I really should have known better. When the principal's secretary caught up to me, confirming my name before delivering a blank envelope, I naively thought it was some kind of thank you note. It wasn't an outlandish notion, considering I'd taught an additional class that spring when a colleague took ill and had just finished revising the valedictorian's speech for him. I imagined the note to be handwritten with the school's emblem on it, something impressive to hang on the fridge. I realized the awful truth almost instantly: I had just been served. Please be advised that you have been placed in excess in our school. I sincerely regret the need for this action and thank you for the professional etc. etc. etc...
For the second summer in a row, the Department of Education has placed me on their Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) List, basically designating me a substitute in my own building unless I choose to interview at one of their cattle call job fairs. Rather than transferring me to a building that needs an English teacher, I will have to update the resume and compete for a position in a system that has already hired me. Or I can simply use the same strategy that worked last year: arrive to my building in September, stare longingly into my old classroom, and hope for the best. Due to unexpected transfers I was awarded a full schedule of classes just before students arrived.
It wasn't always this way. Five years ago the school was a healthy, thriving place with a need for extra teachers. Then Bill Gates happened.
Under the original Gates theory, the classic American high school was the enemy, a black hole of failure that devoured its young, forcing them to drop out or graduate with a sub-par education. Students would be much better off, he felt, in smaller class settings using his state of the art equipment, a theory worth exploring until one considered the heights the DOE was willing to reach in order to obtain Gates funding for these schools.
First a building was selected for its desired space then the NYPD was called in to strong arm it with scanning and arrests inside the building. Without any system of checks and balances built into mayoral control, no amount of protests from faculty, students, or parents could stop the DOE from carrying out its task of declaring a safe school dangerous. Budgets were cut and teachers were placed in excess- again and again.
Now that legislators have renewed the mayor's grasp for six more years, perhaps additional parental involvement will be a factor when appealing to the DOE for clemency. But the damage has already been inflicted on my building. The school must work twice as hard to attract new students due to years of unnecessary bad publicity, and each year I'm left holding an envelope that adds me to the "do nothing" list regardless of job performance.
With my new excess letter crumpled in a pocket, I arrived home that day to perform the almost daily ritual of removing the mayor's reelection flyers from my mailbox, glossy, expensive looking things competing for attention amidst a stack of bills. Then as I sat down to watch the news, a commercial came on the air, its volume strangely amplified so the advertiser could market his product as loudly as possible: When I became mayor, a dysfunctional and inept school system was failing our kids... I was determined to shake things up...
Minutes later there was a knock on the door, another earnest voice vying for my attention: Good afternoon! I was wondering if we can count on your vote for Mayor Bloomberg this next election? And it made me think of students frisked with electronic wands each morning, of faculty and parents pleading with the Chancellor while he stared back with Darth Vader-like omnipotence. It made me recall my school building five years ago, filled with kids and gifted young teachers who have all left thanks to a city's baffling bureaucracy.
No, you certainly cannot count on my vote.
Silence, and then: Um...do you mind if I ask why?