I am going to write several pieces on my experience as a public school teacher and why the institution has become a national insult. My first article deals with my first year as an English/History teacher in Costa Mesa, California. I chose to share this because this experience parallels that of many other first year teachers.
My master’s degree, which I’m still paying my student loans for, is in education. I wanted to become a teacher because of the wonderful teachers I had throughout my life who helped make a difference. I felt I owed it to society to do the same.
I first set my eyes on Southern California because I knew there was an educational crisis, especially since many of the incoming students didn’t speak English. I knew my Spanish speaking and writing skills would come in handy, even though not all of the incoming foreign students were of Spanish descent. My first job was teaching English and History at a junior high school in Costa Mesa, California. It was a nightmare.
I taught two ESL classes where I watched as students drew swastikas and wrote anti-American, hateful slogans such as "La Raza" and "MECHA" all over their textbooks. When I told the principal about it, she said I would be better off ignoring it. I also taught one honors eighth grade English class, where I expected students to come into the classroom with an advanced level of reading and writing. I was shocked to learn that “eighth grade honors,” at this particular school, meant any student who could read and write past a sixth grade level.
Our principal, who was finally fired by the school district a couple of years later after serious lawsuits, said that we had to make the students feel good about themselves. She certainly didn’t like it when I mentioned that these students wouldn’t feel good about themselves when they learned they were actually behind other students, not ahead.
I also taught the “Opportunities” class, a politically correct name for a class for bad kids. This class was a last resort for students who couldn’t function in other classes, or students whom unqualified teachers didn’t want to deal with. My first dose of reality occurred when one student, a very smart boy who came from a very troubled home, threw a chair. I fractured my wrist when intercepting the chair, which could have severely hurt another student. Thinking I would gain some sympathy or even become a child-saving hero, I was the one who got in trouble for not being able to control my class, while the student barely received a slap on the wrist.
When I requested that the student be removed from my classroom (not so much for myself, but for the safety of other kids), I was told he wouldn’t be. I later found out the school district earns a lot of taxpayer money for the kids that are kept in this class. This is when I went to our local teachers' union (which was incredibly helpful) and was ready to take this case to court. In order to prevent the lawsuit, the administrators moved this child to the special education class, where he definitely didn’t belong.
Though I won this battle against my administrators, they were all ready to retaliate by trying to not only get me fired from the school district, but to make sure I would never be able to teach again. Some teachers, who my principal thought were on her side, confronted me with the fact that they were told to spy on me and get as much dirt as possible. A very moral administrator from the district (probably one of the only ones) told me ahead of time that he was supposed to walk into my classroom to do a surprise “evaluation,” in which he hoped to find something very negative. Unfortunately, he didn’t, so my principal thought she would force me out by making my life so miserable that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate coming to school anymore.
To my surprise (young kids may not act like it, but they deeply respect it when an adult tries to help them), many of my students and their parents complained not only to our district office, but to the local newspaper as well. The school then became embroiled in a local scandal not only for the way I was treated, but for other unethical things as well.
Thanks to the power of our teachers' union, as well as my students and their parents, my contract was renewed, even though I later accepted a position in another district. Instead of being fired, the principal was moved to another school in the district (which happens often with bad principals). After several lawsuits, she was finally fired from the district. I thought the politics I’d experienced this year were very unique to this particular district. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
In my next article, I will explore how administrators treat schools as a business in which the customer (meaning student) is always right. This puts an incredible amount of pressure on the schoolteacher, who finds out that his/her authority means nothing. I will also answer any questions teachers have (please post them in the comments section).Powered by Sidelines