the room love the lesson. The teachers in adjacent rooms love the lesson. “Wow..you really had that class engaged and that is a tough class.”
One Para: “I couldn’t believe my student was actually writing notes!”
Another para: “You are really reaching those kids.”
One time I came across an assistant principal during a social studies coverage. “Teach Social Studies.” he ordered. I looked at thesub plans and it was a crosswordpuzzle on Abigail Adams. I taught my engineering lesson anyway, but geared it towards Social Studies and the effect technology has on a society. One time I was an eight grade Spanish teacher and did thewhole lesson in Spanish. Just kidding, I don’t speak Spanish.
In every lesson I emphasize and encourage that they too can engineer and design something and I forward all students to my other site mrportelos.comI can tell by not only the hits the site gets, but thefeedback from students in the hallway and comments, that they really like the site and topic. Remember, some students I see for one period, roughly 43 minutes, and perhaps never teach again. My site allows me to break the 4 walls of theclassroom and continue educating them.
Yesterday I received this email from a student:
“Hey Mr.Portelos, I’m —– ——-from IS —- . I love your website! I learned a ton of stuff by just scrolling through the home page! I found Google sketchup interesting, so I checked out your detailed tutorial, followed it, and made a house. Please check it out, its the attachment. I can’t send you the actual file where you could open it on your sketchup, but I have a screenshot of it. I really like technology, and STEM, and that first time you visited my class last week in ELA class, I was so happy I found a teacher that has a common favor!Thanks for making this awesome website! Hope to see you again teaching my class! Anyway, thank you for reading this, and have a good day. 🙂
Pretty cool huh The DOE can try and take the technologyteacher out of thetechnologylab, but you can’t take the technologylab out of the teacher. It’s in cyberspace!
Johnny Appleseed of Unionism will have to be for another post. This one was too lengthy.
Since May 12, 2014, I have estimated that I taught over 2,000 students in Staten Island. From Pre-K to 8th grade. To repeat the first words ever written on this blog early 2012…. “My name is Francesco Portelos and I love my job!”