Friday, April 27, 2007

This is how we do it

I've gotten a lot of questions about my job both on and off the blog lately, so I will take this opportunity to explain what it is that I actually do all year.

The school where I teach is year round with three tracks. That means two tracks are on while one is off and each semester is eight weeks long. So you have two semesters at once - 16 weeks - then you're off for eight weeks.

In case you weren't paying attention, let me repeat that. Each semester is eight weeks long. We use up about two weeks of that in standardized testing, assemblies, riot control and various other activities. And it's extremely difficult to get our kids to do homework. So you can see why they might be a little behind.

We're on block scheduling, which means we have four 95 minute periods each day and half an hour for homeroom.

We don't have enough classrooms for all the teachers. Since I teach yearbook I'm one of the lucky ones who doesn't have to travel three periods a day. But I do have to switch rooms on occasion. Nobody in this school has a permanent room.

We have constant payroll problems. Hardly anybody ever gets paid what they're owed. One of my friends went a month once without a paycheck. Need supplies or books? Good luck.

I can only go to the bathroom every hour and a half, unless a kid has a question and then I have to wait an extra class period. A lot of first-year teachers get bladder infections.

But we get by. The kids are great because for a lot of them, they've been told all their lives what massive failures they are. Every time I tell people where I work they're amazed that I'm still alive. People don't expect anything from them so they stop expecting anything from themselves. Until we come along.

One of the best things about my job is the way I get to see the change take place. You see the failures too, but far more often you get to watch a scared, angry kid open up and take charge of his life right in front of you. Most of the time all you have to do is give them responsibility. Take a kid nobody has ever trusted with anything and put them in charge of something important and their whole life changes. It's amazing to watch.

I'm also lucky in that my boss likes me. She's a great boss. If you're a whiner, you get the bad classes. I never complain so I get honors kids and the best planning period. I also genuinely like my kids. It's sad how many teachers walk into a classroom filled with resentment at the children they're supposed to educate.

And if you don't have a thick skin they will obliterate you.

But they make you laugh all day if you let them.

And that's why I put up with the constant frustrations around here. I worked a solid year with no vacation until this last eight weeks when I finally got some time to myself to work on my screenplay, and it was kind of tough. Teaching's an easy profession to burn out in; that's why we need the long vacations.

I do not teach much grammar. People hear you teach English and they assume it must be a year of diagramming sentences and filling in worksheets, but most teachers don't deal with diagramming sentences anymore. Instead I teach literary terms, reading comprehension and essay writing. My kids deal in higher level thinking.

Today was a work day. I start teaching a new group of kids Monday - two classes of freshmen English and one class of juniors. Then prom, graduation and a new school year that starts the day after the previous one ends.

Welcome to LAUSD.


  1. You didn't have to explain yourself, Em.

    I'm glad you love your job, though - I wish more teachers were like you.

  2. Yeah. Being around the kids for the first time in eight weeks today kind of made me a little sentimental.

    I love those little fuckers.

  3. This sounds a lot like my job, except that I'm not anything like as respectable as a teacher. But working in a group home full of at-risk (hear: "delinquent") boys seems to share many characteristics of your school. Again, without the sophistication of actually being able to teach anything as cool as English.

  4. Wow. Now that's a tough job.

    You must have nerves of steel.

  5. Anonymous11:03 PM

    No need to explain yourself. I understand. I've dealt a lot of the stuff that you've dealt with and more teaching at an NPS here in the L.A. area.


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