Sunday, March 22, 2009

Death of a Math Teacher

After the pink slip fiasco, the school plunged into a tail spin of stunned apoplectic bitterness, some teachers didn't even bother to show up to work the next day.   Thirty out of 150 teachers were notified that their services would not be needed next year for trivial courses like English and Math.  

Art, band, and sports, however, were untouched.   School needs its electives and sports.

Special Ed was also unharmed.  School needs its Special Ed.

Just increase the class size for English and Math from 25 students per teacher to a mere 40, then bump a few junior teachers without their "credential" to make room for the experienced fossils, and bingo - economic crisis adverted.   

For 2009.   

I get on the phone and talk to Alfonso about it, worried.  "Leiken," he reprimands, "stop overreacting.  You are such a pussy.  You know that most of those teachers who got pink slips will keep their jobs, this is just LAUSD's way of scaring the state into coughing up dough.   You know that at the end of March the stimulus money will come through."

"But what about the junior teachers?"

Alfonso snorts.  "You know with all the retirees and quitters we're short every year.  Didn't you tell me that your school has three permanent subs on rotation just to cover for classes they can't find anyone to teach.  I'm telling you, no one is going to lose their job."

Come Monday I'm a little more cheerful.  Alfonso is right, it's all a ploy, a maneuver by cunning bureaucrats to squeeze every dime they can out of Uncle Sam.  At the end of March, we'll be in the clear.

On Thursday I'm making the rounds when I come across Roberts, a stellar math teacher finishing up her 3rd year.  We share a common bond, we've both been through and survived the DI program.   I ask her how she's doing as she one of those to get a pink slip,  it takes two years after you earn your credential to be put on permanent status.  

"I've had it!" she expounds.  "That's it!  I'm leaving.  There are so many jobs in other districts, I don't know why I even bother to stay here!"

The idea of Roberts leaving fills me with dread.   The other math teacher in our academy, Ms. Kim enters.  "You ready to go?" she asks.


"We're going to get letters of recommendation from Angulo." Robert explains.  "I'm not waiting on the district, I'm going to have a job next year, somewhere closer to my home!"

My stomach sinks.  Kim too?  Both of our math teachers, leaving?   Apathetic teachers are as common as the thick Los Angeles air we loving refer to as the "marine layer," competent teachers are rare, and competent teachers who truly love what they do and inspire their students are hunted to extinction.

Kim and Roberts fall into this last category.   

Where the hell am I going to place my Special Ed kids?   The though of what will come in to replace them does not fill me with confidence.   Most likely either a newbie so green you can spot the stains on their pant legs, or a walking zombie from district head quarters who doesn't have the decency to die before retirement.  

I make a valiant attempt to convince them to stay.   We have a great school!  The kids are polite, respectful, the school is clean.  The staff is supportive, everything (mostly) works, the administration keeps the students in check and listens.  Every year we improve from the year before, our academy had the most kids pass the CAHSEE, (AP not included) and that's in large part to both your efforts.  

I'm spitting into the wind.   

Roberts just laughs and shakes her head.  "It's not the school, it's LAUSD."


"Did you know that last year they only gave me $400 dollars in a paycheck, and I had to go to Beaudry and beg them for the rest of my money?"

"No.  I didn't know that."

"Not to mention the DI program and all it's stupid rules, the idiocy of all the mandatory training's, the constant wrangling for materials, the endless testing.   Do you know how far away I have to drive to get here every day, and you know I have a kid at home!"

I stay quiet.  It's hard to argue when you are on the losing side.

"I visited a charter school the other day.  Can you believe the kids were at grade level?  That they knew their multiplication tables, not to mention division.   The teacher I spoke to told me that almost all of them turn in their homework, it's the exception, not the rule when one doesn't."

I try to think of a comeback.  "Hmmmm."

"Seriously Leiken, why should I keep teaching here?  Now they give me a pink slip?  They're going to fire me because I give a damn?  Get rid of some of the senior teachers who don't care if the kids learn.  Shouldn't my performance at least be a consideration?"

"Well...have you tried to me more apathetic?  You know, doing a half ass job isn't half ass bad."

"I have tried!" Roberts cries out.  

Kim nods in agreement.  "We've both tried."

"But we can't, we can't!   I can't stand to see a kid not learn."

Kim looks at the clock.  "We really need to go get those recommendations from Angulo."

With a heavy sigh I leave the room. 

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