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Staying at home has been the best thing that ever happened to me as a teacher

December 20, 2020

I guess I should feel guilty that I have been teaching at home since mid March of 2020 because of Covid, but I don’t. My luck further improved in June when I got a job as a non-roster carrying teacher in a Special Education department in my district. I’d prefer not to identify the position any further except to say my workload has decreased by 75%, partially due to the online environment. I expect to be at 50% workload of my former positions when we go back to school in person.

I am no longer commuting 40 miles each way, saving time and money as I no longer have to feed my gas guzzling SUV which I got long before I knew I would be doing this commute. Welcome to exurbia! My quality of life has improved immensely. Instead of getting up at 4:30 am, I get up at 7:15, I have time to cook and my pets love having me home.

Given the fact that I went through a school reconstitution, worked for a couple of unbalanced principals and essentially thought about teaching 24/7 until mid March, I view this as just compensation to make up for all the free hours I worked grading papers after school and on weekends for 17 years, not to mention all the planning during the summers. Still, I have four more years after this June with the district which will mean four years of a grueling commute, but hopefully my tax refund will help me buy a fuel efficient vehicle so I can be ready by next August. I do believe we will not be going back at all this year.

For regular classroom teachers, this has been a hellish journey, less so if you are in RSP or my position. The kids who don’t show, the district mandates and the last minute district command to fill out papers for all failing students to give them an “Incomplete” instead of an “F.” We are training our students that there are no consequences for failure, but this isn’t new in LAUSD. I wonder if the district has ever made any connection between the 70% dropout rate from college of LAUSD kids and the coddling and victimization the district insists teachers and admins bestow on students, rather than accountability.

This isn’t to say I am not grateful for my fully paid health benefits, FSA and union, but this is the first time in 18 years I don’t feel like a rat on a treadmill and it feels empowering. I also realize that for teachers in other states with weak unions trying to teach under a “hybrid” model, life is beyond hellish, with many quitting and unqualified college students taking their places

Parents, kids and most teachers are struggling, while I sit here at home literally under no stress whatsoever for the first time in my entire life. This must be what life feels like in some social democratic countries or for really wealthy people. I’m in a cocoon -and even though I know people are suffering economically because of Covid- I am weirdly detached from feeling their pain. I know that’s not something I should admit, but having gone through my own economic and career struggles earlier in my life, I like this calm, almost blank feeling of sitting in my own home, surrounded by my pets and books, going hiking on my winter break and just not thinking or feeling anxious. For the first time in my life-surrounded by economic and political chaos- I feel completely secure and calm. Part of it was luck, part geography and school district, part if it was foreseeing the future, adding on that SPED credential and buying the house. In my late 50’s, my life has finally fallen into place during a pandemic and in a country led by an authoritarian narcissist. The authoritarian will be gone in a month, but I hope this sense of personal calm remains.

Eduspeak: One Reason the Real Issues of Education Are Never Discussed

June 30, 2020

So you might be thinking, “Come on, you’re overreacting. Every profession has annoying, cliched jargon.”  Yes, but it usually isn’t weaponized to  shame members of that profession with legitimate points of view based on their experience.  But it happens all the time in education. What are the real reasons that this “language” designed to be used in “teacher re-education camps” -ie PD’s- is constantly used by administrators and poser social justice teachers?   To prevent educators with any “wrong thoughts”  from even daring to express them.   It is also employed to intimidate parents, who are often confused about what is being discussed in parent meetings.

A Serious Rant About Educational Jargon and How it Hurts Efforts to Improve Schools 

When I posted on LAUSD’s Future Ready Certification blog post that students and parents needed to step up more, I was barraged by a litany of excuses as well as admonishment: “Read the article on transformational leadership.”  “No,” I replied.  “I’m not reading another article.”  Imagine instead of directly addressing my experience with this issue,  I was shamed that I just didn’t understand the issues that students experience,  and most condescendingly, one teacher from my school tried to promote the idea that since COVID 19,  most students are now “breadwinners.” Yea, right.  Not from the phone calls home I have made and the messaging with students I have conducted.  Only one student is working to help their family. The rest of my students admitted they are simply choosing not to complete work.

Another teacher, currently a dean at my school, admonished me for having “inaccurate thoughts.”  She never addressed my viewpoints. She simply stated my opinions were “inaccurate.”  What is really sad, is my school, which I am leaving in the fall, has a ton of great qualities and a lot of potential but when it comes to out of control kids, only the LAUSD political party line will do which is to pat them on the head,  deliver no consequences and send them back to class.  This causes issues to fester and really troubled students to get worse without meaningful intervention.

