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?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Diary of a Rookie Teacher Part 3

This post is the third 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

Writing Prompt: "How are your problems this week different than last week? What insights on your teaching did you notice this week?"

My "challenges" or "issues" (politically correct)that are different this week seems to be that some of the kids who started out quiet are now starting to become a pain in the ass. (Imagine that! They've studied you for a week and figured out what they can get away with.) Then there's Reginald Loans. (Not his real name for obvious reasons. I remember him vividly for reasons now that cause me regret.) He started out rather loathsome (shameful choice of words for a teacher)--failure to bring materials, do work, displaying an indifferent countenance, but this week he seems like he could be engaged. (It was temporary.)
As for insights on my teaching style, I called myself a World War I machine-gun tower earlier this week. I tend to shout down my 4th, 5th & 6th period classes. (Yelling: worst trap for a teacher because it only increases the volume and chaos. Angry shouting destroys the learning environment and turns the room into a punitive cell. Ironically, many kids from tough neighborhoods prefer a jail atmosphere over a scholarly ambiance --especially when they are struggling readers. Who pays the price? Scholarly kids forced by fate to attend tough schools.) I don't think that's good. (At least I was aware of that then.) I could develop an adversarial relationship with my classes. (No kidding. You challenge economically and socially disadvantaged, street-wise students to defy you, and they will gladly take you up on the offer.) Besides, the kids already have enough abuse/noise in their lives.(Again, glad you are aware of the negative forces with which they must deal everyday outside of school. Just don't turn your class into another daily gauntlet they must cross.) But pal, I gotta get control of that class by just about any means necessary. Then we can get work done, learn and have some fun.("Any means necessary"--dude thinks he's Malcolm X.)
The writing prompt means I wrote this journal entry as an opening dispatch in a class for district interns held Thursday nights. The instructors apparently wanted to know whether emergency-credentialed, rookie teachers were adjusting their methods. It's common knowledge that students will usually behave politely the first few days as they study their new teacher trying to figure out what his/her rules "really are." Also, going back to school in the fall is a change of pace for them. After a few days the novelty wears off so it's time to raise some hell to avoid the boring monotony of classroom drills. It is the teacher's challenge to know this and develop management skills that minimize disruptions. This involves limiting activities to 20 minutes, allowing students to briefly interact, encouraging them to responsibly share their thoughts, and providing exercises that address different learning "styles"--visual, linguistic, physical and more.
I'm ashamed that I called "Reginald Loans" "loathsome." I was mean to him, so of course he was mean to me. Looking back, this African-American youngster was dealt a bad hand by fate, society, God--whomever you want to blame. He showed up unwashed, clothes dirty, grass shards in his uncombed hair, continually scratched his itches--and never seemed to have money or meal-tickets for food--all tell-tale signs that he had no parenting or supervision at home. If I would've had the pleasure of Reginald in a class later in my career, I would've had him remain after class, utilizing the "detention" as a vehicle for becoming better acquainted with this distrustful loner who kept to himself even in the halls and communal areas. I would've slipped him a few bucks now and then. Veteran teachers know there's nothing wrong with a well timed bribe. But I wasn't a veteran teacher. I was a stinking, clueless rookie who never taught nor had been in the 'hood for an extended time in decades. Unfortunately it was just more bad luck for young Reginald Loans. Let's hope that big, mean-teacher-in-the-sky has smiled down on Reginald by now.

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