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Re: “Do L.A. Public Schools Work?” [December 1–7]. LAUSD School Superintendent Roy Romer seems to have many well-meaning plans, but the realities out here in the schools are simply not being addressed. Like Samantha Trumbo Campbell [“All My Children”] in the same issue, I spend over $1,000 each year on classroom supplies, to enrich the curriculum and the classroom environment. I am not reimbursed for my expenses, nor am I properly reimbursed for the countless hours during the week or on weekends spent creating interesting, engaging lessons that address California state standards. I am not reimbursed for the sleepless nights worrying about my “at-risk” students, for the phone calls and meetings with parents discussing their child’s needs. I am not reimbursed for working through every break (20 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes for lunch). Nor am I reimbursed for the extra committee duties required of any teacher who is part of a school team.
Teaching is a full-time, all-encompassing profession, both in terms of hours and emotions — and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. However, as a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I no longer can afford to live in L.A. I cannot afford to buy a house, to start a family, to travel. When Superintendent Romer claims that teachers have been offered a decent salary, I have to ask, “How do you define decent? Could you live on what I live on? Do you work with these students directly? How are you making a difference?”
The school board, the Teachers Union and the teachers’ organizations (NEA, AFT) have a long way to go in improving and protecting the reputation and respectability of the teaching profession. They, as well as teachers, should not feel pressured — or afraid — to take a more active stance against the finger-pointing media, unsupportive parents, misbehaving students, insufficient staffing levels, inadequate school supplies and facilities, and the corruption, inequities and abuses perpetuated by the power structure, namely the top district brass and the other political constituencies who continually try to save money or their own political interests.
I have been a secondary-school teacher in Austin, Texas, and was thinking of resuming my teaching career here in Los Angeles. Your article decided things for me. No way. I recognize the main problem, a problem Mr. Kaplan summed up nicely: “Just once I would like a district official or principal to come in my room and say, ‘What do you need? What can I do for you?’ Just once in 20 years.”
I am the “Mrs. Roberts” in Samantha Trumbo Campbell’s “All My Children.” Like Ms. Campbell, I was hired by LAUSD through the Intern Program. However, I didn’t have the luxury of spending half a year sitting and watching two other teachers trying to cope with 40 children in one classroom.
On her first day as a teacher, Ms. Campbell informed me that she would prefer to just observe and see how things worked before she tried to do any teaching. There were at least two occasions when I had to tell her that either she would start teaching for part of the day, or we would have to discuss the problem with the principal. For the most part, though, I tried to limit the problems and difficulties I had with her to the classroom. Ms. Campbell, unfortunately, never shared her feelings about what was going on until she did it in print, in what appears to be an attempt to humiliate me and my colleagues. Meanwhile, as inept as Ms. Campbell was, even in her third year, everyone here bent over backward to help her. It’s a shame this is how she chose to thank them.
Among the other misinformation provided by Ms. Campbell:
• “Minutes” are not given for lapses of attention. They are given when students lose control and are disruptive. It is a “classwide time-out” so that we can regroup as a class and practice self-control.
• Any asides I made to Ms. Campbell were shared with her so that she could understand my viewpoint and my actions, never to demean a student.
• I never suggested Ms. Campbell buy anyone chocolates. She asked me once if that would be appropriate, and I responded that it couldn’t hurt.
• Lunch time? We have to feed 1,200 students in three shifts, 20 minutes each. I would like to know how Ms. Campbell would manage to do this without rules, lines and controls. Students are taught to be quiet so they can hear instructions and transitions can occur in an orderly manner.
Yes, I am strict. But Ms. Campbell conveniently neglected to mention that my discipline system contains more rewards than punishments. Nor did she advise readers that the classroom rules and consequences, both positive and negative, are discussed and agreed to by the students before they are put in place. I make sure my students understand what I expect, then give out rewards or punishments according to their behavior. Many times, they remind me that they need a negative consequence for something they’ve done or failed to do.
I am not ashamed of the way I teach. I am strict in order to be sure students learn the skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed. Yes, there have been three students in nine years who left my classroom because they couldn’t handle the expectations. Still, if I am the ogre I am portrayed to be in Ms. Campbell’s article, I doubt that I would have former students come up to me daily, give me a hug and express their desire to be in my classroom again.
Nor am I ashamed to state my name.
As a first-grade teacher in one of LAUSD’s largest elementary schools, I would like to assure the public that many schools serving economically disadvantaged children do achieve high test scores without the regressive and repressive attitudes Ms. Campbell found rampant at her school site. It deeply saddens me that, in this day and age, principals and teachers still believe that humiliation and enforced silence can contribute to learning. Certainly it is important for students to be attentive and focused listeners during a teacher’s directed lesson, but children must also engage in constructive conversation about the lesson while working. Successful classrooms enable students to challenge each other, problem-solve, develop collaborative skills — and, in the case of English-language learners, sustain a level of constructive “noise” to assist students in developing second-language proficiency.
Like Samantha Trumbo Campbell, I found the L.A. school system to be an impoverished and unforgiving machine. New teachers are given little training and made responsible for the lives of 20 to 30 children. Yet we are not trusted with the key to the thermostat or the supply room, or access to the Xerox machine. Like Ms. Campbell, I resigned upon receiving my credential, as did many other caring and competent new teachers. The system tries to mold its teachers as it does its students: They want us to shut up, sit down and listen.
—John F. Costanza
I get Dave Shulman [Sitegeist]. Dave Shulman kicks ass. He is one of the best things you have going for you (along with Robert Lloyd). Don’t rein him in. Let him run wild.
In our Christmas shopper’s guide to art books, “The Coffee Table” [December 22–28], while we named the editor of the Neutra, Complete Works (Taschen), we neglected to name its author, Barbara Mac Lamprecht. We regret the omission.
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