Read and Decide for Yourself!
The following story is written by a teacher who recently quit the Los Angeles Unified School District figuring LAUSD is a conflicted, rudderless sinking ship captained by fools clueless about public education. The following are fictional characters intended to resemble actual people. Thank you for visiting Blocker’s Blog after its hiatus during which the author was busy relocating halfway to San Francisco. Happy reading!
By Mark J. Blocker
Harry Mills’s classroom at Darwin MS in the Beatrice-Burnwood section of Big City faced east toward the rising sun, but thanks to a row of overgrown fichus trees the place is in perpetual darkness.
His first period conference over, Harry was standing outside his door to greet the arriving parade of 7th-grade students for second period. They all paused before entering to eye their new teacher--his long ponytail, gray goatee, western style shirt with snap pearl buttons, khaki cargo pants and sneakers.
“Who da fuck are you?” It was an honest but vulgar inquiry shouted by a short, wiry lad with caramel skin and matching hair. He bit off another chunk of his Red Vine licorice rope and chewed with his mouth open waiting for an answer.
Harry slumped his shoulders and shook his head to display disappointment at the boy’s selection of words.
“I am Mr. Mills, and you are . . .”
The boy interrupted, “You a sub?”
“Nope. I am here for good.”
“Damn,” he muttered before entering the room.
Harry thought about calling him back to discuss proper classroom vocabulary, but he let the inquisitive student walk since virtually every passing child in the hall was insulting each other using profanities and epithets describing genitalia and excrement.
“Don’t get too comfortable. We will have assigned seats,” Harry warned students milling about the room. They responded with groans and a chorus of cursing. He knew it would take days to screw down pupils running amuck after a parade of indifferent substitute teachers mostly concerned with surviving til the day’s final bell.
Harry tried to log on the school’s aged computer to scan his roster and build a seating chart. Access Denied—Username and Password Terminated. Nobody at Darwin had yet set up his account. His prior school, high-performing Gibson MS in posh Green Tree Estates, wasted no time in shutting down his access when he was transferred back into the ghetto. Mills thought it would be nice if the district were equally as responsive in setting teachers up as it was at shutting them down.
Mills told the class the seating chart would have to wait for another day. The kids cheered like it was New Years Eve1999. The kid who previously interacted with Harry at the door pulled out a fist of Red Vines, bit off the end of one and began offering the remainder to surrounding colleagues. Harry admired his generosity while frowning at the inconspicuous flouting of a common classroom rule.
“Hey! No eating in cla . . .” Harry quit. No kid could hear him anyway, and he didn’t want to yell above the din. It would only increase the volume and raise his blood pressure. Instead, he folded his arms and silently frowned at the bedlam. In less than a minute the kids sheepishly returned to their desks.
“This shouldn’t surprise you, but just like all your other teachers I’d prefer you refrain from eating in class.”
“What the fuck ‘re-frain’ mean?”
The rest of the day unfolded with no surprises. Mills was pleased that each class eventually settled down enabling him to launch a discussion of class procedures, rules and consequences. Afterward, he assigned each class their first project—in groups of four construct cause-and-effect charts detailing reasons for each rule. While the students were busy in groups of four planning and drawing their posters, Mills surveyed each class confident he could establish reasonable control and in a few days begin the business of teaching what the State wanted 7th-graders to learn.
Waiting 45 minutes for a 3-minute meeting
Two days passed. On Wednesday during his first period conference Harry was planning curriculum when the classroom phone rang.
“Mr. Mills? Ms. Sharperson, our principal, wants to see you in her office immediately.”
Harry went down to the front. Her office door was closed. A tall woman who seldom looked up from her computer told Mills, “Have a seat, Ms. Sharperson is in a meeting.”
Harry turned to a bank of plastic chairs along the back wall. All were marred with nauseating stains; pressed gum; and threatening graffiti scrawled with thick, felt-tipped pens. Harry found a reasonably clean chair and carefully sat down. It was missing a screw. He nearly fell on his ass. He hoisted himself back onto his feet, clasped his hands and began perusing flyers tacked on a cork bulletin board.
Several notices warned against discriminating, sexually harassing, and leaving early. One listed names and phone numbers of staff charged with fielding complaints about offensive behavior. The rest promoted events that occurred last year.
Harry also watched the clock. Its second hand fell down then began climbing up again signaling a half hour had passed. Harry started wondering what Sharperson’s closed-door meeting was about. Maybe she was getting ready to fire his ass. Had he discriminated against a student? Alarmed, he was soon internally fretting over whether he sexually harassed a child. Sweet bearded Jesus, I could be a racist pervert! Inside that shut office a sheriff’s deputy could be writing down charges while Sharperson nodded, a parent fumed and a child shed tears.
Harry was relieved when the door opened and three testosterone-drenched, crew-cut PE teachers--one of them male—exited and strode out toward the gymnasium. Sharperson, after glancing at Mills, shut her door leaving him outside. Realizing his new boss was wasting his time Harry’s relief morphed into anger. He mutely tried to make eye contact with the office lady, but she remained focused on her screen. So Harry approached, and she quickly tapped her keyboard before springing off her chair. She smoothed her skirt before walking over to Sharperson’s solid oak door. Harry noticed she had long legs wrapped in lacy stockings. Stiletto heels of her glistening black shoes echoed off the worn, beige linoleum. Harry calmed down a little.
“Yes?” the principal replied to light rapping upon the door.