What is even more discouraging is the school lost a potential good, new science teacher when he was not supported in his first year when it came to classroom management.  He decided to go into a social work program instead.  Another wonderful SPED intern worked for a year, and decided the low pay in the first year as well as the institutionalized approach to education was not for her.  She left at the end of this year.  I don’t think either told the administrators why they were leaving just as I never told my administrator. I simply filled out a Continuous Service Transfer form ( a transfer few teachers know about) and was hired into another position in early June.  I really like my principal.   He is really an  “anti- principal” with a good heart. But one person cannot alter the behemoth, institutionalized LAUSD approach to education.  One of the reasons I have so many credentials is so I can chart my own course in teaching.  After what happened at Fremont, I didn’t want to feel trapped or devoid of options.

One thing that has doggedly followed me at all the schools where I have worked is the constant eduspeak: “unpacking the standards, universal design (too fucking confusing to even figure out) backwards planning (I forward plan and always have), differentiation, formative assessments, summative assessments (what’s the difference again?), trauma informed (read: excuse for student bad behavior), data driven, RTI, ………)

If we got rid of standardized testing, would eduspeak disappear? It’s a tantalizing question.  I think we would eliminate about 50% of it.

Disaster Zone USA: Politically, Racially, Economically, Socially and Educationally

June 16, 2020


George Floyd told police he was struggling to breathe before an ...

Protester holding a photo of George Floyd, 2020




Teachers, parents and students hold press conference to protest the reconstitution of Fremont High School







It’s the tenth anniversary of the “reconstitution” of Fremont High School.  It’s been two years since I have written anything at all.  Why? Life. Until the corona virus put me so called “teaching” at home, I was crazy busy. To be honest, working from home has been fantastic.  Not so much for the students who are struggling with distance learning but for me to get off the treadmill of a 40 mile commute and reconnect with what is important to me.   The only thing that heartens me in this disturbing and crazy time of police abuse, uprisings, Covid- 19 and social distancing is that my  former students remember. They remember the lessons I taught them about life.  They know that the lessons I taught about the Great Depression were, as one student put it, preparing them for life.  That was always my goal as a teacher.  It was never to follow a pacing plan or the textbook.

I was also studying to retake my Veterinary Technician National Exam since I had foolishly let my license expire some years back. Passed it a couple of weeks ago and will soon be re- licensed. I first became licensed in 1985 before there was a national exam.  In ’85 it was a short, 70 question exam. This one was full of obscure and impractical questions but I still managed to pass it.  It gives me an alternative should I decide to leave teaching early.

I drove by the  tree where Robert Fuller, a 24 year old black man, was found hanging in Poncitlan Square in Palmdale, directly across from the fire station and city hall on the other side.  This comes weeks after, sociopathic Minneapolis  police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on George Floyd’s neck, killing him.  I always walked my dogs in Poncitlan Square  but now would feel uneasy doing so.  As I passed by with my my “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker and drove around the corner, a black and white pulled in behind me and followed me for about a two miles.  I guess their plate reader came up empty because they turned a corner.

The officers involved in Floyd’s death have all been arrested and Chauvin was charged with 2nd degree murder.  As time has passed more tidbits of information are coming out, not the least of which is from a dispatcher who could see from her monitor what was happening and alerted a supervisor. Note in the article her concern about being called “a snitch.”


Since Floyd’s death there have been protests, uprisings and riots in the USA and the world.  Seattle, WA even has a 4 block “autonomous zone” which protesters are occupying.  There are no official roadblocks and people can enter but it is being run by protest groups at this time. Sort of like a reprise of the Occupy Movement.


The disturbing thing is, my Advisory students used to spout racial stereotypes, mostly about black people. It was hard to get them to stop. During the stay at home time, I thought about sending them a video I used to open my Civil Rights unit with- a 12 minute clip from “The Voices of Civil Rights” video. In the film, African -Americans talk about how segregation affected them emotionally.  It’s quite powerful.


In the end, I did not send it via Schoology.  Why not?  Because I was worried that the culture of my current school, which is conservative when it comes to teaching, could cause the video to be misinterpreted or that parents might object to me “politicizing” the current events happening. Because honestly, where are my students getting these negative stereotypes of African Americans?  Possibly in the home.   To be honest, if I had a better relationship with my Advisory students, I might have sent it but some are watchful of any misstep by me and threaten to “report me.”  It is very disturbing and not something I have encountered in my previous teaching experience.   It’s one reason I am leaving my current assignment and transferring to another school but certainly not the only reason.

