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One Bad Apple May 30, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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The Los Angeles Times recently ran a story about how difficult it is to get rid of teachers, who’ve been deemed, for one reason or another, to be incompetent, but have tenure. Yes, I have tenure, and yes, the first two years I taught,  I made sure I flew under the radar and didn’t make any waves because I wanted that tenure.  That said, I’m a damn good teacher.  

Actually, the majority of the teachers I’ve worked with, and work with now are good, if not excellent, teachers.  Here’s the bottom line.  Teaching is TOO much work (without commensurate pay), to do this job unless you’re passionate about children and education.  (Being a Bleeding Heart or a Masochist can also take you far in this profession.)  But there are those who should hang up their spurs and ride off into the sunset.  I don’t pretend to have the answer to this problem, but I do have a story.  So, I give you Exhibit A (or shall I say Exhibit B, as in burnout).

I was in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD – Yes, it sounds like LOST and how appropriate is that?) Intern program back in 1997 when California was implementing class size reduction.  Teachers were in short supply, so anyone with a pulse was fair game. After six weeks of intensive training in classroom management, I was ready to be dropped behind enemy lines into a classroom.

My mission – Take over  a modified bilingual class (3 English speakers and 17 Spanish speakers) mid-year.   The teacher, “Dr. B ,” was moving to an administrative post at the school.  I was to observe him for three days (Think – Sitting at the foot of the master.)  Then the class would be MINE.  I was nervous, but excited.  I brought along paper to take notes, as I had so much to learn.  I needn’t have bothered.

Dr. B took immediately took a shine to me.  You should know that when you’re the only adult in a classroom all day, any contact with someone over three feet tall is a cause for celebration.   He pulled up a chair for me to sit in, then sat down beside me.  I thought I was going to see him in action, but he rarely got out of the chair.  There we sat side by side for three days – Sort of like a road trip only there were 20 others along for the ride whose final destination was supposed to be Knowledge.

Dr. B assigned the students a lot of seat work.  Copy this.  Copy that. Recopy this.  Recopy that.  This freed him up to regale me with stories about how he’d worked as a mercenary in Central America. Oh, the stories I could tell you!  I hadn’t realized until then that being a killer for hire was actually a career option.

These were obviously Dr. B’s glory days and he still played the part.   He drove an old Jeep and walked around the campus with an Australian outback hat that made him look like a deranged Teddy Roosevelt (sans monocle).  His hobby was hunting wild boar. When I mentioned I had a pet pig, I saw a glint in his eye.  I have to admit that I actually enjoyed talking to Dr. B.  But, what did I learn from the master?

When it was time for lunch, Dr B would tell the class a good 15-20 minutes ahead of time to get ready. He’d have them line up, but then tell them they were too noisy and needed to return to their seats. “We’ll just have to try that again,” he’d say and then have them line up again.  “Still too noisy. Let’s try that one more time.”

That’s when he turned to me, and HONEST TO GOD, said,  “A really good way to kill time is to draw out the transitions.”  I didn’t blink.  Then he rose from his chair and we walked the students to lunch.

Eventually, I dropped out of the District Intern program and left the school. Last I heard, Dr. B’s job as an administrator had been phased out.  So, he returned to the classroom.   And there he sits.

Photo Credit:  Mercenary by kojman47 on Flickr.

Comments»

1. lilikaofthelake - May 30, 2009

I have an inkling that you are a very good teacher. Caring, giving and attentive. It is sad that not everyone is as devoted, enlightened or even aware. We really should pay teachers and caregivers more money and promote trading cards and team swag as well.

ahhh if I only had that Jan rookie year card…

Full on enjoyed your bounce over to the pond what (pronounced wattt) and would love to “hear” more of your adventures there. I love travel stories. I seldom get to travel anymore.

LOL – When my kids were a certain age, we didn’t travel at all. (I refuse to count trips to see relatives as vacations.) What’s made my trips to England so much fun is staying with a “local” and getting to know her friends. (It’s also kept me from breaking the bank.) I even went to her book club (and read the book White Tiger so I could join in the discussion). Those are the moments I cherish. Jan

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2. elissestuart - May 31, 2009

If I had known that you needed a Lego mercenary, I could have had Sam build you one and I would have mailed it to you.

Sam had a teacher who we could have sworn, on an oath in court, that she was a direct descendant of the green witch in Wizard of Oz….we’re not talking Glynda.

I know you are a good teacher because I’ve been in your classroom and I’ve watched you. Too bad Sam didn’t have you for 3rd grade.

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3. janelleholden - June 1, 2009

This reminds me of the principal I had in elementary school who practiced his golf swing during every conversation. It was very distracting.

Yes, there are good teachers and bad teachers, and there are also good administrators and bad administrators, and good parents and bad parents. It’s too bad we don’t hear more dialogue about the entire community that supports a child’s education rather than just teachers. I heard my husband say recently, “This year I gave an A to the students, a D to their parents, and an F to the principal.”

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4. Rebecca - June 2, 2009

That’s a crazy story! I feel in love with watching (good) teachers teach back in LAUSD, but there was always a mix of good/bad teachers in every school. I started to form a philosophy back then when I was an observer that rarely is there a so-so teacher, either he/she is a good teacher in the end, or a pretty bad one. Those bad apples should retire and give their job to me! (he, he)

Rebecca,
Sorry ’bout those layoffs. When I was starting out in 1997, they couldn’t drag enough people off the street to fill the classrooms. The joke was that to get hired all you had to be able to do was peel a banana. Now, with the budget crisis, really good teachers are getting laid off. It’s all crazy and it makes me crabby. Jan

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