October 4, 2012
Most teachers without permanent positions are looking forward to a greater chance of stability after the city and teachers union last month agreed to place them in long-term substitute slots before rotating them to different schools weekly, as happened last year.
But the 300 guidance counselors and social workers in the Absent Teacher Reserve are gearing up to begin cycling from school to school for the first time.
Last year, even as other members of the ATR pool, the group of educators whose positions have been eliminated, began the rotation system, the counselors were assigned to a single school so they could work with individual students for extended periods of time. But starting next week, they will be assigned to different schools each week, dramatically changing their roles and responsibilities.
Instead of working with students one on one, the counselors will take on shorter-term tasks, city officials said. The tasks could include making classroom presentations on graduation requirements, conflict management, and the college or high school application process; organizing records; supporting the school’s college counselors; and reviewing student schedules at the start of the semester.
Coming at a time when many schools have trimmed support services because of budget cuts, the change has some educators and researchers raising their eyebrows.
“All the counselors I have talked to are very adamant that what’s very important is regular meetings and keeping up with students,” said Randall Reback, a professor at Columbia University who has researched the roles counselors play in schools.
“I think rotating at different points in the school year would be very detrimental to that,” he added. “It’s not like you can just pinch hit and have a different person show up and expect to make progress, because it’s very much about developing that relationship and trust.”
But others said the rotation system is better than nothing for schools that would otherwise go without a counselor this year.
“A school might not have the money to hire an ATR,” said City Councilman Robert Jackson, the chair of the council’s education committee.
However, Jackson said the weekly rotations would make it difficult for the counselors to work with students without taking detailed notes for the next person to pick up. Though imperfect, he said that set up would be preferable to having the counselors conduct only administrative tasks, because “It’s better to be working with students than sitting in the ATR pool.”
When city and union officials agreed to the rotation system in June 2011 as part of a deal to avert teacher layoffs, they both said the goal was to cut spending on substitute teachers and expose teachers without permanent positions to multiple principals who might hire them.
Although teachers in the pool criticized the rotation system for unfairly stigmatizing them and preventing them from making use of their expertise as educators, union and city officials have both said the system had resulted in hundreds of teachers exiting the pool for permanent positions.