Saturday, June 28, 2008

A few things you need to know about teaching in a public inner city Los Angeles year round school

I had a few questions recently about what I do, and since it's possible some of you may decide to make a character a teacher - well I'm only too happy to help encourage realism in screenplays.

I teach at a school just south of downtown. We're on three tracks and I'm B track. B TRACK!

There's some pride there. I don't know why.

In most of the year round schools here there are three tracks. Each track works 16 weeks, then takes 8 weeks off. This is mostly the case in high school - middle and elementary do it differently. A track is the closest to a regular schedule and C track has an early vacation, but B track is complicated. B track gets to have an extra break because we get two weeks over Christmas, but we have the awesome distinction of ending school on Friday and starting a new school year the following week. So this week's exhaustion from doing grades and selling yearbooks and cleaning my room is paled by next week's exhaustion from learning 60 new names and introducing myself to 60 new kids and coming up with three new plans for the year.

The thing about year round that is the most frustrating is the room changes. Because we share, nobody can keep their room all year. EVERYBODY moves and a lot of people travel. I don't travel because I do yearbook and yearbook doesn't travel. It's part of an excellent deal I made two years ago. And I just learned today that we're finally getting a newspaper, so I will be swapping my room with the newspaper adviser and no one else all year.

It's complicated, but just know that having an extra curricular assignment helps you get some privileges at any school. Every time somebody asks me to do something I just shrug and say, "yearbook" and they nod with understanding. Apparently I look like I should coach cheerleading. People always ask me to do cheerleading. I don't know shit about cheerleading other than what I saw from my perch in the marching band, but it's good to know my coworkers think I was once hot and popular.

Anyway, the main thing that sucks about year round school is that there is never a single time when all the teachers and students are in the school at the same time. Now that may not sound like such a big deal, but trust me - it is. Especially when you run a program that's not a core class. Yearbook on a three track system is a nightmare.

And if a kid fails a class, there's no summer school. There's intersession or adult school, but there's no fucking space. We cram kids in where we can fit them.

Okay so that's my rant about year round school. The only positive to the year round schedule is that we get lots of vacation time.

Unfortunately if you want any days during the school year, you're in some bad shape. You can call in a substitute using the subfinder system, where you call a computer and then the computer calls a sub and tells them to come in and work for you. The thing about that is, if you don't find a sub that you like you end up losing time.

Like 90% of subs do one of two things - they ignore your lesson plan completely and do their own lesson plan, or they ignore your lesson plan completely and do nothing. I was fortunate enough to have a best friend who's a sub and actually followed my plans until recently when she decided to go back to full time teaching.

The upside of that is that she is at my school now and B track (B TRACK!) so we will be able to eat lunch together and take vacations at the same time (look out, Palm Springs!)

The downside is, now I have to find a new sub. They get paid about $80 a day to do what you tell them, unless you're an asshole teacher who leaves no plan at all, in which case I'd like to punch you in the face because you're the reason subs keep making shit up.

Like that time I left a sub a play to read with the class and he decided it was more important to watch the NCAA tournament and break my stool. Or that one time I left a sub a movie to watch but he was too lazy to press play so he just told the kids to kick it.

There are a lot of people in education who don't do their jobs. I am not one of them. Actually I'm kind of defiant about it. Fuck pedagogy. I teach.


  1. Thank you Emily. I like you. I know I would have liked you as a teacher.
    You remind me of most of my teachers . They loved to teach too. And I love to learn…so perfect match.
    Except ONE teacher. Ninth grade English.
    Mrs. Dickerson (appropriate).
    I hated her. She hated me too. How do I know she hated me…?one day she yelled to the top of her lungs…

    “Morgan McKinnon I hate you.”

    Mrs. Dickerson was out sick one day…I was hoping for worse news.

    We got Mrs. Jenkins as a sub. Boy did I love her. She was a great educator. Unlike Mrs. Dick...she encouraged me to write.

    Anyhow, my script. My character is 30. She’s strong. She’s independent. She’s single. She wears a wedding band …just ‘cause she doesn’t feel like being bothered. She has great girlfriends (just two). She’s not a lesbian. She has a wonderful family. And she subs at the Elementary School.

    I could go on and on about her. I won’t.

    Thank you for the info.

    Thank you for being a Teacher.

    It’s so needed in this country.

  2. "A Waukegan high school teacher was arrested this week after she allegedly smoked marijuana in the school's teachers' lounge, police said.

    Deborah Logan, 46, of the 600 block of Dodge Avenue in Evanston surrendered to police Monday after a warrant for unlawful possession of marijuana was issued for her on Friday, Waukegan Police Cmdr. Wayne Walles said."

    I'm researching to find accurate info...what's it look like inside the teacher's lounge? I only have a quick little scene...however, I need to keep it real.

    Is it a large elaborate space with a fireplace? or

    A temporary wall that slides over in the cafeteria, which creates the space? or

    A glorified broom closet? or...

    Also, are there still PTA meetings?

    Thanks a big bunch!


  3. Pffft. A Fireplace. That's awesome.

    It depends on the school, but usually a teacher's "lounge" is a lot like an employee break room. There's a table and some chairs and a mini fridge and a microwave. A lot of times that's where you find the teachers' mail boxes and announcements tacked to the wall. Often there's a coffee pot.

    Most of the time there are teachers and administrators wandering in and out. I can't imagine how she thought she'd get away with smoking pot in there.

  4. Feel free to email me if you have any more questions about this stuff.


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