In my current capacity as an RSP “co teacher” of English,  I have only witnessed three English teachers who are actually teaching in any kind of inspiring way. The rest clutch the corporate Pearson reader as their sole source of ELA curriculum but then clutch their pearls as standardized test scores continue to plummet. Logic should get them to see that reading uninspiring material with little scaffolding and making no personal connections would lead kids to not really be reading.  It’s background knowledge that leads to higher test scores.  Using a “slice and dice” reader will achieve little. Whole text is where it is at. In middle and upper class public school districts, whole books are being read- and lots of them. That includes controversial and topical texts like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.I think only 5% of English teachers at my school would consider reading this book with students.

Our students will leave high school reading maybe 4 to 5 whole books. Middle class and upper class kids will read at least 20 in their schools. They’ll have some choices in their reading as well.

So why are middle class and upper class public school kids getting the enriching curriculum while working class kids- unless they are in a magnet school- get pablum? And why are the teachers of working class kids so ready to go along with said pablum?  You’d have to ask them.  I’m sure they would rationalize their responses with more eduspeak about “equity.” But it’s not equity. It’s fake equity.  And it’s a cowardly way to teach.



Don’t Play it Again, Travis

March 26, 2018

Fascinating California governor’s candidate debate carried live on NBC Los Angeles,  inexplicably sans the front runner, Gavin Newsom but with two Republican candidates, the most obnoxious of which was Travis Allen. According to Allen, “I think teachers in California need to stop propagandizing to our students. I think they need to focus on actually teaching our kids the skills that they need. teaching them reading and writing and math…Teach them the value of the US Constitution which is what make our country the greatest country in the world. Teach them why we have the 1st Amendment. Teach them that politically correct speech is actually censorship.” Huh?    He continued his diarrhea of the mouth. “Teach them that the 2nd amendment is there to protect the 1st…Teach them how to balance their budgets.”  I think you got all your talking points covered Travis.  He then of course went on to ask for standardized testing and for students to be evaluated with those tests.  Hey, Travis van Winkle, what do you think has been going on for the past twenty years?  Testing, testing and more testing.

Fortunately,  former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin was there to add some well needed insight and sophistication to the debate.  She far outshone everyone else on the stage with her clarity and well- crafted arguments about the importance of the arts in schools as well as on other topics.

Besides painting all teachers with a broad brush, he showed stupendous ignorance.  I took Consumer Economics when I was in high school,  but that class was removed from California schools long ago and teachers had nothing to do with that.  Same goes for Driver’s Ed, Woodshop, Plastics and so much more.  I don’t think attacks on public school teachers are going to play right now Travis. You are about 6 years too late. Hell, West Virginia teachers struck without authorization but with broad public support in one of the reddest states in the union and got a raise.

But let’s deconstruct your breathtakingly ignorant remarks. Travis, we have state standards in California public schools which include what you might call “politically correct speech,” you know, like the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Rights and Japanese-American internment to name just a few topics.  I’m wondering exactly what Allen thinks is politically correct speech? Does he think we should get rid of  the “Ms”  salutation?  Does he think kids should be able to use racial and gay slurs in school? He didn’t elaborate but it is clear he was playing to a white audience who wished they could go back to the days when they could say such things.

Does Allen actually think we don’t want to teach kids reading and writing or consumer math? What Allen should be advocating for is more teacher control of classes offered and control of their classrooms. To add to his ignorance, this man actually thinks we don’t teach the Constitution. We do, both in US History in 8th grade and 11th grade and again in government in 12th grade.  What he should be doing is demanding that parents play a bigger role in their child’s education and actually show up to parent -teacher conference and Open House nights.  Maybe he can sit down and have a conversation with my former student who arrived home from school to find his mother with a needle in her arm.

If I had real control of education as Travis apparently thinks I have, I’d be teaching civics yearly,  I’d advocate for consumer ed in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades, geography in every grade, elimination of Algebra 2 as a graduation requirement and more diverse sciences offered in schools as well as PE all four years of high school. But no asked me, Travis.  I’m just a public school teacher trying to make it to the end of every month and still have money to put gas in my car, now that my rent is over 50% of my take home pay. Sure you’d like American-style fascism in schools but let me clue you in: It’s not going to happen.


You’ve Got a Friend

March 22, 2018

Tonight was Open House at my new school, Arleta High School,  a little gem in a part of the San Fernando Valley sandwiched between Sylmar and Pacoima.   Since I no longer have my own classroom, I wanted to be at Open House with Mr. Ceballos, the English teacher who I co -teach with during 1st period.   One of the major tenants of co-teaching is that personal compatibility is a key determiner in a successful co-teaching partnership.  I think  a second determiner is mutual respect. We have both.

