By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
There is little, if anything, I want to emulate when I get my own room, and little to do here except what I'm told.
Third week of November 1997
During reading groups today, Mrs. Moore sat down with Gloria, a small ponytailed girl, and an open text. The child flipped her hair and wiggled as she looked at the words, then smiled back up at the teacher. She looked back down and attempted a few words in Spanish before the teacher stopped her. In an intentionally loud voice, she addressed the child. "You can't read," she said. "I'd like to know why you're smiling, because this is very serious." Mrs. Moore raised her voice so that the entire class couldn't help but hear. "This little girl can't read," she announced. "We're not going to recess until this child reads to me." Gloria began to cry silently. "I'm glad you're crying," she continued, "because this is something to cry about. You can't read." The class was quiet. A few minutes passed. Finally Mrs. Moore got up and sighed. "I'm sorry," she said to the class. "I'm sorry, Gloria, for embarrassing you that way. But it is so important that you take this seriously. You all have to learn to read."
Last week of November 1997
Mrs. Roberts tells me that there are three people on whose good side I should position myself: the custodian, an affable fellow I'm more comfortable around than pretty much anybody else; the office manager, a severe woman who sits as far away as possible from the approachable office desk; and Ricki.
Ricki is in charge of the inventory and dispersal of all classroom supplies: pencils, scissors, construction paper and the like. She's clearly an important friend to have, but she scares the bejesus out of me. She seems to stare right through you. She mutters to herself and sighs a lot, resentful of the constant burden of meeting the needs of the ungrateful. I've seen her gregarious side, though, how she banters back and forth with her friends on the staff, whom she rewards with unbroken crayons and lamination. Mrs. Roberts insists I just need to know how to play office politics, and suggests that I bring Ricki chocolate.
I try to picture myself walking into "The Cage," as the supply room is ominously known, and saying, "Here, Ricki. I thought you might want a snack. May I have some glue?" Still, I've got to do something. She seems to hate me. The other day I was on a search for colored paper and approached Ricki and an aide friend of hers while they were engaged in conversation in the Cage. I stood back and waited uncomfortably for a couple of minutes, hoping to be acknowledged. When I thought I'd found an opening, I quickly asked if I could borrow the paper-closet key. Ricki looked at me for a moment before turning toward the locked door. "Some people are so rude," she said to her friend.
I felt like I'd been slapped. I've tried so hard to be polite, and she hates me anyway. Still, why should I have to kiss Ricki's ass just to get goddamn construction paper for my students? Eventually I succumb, buying a couple of really good chocolate truffles. She is mercifully absent when I take them to her, so I leave them with a note. The next day she stops me in the hall and thanks me. Things are easier now, although it still seems simpler to buy my own supplies when I find them cheap at Sav-On.
Every day I check out the bungalows that have been squatting out on the yard since October. Mrs. Roberts and I update each other on what we've heard about when they'll be ready. She wants me (and the 10 kids who go with me) out of her room. I get a little panicky thinking about running a class by myself. I'm not ready. Thank God the bungalows aren't either.
The district intern program is the bane of my existence. Highly touted by LAUSD as a tuition-free college-level colloquium designed to credential new teachers through an intensive two-year training program conducted while its students take the helm of a public-school classroom, D.I. has done me at least as much harm as it has good.
I dread Thursdays. I leave the house at 6:45 a.m. and don't get home till 8:30 at night. I've missed almost an entire season of Friends. And for what? Tonight I was late, as usual, and tried to sign in sneakily, entering 4 instead of 4:15. They threaten us with one makeup class for every three tardies, but it's easy to fudge the time. Turns out I didn't miss a thing, as I walk in on everybody sitting around chatting and waiting for class to begin. A journal topic is on the board: "What did I learn from creating a thematic unit?" and some people dutifully jot down a few words in their journals. I stopped writing in the journal months ago because the topics are so boring, and you're expected to have other people read it. I write what I know they want to read. In response to today's prompt about thematic units, I formulate a few mindless sentences, concluding with, "I think I learned a lot about how to go about the process, and it will come easier next time."
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