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
Once the instructor finally arrives, we're issued a 20-page selection from one of the state "Frameworks" curricular texts and divided into groups for another dreaded "jigsaw." Everyone groans, but we do as we're told, each group reading a five-page segment, then creating a poster highlighting the important points in the text.
It's like this most weeks. I come faithfully, but rarely learn anything I can practically apply in the classroom. Meanwhile, I lose precious preparation time.
I have my bungalow. Or I will tomorrow. Not one of the new ones, which are still missing some crucial structural details, but one that has sat inexplicably empty these past six weeks. Usually, every possible vacant space on campus is occupied the instant a teacher goes off-track. Since our school has three tracks with three different school-year schedules, one-third of the teachers are "roving" -- meaning they must move into a new room every two months. Roving is a horrific process if a teacher has bothered to set up a room that's interesting to students. Everything has to be packed up and moved to the next room, with practically no turnover time. Generally, one track has its last day and the new one comes in bright and early the next morning. So not only are all teachers scrambling during the last week to gather, organize and store mountains of stuff inside one measly roving cabinet (or two permanent cabinets for the luckier nonrovers), but no teacher has any advance time to set up a classroom before kids come back from vacation.
Nor will I have time to set up my room. We are just two weeks away from a seven-week vacation, but the assistant principal wants me to move in right away. When I suggest to Mrs. Roberts that perhaps we could wait until after our break to relocate, she firmly tells me that we must take this step immediately. Overnight I must both set up a classroom and figure out how to start my own class. My months of preparation don't feel like they count for very much.
Last week of February 1998
I panic, but I do okay. The first day we sing the old Girl Scout song "Make New Friends." We try to sing it as a three-part round, but this proves easier said than done. It seems the class will forgive me anything, though. I think they're fascinated by this upheaval. I plan and plan and plan, yet little goes according to plan.
Last week of April 1998
It is post-break, and I have my new, beautiful bungalow. The virgin white boards, an immaculate floor, the shining faucets in the sink, the golden cabinets of my very own. I have an overhead projector! I have wonderful, clean prefab walls upon which I can push-pin and staple to my heart's content. And my desk, the crowning glory -- I am ecstatic to have drawers to fill, a surface where I can keep all my papers filed, my lesson plans available. I go out and buy in-trays and pencil receptacles and a variety of desk organizers. I feel legitimized, and my gleeful anticipation nearly outweighs the queasiness I feel when I think about my 20 children in here, all day, every day, with me as their only guide.
Early May 1998
It's like starting over again, all the worries and doubts and hours spent planning, the anxiety of taking on a new set of responsibilities, except that I know my kids by now and we're all fairly attached to one another. I really did get great students -- the top 10 achievers and most English-proficient from two classrooms. I watch Mrs. Cutter across the way trying in vain to corral her belligerent second-graders and cringe at the knowledge that I'll surely inherit a number of them in just a few weeks. My kids all respect me, and even though I fall far short of Mrs. Roberts' standard of classroom organization, they are never uncontrollable. I'm a little daunted by the finer points of reading and math instruction, since I've seen what a thorough and systematic job it takes to get concepts to stick, but I'm even having some fun with that at times. I try out new classroom personas, becoming a bit more theatrical, and it's a thrill to see the students interested, engaged and staring up at me. Once, in a particularly sentimental moment, my eyes well up as I watch them happily working in groups, applying what I've just taught them.
I alternate between bouts of elation and despair; the high points when I see them learning and feel we've established mutual respect, the lows when all I can see is how I'm not good enough at teaching English-language skills, and that a couple students struggle through each day. I'm hopelessly disorganized despite all my new space and materials. Every day is an experiment; sometimes an activity falls flat, but sometimes I tap into something. We are growing radish seedlings, and every morning they rush in to check the plants' progress. Jos√© runs up to me one day: "Ms. Campbell, look how tall my plants grew! I think it's because I put all the seeds in right and I water it every day." The earnest enthusiasm of 8-year-olds makes it all seem worthwhile.
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