The rain reduced the number of parents and kids who showed, so we had a leisurely two-hour evening  reminiscing (not often fondly) about our past LAUSD jobsites and when we might retire.  I’ve got about 7 years, he has 12.   I do love teaching, so I may stick around longer.  I am hoping to co- teach another class with Mr. C because I think I am able to help kids more in his classes.  It’s also a lot of fun because of his quick wit and snappy comebacks.  In that way, he reminds me of Chuck Olynyk, a one- of- a- kind history teacher, late of Fremont, now at Roosevelt.  Mr. Ceballos tells kids to “Get your cavity” (candy) when they get a right answer.  He jokes about leaving teaching and opening a carne asada stand – with stress on the as.

Arleta has a unique student-led process for Open House.  Students are given a small paper with sentence frames on it. They must introduce their parents to their teacher, give them a tour of the classroom and show them the agenda for that day.   The student has to explain their grade and then the teacher chimes in.  It’s quite interesting and a process that should probably be used throughout the district.

It’s hard not to compare the Fremont family- now dispersed thanks to reconstitution- to my current colleagues, but I can say I have finally found a home.  They are a nice bunch like the Fremont crowd. Of course, Fremont was a pressure cooker and the staff tended to band together and avoid judgement of each other because without teachers supporting each other, we never could have made it through all the craziness. As Mickey Thibeault  is fond of saying, Fremont was about ” a time and place.”  Situated at Florence and San Pedro in South Los Angeles, Fremont has a history that makes my heart ache.  I wonder at what other school could the amazing talent, humor and heart of the Fremont clan have come together and I can’t think of any.

Every teacher needs that one that one colleague they can really talk to, gripe to and just feel comfortable being with.  At Arleta, that is Mr. Ceballos.  At Fremont, it was another history teacher.   Other jobs I worked before teaching did not produce the long-term bonds that teaching in urban schools tends to forge as common experiences bind teachers together.  I still think quite a bit about those who left Fremont before the purge and those who left in 2010.  I still keep in touch with many former Fremont teachers and students.

The nature of co-teaching is that each mester, I could be assigned to another class depending on the SPED caseload distribution and be ripped away from my co-teaching partner.  I hope that is not the case at Arleta.  Co -teaching partnerships take time to develop and require long-term stability for planning purposes.   I really needed a friend and now I have one.   Schools are their own little cultural microcosm and Arleta is healthier than most. For that, I am so grateful.




Respect Yourself

March 14, 2018

“If you disrespect anybody that you run in to 
How in the world do you think anybody’s s’posed to respect you” 

                                                                 – The Staple Singers 



Students who decided to walk out on the quad and finally outside of our school, but not before hurling verbal abuse at our principal and one AP.  It was vile and confined to just a few students. The majority of our students fortunately are mature and kind. 

Today was the day of nationwide school walkouts to protest gun violence and school shootings  and my San Fernando Valley high school was no exception, except for the lousy behavior of some of our students who decided to use this “walkout” as an opportunity to curse at our wonderful principal and accuse him of being racist.   One of our salt-of the earth AP’s was also harassed.  Some students sat in some of the 17 chairs designed to remain empty and honor the 17 students killed.  To make matters worse,  the director of Northeast showed up and essentially overruled our principal on campus security and told him to open the gates and let students walk out.   They walked out through the main office, though while the gates remained locked. The district rule is, once they are out they cannot come back in.

There were a host of on -campus activities to honor the victims planned for today and those went off pretty much without a hitch, except that is for the screaming students locked outside the gate.  Those students were upset that a math teacher is no longer on campus and accused our principal of “firing him” which is not true.  The teacher was removed for good cause- several good causes in fact.   The fact that they used the mass shooting to bring up other grievances is reprehensible.

It is disappointing because our school culture is much different- and better than most other LAUSD schools. Kids are not even allowed to have their cell phones out at lunch and when I walk by students in the halls, they are never looking down at a device. I never see earbuds hanging off of them either. It’s a school culture wholeheartedly supported and maintained by teachers as well.  Every administrator is supportive of teachers.

One issue I see is that the kids don’t have strong models to follow when it comes to protesting or advocacy.  It’s not an excuse, just an observation.  As Slate magazine notes, the diverse group of largely middle and upper class teens at Stoneman-Douglas High School receive a comprehensive education that includes debate since middle school, specialized classes such as the Holocaust and AP government in the 10th grade- no waiting until 12th grade like in LAUSD.   

