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All My Children 

A first-year teacher’s journal

Wednesday, Nov 29 2000
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Samantha Trumbo Campbell was one of hundreds of uncredentialed teachers hired into the LAUSD in recent years. She writes of the difficulties she faced.

 

Last week of October 1997

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My first day as a teacher, I am terrified. I have been hired to teach third grade in a South-Central school of 1,600 students, 85 percent of whom are Latino and 15 percent African-American. I arrive early, my brand-new school-issue lesson-plan book in hand, only to find the kind of chaos that will soon seem normal. Today, it's overwhelming.

I am part of the largest wave of new, mostly inexperienced teachers ever to enter the district. In 1996, Pete Wilson, in what was either a brilliant stroke for education or a disaster of vast proportions, began the state's program to limit classes to 20 students in the early grades, thereby creating an overnight need for 40 percent more K­3 teachers and 40 percent more classrooms in those grades. It meant that people like me could be hired, people who'd always wanted to teach but had never gotten credentialed. Now we could, as I did, sign up for the district intern program, through which we would earn our credentials on the job while also attending weekly classes on teaching. I arrive hopeful -- if nervous -- on my first day, believing I have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of kids who've always drawn the short end of the stick.

It's hard to remember that idealism in the face of the reality. Pete Wilson seemed to have run out of ideas when it came to getting those thousands of classrooms built in a hurry -- particularly at schools like mine that are already severely overcrowded and on year-round schedules. And so I will be team-teaching. Half of the children I will someday have in my own classroom are in the room of one teacher, half in the room of another. I'll split my time between the two classrooms, learning to teach, attempting to create a bond with the kids, hoping to make a contribution, all under the watchful eye of Mrs. Roberts* (whose cheerful assessment to me days earlier was "You're walking into a hornets' nest") and Mrs. Moore.

A part of me is relieved that I'm not about to encounter 20 of my own 8-year-old faces. But before I can get too confident, one of my co-teachers warns me that I will be expected to pull my weight. "You're getting paid the same as I am," she tells me seriously. Fair enough. I, of course, want to do my share, but the fact is, I have no prior teaching experience. And the district knew that when it hired me. Sure, I've attended a couple of months of lame Thursday-night classes, but I'm aware enough of the complexity of the job, as well as of my own ignorance, to know I'll prove essentially worthless for the first few weeks.

Later that day

It's not that bad. The kids in these classes are excruciatingly well-behaved and efficiently organized by the teachers in both classes. Mrs. Moore has offered to let me treat the first weeks as a sort of student-teaching assignment. Mrs. Roberts introduced me and set me up with a reading group. The kids are intrigued by my presence. I am soft-spoken and do my best to assist the "real" teachers with their own plans.

Later that week

It's all okay, but by okay I mean tolerable. All right, maybe I mean barely tolerable. Truth be told, I count minutes all day, and I eat lunch in my car. My little oven of a Tercel is the only place I can find to be alone, and I desperately crave a little space away from teachers offering introductions and assistance. There are 80 teachers at my school, in addition to all the office and playground staff, and I'm trying in vain to keep names and faces straight. My assigned mentor teacher is the most well-meaning of the group, but he deluges me with enthusiastic and repetitive pep talks. I am tired of nodding and smiling and trying to fit in, and so I flee to my car at lunch time, idling my engine to keep the A/C on and furtively gulping down a sandwich.

I don't get the school philosophy. The principal, who still has not introduced herself to me, patrols the playground at 7 a.m. and screams at small children caught running. The teachers are formidably strict, in a way that I can't imagine being. Don't ever want to be. Yet they seem to be dealing with so much, with so much ease. I'm trying to follow their lead, but I'm also appalled at how rigidly controlled these kids are, in class and on the yard. I don't want to believe the teacher-student relationship has to be adversarial.

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