Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month, "L.A. Unified board picks Richard Vladovic as new president. By replacing Monica Garcia with Vladovic, the LAUSD board signals the waning influence of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. This begs the question: Are days numbered for embattled Superintendent John Deasy?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Diary of a Rookie Teacher (Part II)

This post is the second installment of a new series that examines journal entries recorded by the author of Blocker's Blog, Mark Blocker, during his first year teaching for the Los Angeles Unified School District at now-defunct Henry Clay Middle School. These entries were written 12 years ago in 2001 and appear below with no editing or revisions. They are accompanied by his commentary written now after more than a decade planning and writing lessons, interacting with students from the mean streets of LA and the laborious-but-beautiful farms and ranches of California's central coast, and observing teachers and administrators with varying degrees of social and educational skills.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2001
I started using my textbook today (received and ordered them yesterday) and compared to generating handouts--it made life easy. Heck, it was like getting free money. I even had Dire Straights's "Money for Nothing," going on in my head after lunch. (Yeah? How long did that last?)
The story we're reading is "The Treasure of Lemon Brown." The teacher's edition contains wonderful exercises and insights.(Good God, I sound like a lobotomy patient.)
Even my discipline cases seemed interested. (Reading out of a real book was new to this class. Students enjoy a change of pace.) Several times I had to remind myself to back off and let them slouch at their desks and mutter among themselves once in a while. (Loosening the reins...can't read if you're uptight. Good.)
Yesterday, on the other hand, was awful. Rough drafts of first assignment letters were due. (I assigned them to write me a letter about themselves explaining their interests, goals in life, highlights of their past 12 years, etc. This helps a teacher learn more about the students. It "humanizes" them.) I wanted to work one-on-one with some students. While I did, four started shooting spitballs. (What were they doing, filming an episode of "Little Rascals"?) I went ballistic and made them pick them up with their bare hands. (Oh, tough guy, eh?) Young McKellar (a teacher who helped me quite a bit at first) happened by and gladly escorted them away. He made them write me letters of apologies. DeJuan and Marcus complied. (Marcus was a budding comedian--and likable. His charisma and sense of timing let him get away with a lot of shenanigans.) Lonnel didn't. (Lonnel was a sullen kid. I don't think I heard his voice all year. Never got anything out of him other than crumpled candy wrappers and balled up papers tossed on the floor--his idea of turning in an assignment.) Luciano was absent. (Don't remember that kid.) They are all good kids--just prone to mistakes when they push each other like lemmings. (The image of students running off a cliff is a little strong, here, rook.)

The 8th-grade English textbooks, (Prentice-Hall "Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes" Silver Level) were indeed a God-send. At that time, and for a year or so afterward, I taught the contents in the order in which they appeared in the book. Unfortunately, that meant I was not hitting all the required "power standards"--what the state wants the kids to know in order for them to score high on the mandated tests each year. Instead, I was concentrating on my favorite subject, literary interpretation, while ignoring other 8th-grade content standards such as identifying the traits of different genres of expository writing.
The spitball incident occurred in 5th period. That class soon captured my heart. Eigth-grade students will not listen to a teacher unless he is saying something of interest to a 12-13 year old. But, do they observe! When things are going well, I have a habit of reclining in my chair, fingers laced behind my head, elbows out, and a satisfied smile on my face. One day while the class was quietly writing down answers to a few questions in the book, I was thinking about how teaching wasn't so damned bad after all, and that the kids actually were better daily company than the many smug know-it-all adults in the newspaper biz. I guess I had assumed my favorite posture. When my mind returned to the present I gazed at the class and every single student was leaning back, fingers laced elbows out, smiling back at me. They were jokingly imitating their teacher. It was late September and we had already bonded into a class. They apparently liked me, and I knew I was falling in love with them. We were now ready to learn. Or at least I was. The kids, meanwhile, were going to do a lot of "testing"--of me. 

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