But isn't the principal really in a better position to pick who should lead? You're each in your classrooms teaching, but the principal is more of a honeybee who visits all the classrooms and has the best sense of the strengths and weaknesses of everybody on staff. I mean, how do you as teachers know what's happening in the classroom next door? Let's say that principal is a dynamic, empathetic leader. Wouldn't he or she be the right person to spot and nurture talent?
GLEN-LAMBERT: That's a hypothetical question, right? So there can be a hypothetical yes. But in most schools, I'd put my faith in a body of 40 or 80 teachers who are all intent on making the right choice.
ARIAS: The honeybee would be wonderful to have, but it is such an anomaly in a district of this size. That honeybee is more often a wasp. But yes, it would be wonderful to have an administrator like that.
Do any of you have a sense of the proportion in the district of great principals to terrible ones?
KAPLAN: I'm not sure these honeybee principals you describe are allowed to flourish. They're not being nurtured. That's not what moves you up the ladder in this district. It's a dangerous, dangerous path to be creative. I don't know that many dynamic administrators. Where are they going to come from in a district this dysfunctional?
How does this space crunch we've heard so much about affect you?
SHEFFIELD: I'm a middle school science teacher who wants to educate my children in all aspects of science. But I don't even have a room. I have to change rooms every class period. I've taught science in the auditorium, with a cart and all my science equipment that I needed. It's ridiculous. It puts my students in a situation where they have to follow me pushing carts. I'm taking away their instructional time because I have to get books and I have to get supplies, as opposed to being in a classroom set up and ready to do a lab. We have teachers who teach outside because there's no place else to go. I'm at a well-run school, but we're busting out at the seams. We have too many students and not enough room.
ARIAS: I teach special ed, where many of our students receive and need outside services like speech therapy, occupational therapy and adaptive P.E. Those specialty teachers never have a room to be in. Often Psych Services has to conduct sessions in closets -- literally. It's an inhumane situation for the adults and for the children as well. It shows a complete lack of respect in the district for us as professionals.
GLEN-LAMBERT: Another huge problem is playground space. As they put in more and more of these bungalows, it takes away playground space.
So in terms of the scope of the problem, you're all in perfect agreement with Romer. But he says that solving it will be hugely expensive and needs to be factored into union negotiations over the size of the raise for teachers.
KAPLAN: The current space crunch grew out of the culture of incompetence and arrogance that has been documented over and over again at the district level. The district should have understood 10 years ago when demographers were telling them what was happening and auditors were saying "Where's all your money?" that they had a serious problem. It shouldn't be solved by taking money from teachers.
SHEFFIELD: Yes, we need classrooms. Yes, we need places to put our students. But the money shouldn't come out of my pocket.
Does it feel any different to be working under Romer than it did under previous superintendents, under Cortines or Zacarias or Thompson? Have these sweeping changes that we write about so much been felt at your level -- at ground zero in the classroom?
SHEFFIELD: There have definitely been sweeping changes -- continuous sweeping changes. It's a problem. There's a new superintendent, so we change for that, then we change for something else, and on and on. We're in a state of continuous change. We need to pick something and move with it and stop making all these constant changes.
Speaking of new things sweeping across, how about Open Court, the new reading program?
GLEN-LAMBERT: I'll say something positive. I've been using it for three years, so I probably have a different perspective on it because I used it before it was mandated. I think it is great, I really do. It's made a tremendous difference in my classroom, and in the abilities of the children to read.
VALENCIA: I haven't used it, because I teach fifth grade, but most of the teachers at my school are having a lot of trouble with Open Court. I believe that Open Court was designed for students who are already proficient in the English language. Our students are predominantly non-English-speakers. They're having a lot of trouble with Open Court.
GLEN-LAMBERT: Actually, the majority of my school are also second-language readers, and we've had a lot of success with them.
VALENCIA: Open Court is a very rigid program, and some of the teachers at my school are worried because they are falling a little bit behind. They're not where they're supposed to be on the schedule of Open Court, because they have to review with the kids. The program moves too quickly. Of course, this is our first year with Open Court, so it's going to be rough.