“Mr. Mills is here.”
Sharperson let silence fulminate before she answered, “I’m aware, thanks.”
The office lady shrugged before strutting back to her computer.
Five minutes later Sharperson opened her door again. “Come in, sir.”
Harry wondered whether he was overreacting. Never in nine years at Missouri Compromise had any of the six rotating principals kept him waiting. They usually dropped by his classroom, affably smiling and unnecessarily apologetic. Harry assured visiting administrators that they were always welcome in his classroom. This odd environment at Darwin MS offered a stark contrast to his prior working conditions.
“Sit down,” Sharperson said from behind her desk while scratching the tip of her expensive looking pen against a stack of papers. “I wanted to ask you why you thought you had to call . . .uh . . . Ashley Gracia’s house.”
“You mean Monica Garcia,” Harry corrected.
“Yes, that’s it. I apologize.”
“She’s been tardy every day.”
“I looked at your attendance forms and saw you were always marking her tardy. By the way, why are you submitting your attendance manually? We’re on an automated system here.”
“I can’t log on.”
“And you contacted Mr. Nerlman to set up your account?"
“Everyday I go by the attendance office asking when I can get on.”
“It’s not the attendance office’s responsibility to get you on.”
“I thought they could point me in the right direction.”
Sharperson sighed, picked up her phone and pressed a couple buttons. “Mister Nerlman, this is Wanda Sharperson, principal at Darwin Middle School.”
Sharperson held the receiver away from her ear. Harry gazed at her long red fingernails and the large golden hoop earring that swung behind corkscrew curls that reflected light from the bare incandescent bulb dangling from the ceiling of yellowed acoustic tiles.
She hung up and announced, “That took all of two minutes. I’d really appreciate if you could take care of things like that on your own Mr. Mills. I’m very busy.”
Harry didn’t respond. He furrowed his brow. He spent a few moments trying to read the spreadsheets she was signing. Harry looked up and Sharperson was staring at him over her lenses. They locked eyes. Sharperson leaned back in her creaking wooden armchair.
To-do list: 128 phone calls
“How are your other calls coming along?” she asked.
“What calls?” Harry answered, knowing full well she was inquiring about. During their initial meeting Sharperson apprised Harry that she required all teachers to telephone their students’ parents to introduce themselves. She even made Mills sign a form agreeing to perform the calls. Harry figured it was forgettable bureaucratic bullshit no one really expected to get done. Wrong.
“I’ve made several calls. Mostly about behavior and attendance.”
“You’re supposed to call every parent and introduce yourself. Have you accomplished this yet, sir?”
“I’m unclear on the process. Is there an office and school telephone I can use to make these calls? The phone in my room only connects to campus phones. I also need to know when I’m supposed to do this--during my conference period? After school?”
“To answer your first question, most teachers prefer to use their own phones and make the calls from their home during the evenings or on weekends. May I remind you your conference periods are for just that—conferences, so yes, you may call parents during that time. But you need to get this accomplished soon, sir, or you will be subject to punitive measures. You signed a binding agreement that you would make these calls. Would you like to review it?” With that Sharperson slid the form across her desk toward Harry.
He stared back at her. She was going to be a hostile boss.
By the time she let Harry get back to his classroom, the tardy bell already rang. His unsupervised kids were chasing each other around the empty corridor, tossing candy wrappers, conducting loogie contests and slamming their fists into rusty lockers. Mills unlocked his door so the kids could shove each other inside.
The “secret” solution
At lunch, Mills saw Ms. Simpson, a 30-year-teacher also displaced out Missouri Compromise when the school board handed the place over to a charter operator. But unlike Harry, Ms. Simpson was personally hired by Sharperson months earlier. Ms. Simpson was friendly, but she let it known she didn’t like bullshit. Harry heard she once verbally bit the head off a condescending assistant principal at Missouri Compromise who had blamed her for an incident where a student hid behind in her classroom and while she was gone for a few minutes ransacked her purse and trashed the room. Harry never did ask her about that, but he did inquire about her relationship with Sharperson.
“I’ve never had any problems with her, “ Ms. Simpson shrugged, “but nobody better mess with me or I’ll walk out. I have loads of sick time in the bank and enough years to retire right now.”
“What about these phone calls we have to make to parents?”
“Use Ed-Connect. Don’t waste your time dialing every number! Half of them won’t answer, and if they do they’re drunk or crazy or something.”
Harry had forgotten about Ed-Connect. Back at Missouri Compromise he used the automated system all the time. To phone a student’s house, a teacher simply clicked a name and selected the appropriate message from a long menu that offered a variety of common teacher-parent missives for both good news and bad. Harry remembered that one available selection was an introductory call to welcome the parent’s child to class.
The million-dollar price tag of Ed-Connect garnered the attention of the city’s newspaper, which soon began a series of articles examining all Big City School District expenditures. This generated letters from readers complaining that the teachers’ union was controlling the budget and wasting taxpayers’ money on unnecessary luxuries instead of investing in the children. Why couldn’t these lazy communist teachers who are ruining our country dial a telephone like their predecessors?
But Harry had another big question. Why didn’t Sharperson suggest he use Ed-Connect instead of demanding he personally dial each parent? He asked around and sure enough every teacher used the system. None used their own phone. Sharperson was apparently trying to make Harry’s job more difficult than it already was.
Two days later, Sharperson and some suit from downtown visited Mills class and turned the heat up even higher.