Contrast that with our students who receive a weekly “Read Around the World” (RATW) assignment which a week ago consisted of 6 sources on whether teachers should carry guns in school but excluded the voices of the teen activists from Stoneman or the parents who lost students in the mass shooting.  The reading did include a ridiculous all-caps tweet by Trump however.   This was obviously deliberate. Whoever puts out RATW deliberately ignored the voices of the teen survivors.

What I’d really like to ask those few students who decided to act like asses today is this: Do you really think that this movement would be growing had the Parkland teens cursed at Senator Marco Rubio of Florida during the CNN forum a few weeks back?  If they had, what would the message be? Certainly not that Rubio was rightly taken down verbally by a group of teens but instead, the narrative would have been all about those disrespectful, foul-mouthed snowflakes.   Fast forward to today and two more articulate teens who spoke eloquently -and without cursing- at the Capitol. I’d also tell our students than instead of being abusive and bringing shame on our campus to follow the lesson of these two articulate students who spoke today.







Some progressives shoot themselves in the foot and endanger an emerging movement of teens

February 26, 2018

It has been a stunning two weeks of watching the rise of a movement of teenagers determined that the horrible school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School would be the last.   As students returned on Sunday to their school, petty debates by some progressives obsessed with identity politics threatens to overshadow an emerging, vital movement of teens and one that has the potential to be just as critical as the Civil Rights Movement.   With Trump’s suggestion of arming teachers being ridiculed from most sides in the debate, he has effectively been marginalized, leaving the teens to chart a course for gun reform.  If only progressives would stop playing identity politics.

After survivor Emma Gonzalez’s stunning speech and an equally important CNN “discussion” that turned into a much needed inquisition of Florida Senator Marco Rubio and his donations from the NRA, the inevitable whining and divisions began to emerge. Not divisions among the Florida students but whining from the chattering classes, those obsessed with identity politics as well as poverty pimps.

Rubio refused to say he would not take donations from the NRA which elicited boos from the crowd, who were clearly on the side of the students.   While many gave Rubio credit for “showing up,” he is a Senator from Florida and thus should be there.  What was revealing was the extent that the students pushed Rubio’s back against the proverbial wall. Whether anything significant comes of that remains to be seen.

It didn’t take long for those with racial and class agendas to start clamoring for attention, even though the Florida teens sparked walkouts from schools in many different socio -economic and diverse parts of America.  A well-written column by Dahleen Glanton of the Chicago Tribune, As Country Listens to Florida Teens, Black Lives Matter Youths Feel Ignored  seems to imply that there should be some kind of exact parity between the BLM movement and the Never Again cause,  but then acknowledges that the two movements are fundamentally different, which is true.

Supporting the Florida teens does not mean that BLM is not a critical movement but as the author admits, it is more limited in scope.  One has to do with mass shootings and the other with the discriminatory targeting of African-Americans by police and the justice system.  I agree with Glanton that America has not gotten on board with BLM the way it has with the Florida students but the reason is obvious –  if also somewhat selfish. If you don’t have black kids, you don’t worry about them getting shot by the police but if you send your kids to school, then school shootings are an equal opportunity danger.  It’s obvious why the Florida teens have gone mainstream.

Trevor Noah struck the right balance when he succinctly  talked about the teens using their upper class status for a positive good for the future of the United States.   This is in line with anti -war movement in the 1960’s which was started by middle class college students. Most movements are started by the educated middle class.   Martin Luther King, Jr was raised in the middle class and was educated.  Unfortunately, the poverty pimps and racial dividers often infect students in urban areas with a sense of their own victimhood which leads to a false sense of entitlement. I know as a teacher that is controversial for me to say,  and I see this a bit less today than say 8 to 10 years ago, but it hobbles our students.  When you point that out, as I did recently, I was accused of being a white supremacist and subjected to a breathtakingly unhinged rant. Again, suggesting that minority students have agency in their own lives is the most important quality I think I can impart to my students.

Emma Gonazalez is a Latina and part of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.  These kids cannot  be put in the “white privilege” box. When someone immediately accuses you of “white privilege” you can be sure your argument is threatening to them somehow.  The argument that choices made by parents and students are bigger predictors of where they will end up in life and not “white privilege” is certainly threatening to some.  But if the left keeps playing identity politics like the right, we will end up dividing ourselves. Sure the right has the benefit of whites being a majority and therefore was able to use white identity to put a dangerous man in the White House.  But that approach can’t work for progressives because our tent is more diverse.    So let’s  stop balkanizing ourselves and support these bright and caring kids and their movement because we want them to be the progressive movers and shakers of tomorrow.






