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The Shame of Our Public School System: Part One

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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).

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About Daryl D

  • daryl d

    My purpose in writing this essay – and future ones as well – is because it echoes the experience many teachers have. I’m glad you were able to get student test scores up. I mean you must have really PREPARED them for the tests. You might want to read my future essay which discusses how some teachers -um- prepare students for testing. Hint hint – it’s not ethical.
    Damien, I’m glad you like your job. But keeping quiet about what’s going on in our schools has the same effect of priests being quiet about the happenings in churches.
    Damien, people hate public schools for a reason- they are corrupt. I do think that teachers get negatively stereotyped, but there are too many unqualified teachers . Some teachers, including myself, taught subjects we were never qualified to teach. It’s absolutely pathetic. But enjoy your rewarding job. But ask yourself if you are being rewarded.

  • filipina

    Damien –

    I don’t think daryl is feeding any fire because his experience is only half as bad as mine. If you don’t mind being a puppet to administrators who don’t care about kids, your job is probably enjoyable. If you don’t mind race norming grades and being forced to change them to make the school district look good, your job is probably great. If cultural diversity means Mexican to you – in California at least – it must be a great job. Keep it coming Daryl, I’m interested in hearing if your experience was half as bad as mine.

  • Daryl, do you know anything that isn’t shame?

    With all due respect to your MA (I have one too) … you taught for 2 years? I’m in my 9th year and I see a lot of good happening in my school/district.

    Why don’t you write about the job you have now (what would that be?) instead of just whining about your principal. I work as a public school teacher in California, in fact, my first 3 years were in Santa Ana which is next to Costa Mesa, When you publish that public education is a “scandal” you only show what you have chosen to fixate on. I find you upcoming series bitter and sad. I will look for it though. On my blog I write inspirational stories I have seen to lift up and make change.

    I have a few published in a book and my CST scores (in an impoverished school district I might add) have risen so quickly in comparison to the same types of schools that Jack O’Connell himself, the Superintendent of Insruction for the State, came into my clasroom two months ago to ask me what I was doing.

    You are only feeding the fire of people who hate teachers and public education (Oh how they are legion). You might have a lot more impact on change if you made suggestions rather than promote the word scandal. Get real man, what is your goal here? It’s an unpaid job writing on Blogcritics. Why not lift teachers and pub ed up?

    Thanks for listening

    Damien (also a blogcritics writer)
    Author Page and Featured Posts

  • Theresa B.

    This was a great read and I very much look forward to your future articles on this topic. I am in my fifth year of teaching and I feel miserable because I am not allowed to do the job I signed up for. Political correctness has killed the public school system and we, as a society, are the victim.

  • ostrova

    Maybe the whole idea of school as we know it is just wrong. I just read a little bit of Ivan Illich but I was tending to think this way anyway.

  • Baronius

    Excellent article. I look forward (cringing) to your further adventures.

  • daryl d

    Public education is a national scandal. It’s far worse than any scandal involving the Catholic Church. I believe that most teachers aren’t outspoken about it because it will ruin their careers. I’ve given up teaching as a career, so I have nothing to lose.

    Thanks, Blogcritics, for giving me a forum to discuss topics, such as this. Once again, a critical post in another thread (that I believe was deleted) was meant at a particular person at Blogcritics, but definitely not the site in general .

  • CallmeMaddy

    Thank goodness somebody feels the same way as I do. Public schools are a shame. I go to the second best school in California (according to state testing), but I see students falling behind all the time. It’s quite sad, actually.

    Nice article. I’m interested in your experiences as a teacher. Keep it coming!


  • Lisa

    Perfect example of the saying “As goes the home, so goes the nation”.

    Good thoughts.