February 22, 2009

The person with the most seniority gets the job

I feel remiss in not writing, but before I go on a proper leave from blogging, I feel obligated to explain why the sporadic posts.

Consider this explanation a treatise on licensing.

After a successful arbitration a couple of months ago, I was reclaimed from the ATR pool and restored to a full music position. There were two in the building at the time, and though it could have been played out in various ways at the principal’s discretion, it was decided that low man, a new teacher, would have to become the ATR that I had been, and I would get his general music position. It was a nightmare taking over someone’s classes near the end of a semester, and as little said about those six weeks the better.

Fast forward to the end of January, when principals make plans for the spring semester. Student attendance down, one music position would have to go. The band program was more in line with what principal wanted (who knows what the parents or the union reps thought about this, since the CEPs were not done on time), so general music was going to be axed.

The band position for the spring would involve two introductory bands, an intermediate and a more advanced one, and a new course, a percussion/drumline group. There'd be a spring concert and perhaps a nice stroll in the Puerto Rican Day parade.

I had actually been expecting to be placed into excess again as soon as the principal could find a way to do it. That would have been fine. Dabbling in a variety of subjects from day to day as an ATR — Shakespeare, Italian, health, algebra, volleyball, law and variety of other — was in a bizarre way the implementation of one of my youthful dreams, to become a “Renaissance woman.”

Alas, twas not to be. The band position had to be offered to me, though one could easily ask why, since I had never wanted to teach band and neither asked to or ever even tried to.

DoE regulation: The person with the most seniority holding the license gets the job.

The reason, then, for this ridiculous situation was simple and stupid.

When the DoE replaced the city arts licenses in 2001 with some new ones that were more in line with the state’s K-12 licenses, they gave us music teachers two of them: one for Music and another for Orchestral Music. I had activated the Music one and barely remembered I even held the other one.

No one at the DoE knows a thing about music or they'd have realized that being an orchestral conductor or bandleader is altogether different from being a teacher of music appreciation or directing a chorus. The person in charge of these groups should know how to handle each of the instruments (and none of them are cheap), as well as how to play them, clean them, repair minor problems and replace parts, regulate their use in the room, and transpose parts. I won’t even mention being able to play the piano while you’re conducting, or making an occasional arrangement if the players you have don't match what the music calls for. Heck, I would have liked to know where each player should be sitting.

Horrified, then, at being offered the position, I whipped out my contract — Art.17.B., which allows voluntary excessing — and put my request for me to excessed instead of the band teacher in writing. HR quickly rejected it. That's because the UFT and the DoE have agreed not to excess high school teachers in the middle of the year, so you can’t at this time of the year voluntarily put yourself into it. 

Instead, "leftover" educators become teachers without a program, and in this case, they resolved that it wasn't going to be. I was the most senior person holding that dusty, unactivated, all but forgotten Orchestral license lying in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. The job had to be mine, it couldn't go to the real band teacher. The only option would have been to retire on the spot, but with the financial crisis being what it is, I don’t think so.

So, here I am a bandleader for the first time in my life, a few weeks away from my 62nd birthday. And I must be the only person in the school with four preps a week, three classes of 40-50 on register and a circular 6-R duty that has nothing to do with my skills. Shell-shocked is a good word for it, and it applies just as much to the principal, AP, and the original band teacher as it does to me.

This should go a long way to explain the sporadic nature of my recent posts.

Surviving this semester will mean hundreds of hours of extra work, from learning how to blow, pound, care for, and draw reasonable sounds out of more than a dozen instruments to making up some simple arrangements for the beginner bands and lesson plans for all of them, particularly the new percussion group, which no one at the school has really thought through.

I’m actually thinking of this as a career change, from ed blogger to bandleader, and at this point I have far more experience with the former.

Look out for my next post sometime in late spring, when 17.B. will come in very handy.