Teacher is a four – letter word

February 17, 2018

I emailed the letter below to Jamie Alter -Lynton, the founder of the corporate education blog LA School Report, a blog for those who love education but not teachers.  They pretend to love teachers, but just low paid teachers who of course wouldn’t have fully paid health benefits.  In the linked commentary, Look to Leadership to Retain California’s Teachers of Color, no where does writer Christine Chiu mention better pay or benefits to retain “teachers of color.”

In the same breath, LA School Report complains about the health benefits contract which UTLA members approved by a margin of 99% to 1%.  I’d like to know who the 1% of UTLA members were who didn’t think we needed fully- paid health benefits but maybe, like their percentage, they are the 1%. The article is full of propaganda claiming unnamed parents “complained about the contract.” Would this be bused in charter school parents?

Dear LA School Report, 
So you want to retain “teachers of color” while complaining about teacher health benefits.  You want the district to be  a tougher negotiator but you want better teachers.   
How much exactly should teachers make in a city where the rents are climbing like crazy? 
I am at the top of the pay scale with three teaching credentials. I don’t get any extra pay because  I am triple – credentialed. I have been with the district 16 years.  I still keep in touch with many former students. 
My take home pay is 4,300/ month paid on the 5th of every month.   I am extremely fortunate to rent a house for 1400/ mo but a house that is in bad condition nonetheless.  I do the repairs on it and replaced the last wall air-conditioning unit as well as the mini-blinds. 
My landlord will sell the place soon. The lowest rent I have seen for a small house is 2,100 dollars in my area of the Valley.  That’s 50% of my take home.  I am now realizing that I will have to move to Palmdale or Frazier Park and commute in 50 miles daily.   If I had to pay for medical benefits it would break me.   
I am adding a Special Ed credential. My plan is to leave the district once I do that to move to an area of Northern California with low rents but comparable pay to LAUSD.   
The district will have a huge problem attracting new teachers to work for them unless of course they do what charters do- hire newer, younger teachers, burn them out, or non-reelect them as most charters do.  That way they keep high turnover and teaching never becomes a profession.  
We never have arguments about pay for LA City firefighters who start  at $80,000 a year, about what my pay ends at with the district and who work 10 shifts a month,  yet somehow better pay and decent benefits are a no-no for educators. But Melvoin and the criminal Ref can still make 125,000 dollars a year with no teaching experience sitting on the Board of Ed -and they don’t have papers to grade.  Bottom line is you want great teachers for a pittance but I’ll tell you a secret- you won’t get them and I know you don’t care. As long as you can fool the public into thinking younger is better, your job is done.   And I wonder, shouldn’t we start getting combat pay for dodging bullets, because I didn’t sign up for that. 
A veteran teacher (The kind of teacher charters love to hate) 

Duck and Cover Your Ass

February 1, 2018

Image: Shots fired at Southern California middle school

The gate leading into the Belmont High -Sal Castro Middle School- Newmark Continuation School complex,  a gate I often walked through to go to work. 

Frightened students describe gunfire at L.A. middle school

Student suspected of bringing pistol to school. She will be charged with negligent discharge of a firearm.   I’m betting whoever failed to secure the gun will be getting the real charges filed. 

Today a rare event  happened  in LAUSD: A school shooting, but it now appears to be unintentional. A female student brought a semi automatic pistol and was  playing around with it in a science classroom at Sal Castro Middle School- right next door to the Options school I just left in December.   A 12 year- old girl was led out in handcuffs after the shooting. Four students were injured, one critically.    One student quoted claimed someone decided to bring a gun to school and some students were playing around with it and thought it was fake.

What was predictable were the racist comments under the online LA Times articles about the shooting, referencing “Dreamers” in a sarcastic way and illegal immigration.  Trouble is, it is mostly white men and boys in rural and suburban areas who are responsible for school shootings.   Nearly every single comment had a racial angle with no concern for the injured students.  Americans’ lack of empathy puts this country at far more risk of decline than the decline of capitalism or the proliferation of guns.

What was disappointing were the comments made by acting superintendent Vivian Ekchian who spent her time at the podium during the press conference showing little concern for those shot and instead spent her time desperately trying to convince the public that the schools are safe and simply saying that she was “sad it happened.”  She went on to add defensively that “we could not control or know about the situation.”  I doubt that.  Someone knew that someone had brought a gun to school.  She went on to blab about “mental health support” and for “our students to be back and learning.”

Even more distasteful was the LA Times printing comments that Principal Erick Mitchell made sometime in January during a students awards ceremony that made it sound like he made the comments today:

“We have a new culture here,” Mitchell said. “I love this school. We have really good kids here. It’s the best-kept secret in town.”   

I don’t agree with Mitchell. Sal Castro Middle School, like most middle schools in the district is a mediocre institution with discipline problems and students who can fail every class and still move on to high school.    But for the LA Times to print those comments showed poor judgement.  Mitchell had no idea a shooting would happen.

What continues to shock me is the lack of empathy demonstrated by the head of the school police, acting superintendent Ekchian and others in leadership positions who made no statements of concern publicly for the injured students.  Ekchian sounded like she was more afraid of lawsuits.  I’m going to bet metal detectors will be going up at all LAUSD schools soon.

This shooting was yet one more sign in a plethora of signals that leaving my job at the Options School was the smart move.  Still it is surprising that with as large a district as LAUSD is that we don’t have more incidents.  My personal theory is that in general there are fewer cliques and less social stratification than at schools like Columbine. Cheerleaders in the district don’t act as snotty as some can out in the burbs  and at my current school the athletes are humble.

Overall, LAUSD is a district of working class Latinos, not an economically stratified suburb with the haves and have-nots.   That doesn’t mean I don’t see some trouble signs among some kids. One kid on my caseload is selectively mute and another has dramatically declined in his behavior over just the last two days and he seems a bit unstable.   The general ed teacher is really good with him though which helps. My Valley school is one of the best run schools in the district with a staff that really cares about students.  If a student sees something on social media that might be a  threat, they report it to the administration.  We have a full time psychologist and extra teachers because of per pupil funding which in other schools would be a disaster but we have 98% attendance.

What could change the school culture or any school culture is an event like what happened today at Sal Castro Middle School.  I’m all for free standing metal detectors. It beats random searches which I haven’t seen conducted at my current school.  What I really want is to go back to the good old days. Yes there were good old days- when schools were not fenced, when students spent more time outside a classroom with four years of PE and driver’s ed in sophmore year.   There are few outlets for students today in schools. That needs to change.

A Moment Changes Everything

January 23, 2018

I haven’t written about Fremont or education in quite a long time.  Part of it is shell shock from the current dystopian presidential administration spewing “alternative facts” and deporting immigrants with no criminal histories. Part of it was fatigue from working credit recovery after school for two years straight and summer school on both ends of that.  Good for the bank account, bad for reflection.

The title of my post is a song by David Gray that describes the moment last spring when I was sitting in a staff meeting and my principal went ballistic.  He began screaming at me and threatened me with a transfer form.   I can’t remember his exact words but one of my colleagues wrote it down because he knew it would be either an informal conference or a grievance. Since UTLA has gone a bit soft, we went the informal conference route.   My colleague said I should have filed a grievance after the conference but in my head, I had already moved on.  It was the moment that changed everything.

This wasn’t the first time the principal had gotten overly aggressive with teachers or attempted to manipulate facts.  That’s being generous. Staff meetings were more like communist reeducation sessions with obviously phony attendance stats presented as well as a never revealed long “waiting list” of students who supposedly couldn’t wait to get into our school. The problem was, when we wanted to kick out a drug dealer or other problem students, they were only removed if they were a problem for the coordinator, not if they caused hell for the teachers.    He had also threatened my Social Studies colleague with a transfer form as well.  My colleague still remains.  I decided to do a 180  degree pivot and add a SPED credential through the district’s CENTSE program for already credentialed teachers.    I am now a resource specialist at a comprehensive high school that is well run with a wonderful staff.  It’s one of the rare schools in the district in which students are held accountable as well as teachers.

What had angered my principal so in that meeting?  The fact that I brought up that “trauma” and “stress” were not excuses for disrespectful student behavior and I wanted to discuss an article demonstrating that schools in which kids are not held accountable become out of control as ours became last spring.  Drug users and dealers abounded on campus.  He routinely “conducted investigations” against teachers when the most irresponsible and disrespectful students  complained.   The principal apologized in the informal conference but then retaliated against me on my evaluation by placing two “developings” in areas designed to taint me, even though I received an overall “meets standard.”  He placed no evidence for the developing designations  into my evaluation and I wrote a scathing reply.  Unfortunately,   a teacher can’t appeal a “meets standard” unless practically every other score is “developing.”   He had tainted me just enough to make it hard for me to get another position.  That’s when I knew I had to act.

I was fortunate enough to work summer school at an outstanding school in the Valley.  It went well.  I knew I wanted to work there but the problem was there were never openings in academic areas because no one left unless they retired or died.  That’s when I revisited the idea of the CENTSE program and knew it would be my best shot.  It worked.

Often teachers are not proactive and allow themselves to be victimized by a bully principal because they are afraid of change.  My message to teachers: Don’t be afraid.  You have to do it for yourself.  Each credential I have added has assured me more leverage and more control of my career.  If that’s sounds mercenary it’s really not-it’s self-protection in a field where I have seen teachers sail through 20 years of their career and all of a sudden get a “below standard”  on their next evaluation.  Then another “below standard.”  And then they are out. So when I had the chance to apply to the district’s mostly free CENTSE program (a few books are required)  to receive my mild to moderate  SPED credential I stepped into the unknown and embraced that change and every single sign along the way was a message that I had made the right move.

From getting an unexpected check for 208 dollars the day I had to pay 190 dollars for books and didn’t know where I would get the money, to seeing the job opening for resource specialist at the school I had worked at the previous summer- and then getting hired at that school- well it all fit together.   Either the administration didn’t look at my evaluation scores too closely or didn’t believe them because they knew me.  I fretted at the interview about last year’s evaluation but then realized that I was allowing a vengeful principal to control me with two little scores and I finally let it go.

Turns out my former principal was having massive personal problems, mostly brought on by his anger management issues and those spilled over into school.  He also chronically lied whenever it was convenient and excluded teachers from any decision-making in school policy matters.  To deal with the chronic absenteeism of our students, three teachers at my old school got together and created a system of dailies, check -ins and phone calls home. Meaning the teachers came in early and called each student’s home to make sure they would come to school.

That’s more dedication than I have and shows a complete abdication of responsibility on the part of the administrator to do his job.  I realized the principal was physically present in the school but was in reality MIA when it came to the functioning of the school, defaulting those responsibilities to a gossipy coordinator who never followed through on commitments, choosing instead to opine about the poor state of her marriage and visit teacher’s classrooms to slander her latest target.  In other words, like many Options schools in the district, it was run like a fiefdom.  I needed sanity and thankfully, that’s what I have now.

Do I have regrets? Sure.  I don’t know when the next time will be that I will read Feed or The Other Wes Moore or any other great book with my own class of students.   Not sure when I will teach that poetry unit that was a great hit and the poem that affected my students the most – “I Go Back to May 1937, ” by Sharon Olds.   There are many wonderful students who I miss terribly. But I know this was the right decision for me right now.     I feel comfortable on my new campus, my commute is only 15 minutes with no traffic and people treat each other with respect.    I feel like I can relax and focus on goals a few years into the future instead of stressing about “right now.”

My old principal left suddenly mid year at the winter break at the same time I did.  He took a position at a middle school but I am still so glad I left. The shady coordinator still remains and a retired principal was put in for now. That retired principal crows about bringing  IPADS to his school which “helped student achievement.” Right.  He also boasted about being a former principal of a pilot school in South LA which he noted gave him freedom from the district and the teacher’s union.  I got out of there just in the nick of time.    Glad I will never have to work under that Deasy disciple.  Of course hypocritical principals have unions, too.   They just don’t think teachers should have them.  To add to the irony a bit, my former, abusive principal is listed as the Title IX complaint manager at his new school.  The guy who abuses women verbally is now the go to person for complaints about discrimination.

One bit of karmic good news from Fremont: One of the AP’s who made a deal with the devil with Balderas and a few years later got a cushy job at Beaudry is now principal at LA Academy Middle School, one of the worst middle schools in the district.  Now maybe he knows how teacher’s felt when the reconstitution of Fremont went down.  I’m sure he was a victim of last year’s round of cuts at Beaudry.

I went back through my old blog posts and spent some time on a post I wrote a couple of months after Fremont was reconstituted.  It was called “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” after  a Green Day song.  The song lyrics I had posted 7 years ago on that piece still resonate and guide me through my teaching career.  It really is a lonely and solitary road most of the time, no matter how much artificial collaboration is forced on teachers and no matter how many teacher friends we have.  When we close that classroom door, it is a unique experience that only we share with our students.    Teachers, you have to trust yourselves and know when to hold em, fold em and protect yourselves.  There’s always an alternative, there is always a way out- and a way in.

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me, and I walk alone”

Embrace your own teaching journey and trust yourselves and your instincts.  They’ll save you in the end.