“Inner City School Teacher Blues”

June 9, 2007 at 9:16 am | Posted in education, inner city, teachers | 3 Comments

Please read this article written by a once idealistic middle school teacher who wanted to make a difference, and then left because he felt that it was hopeless. I would like to know your opinion before I post mine.

Many paragraphs strike me:

Every now and again I encounter some enthusiastic college student with a gleam in his/her eye telling me who they want to become a public defender, social worker, or school teacher in the inner-city, and I have to laugh to myself softly as something inside me melts a little painfully, strongly suspecting what life has in store for them. (I still respect such people and wish them all the luck in the world – one has to start out idealistic, I think. Too many people who start out corrupted become nearly worthless with the passage of time.) I survived my time at Berendo without losing my initial idealism without which a teacher is impotent and nearly useless (or a vehicle for causing more harm than good).

However, I realized that idealism need be tempered by a strong dose of reality. Unfortunately, reality was not something the Los Angeles Unified School District – or, I dare say, the community of Los Angeles – was ready to face: the schools there are full of “students” who are not students! One might read an article about the “troubled L.A. school system,” but that does not even begin to capture the colossal magnitude or bitter reaches of the disaster. The reality would break your heart! And the children should not ultimately be to blame – that role should go to the “responsible” adults who should know better (LAUSD Superintendent, administrators, city officials, community leaders, parents, etc.) and make the necessary decisions. I hate to say it because it is unpleasant, but I left the LAUSD utterly disgusted with my school and my role in it (even knowing most of the school and certainly myself were doing our best). That is the honest and painful truth.

As well as:

When you read about good teachers looking for ways out of low-income, poverty schools, hearken back to the voice you heard in this story about one man’s experience with the LAUSD and then try to understand.

A fellow teacher at my school is leaving the school, not because of the students, but because of the school system, ineffective teachers, and inefficient administration. She feels angry and I cannot blame her because our school system sets up our students to fail. It is a sad situation for me because she has the ideals and the potential to be an excellent teacher, a powerful force for change at our school. I can only respect her decision to leave our school and move to a better run school in a similar neighborhood elsewhere.

Now contrast that with Salome Thomas-El who Chose to Stay.

Well, what are your opinions and thoughts about this other inner city school teacher?


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  1. […] out the Four Stages of Teaching as a frame of reference, the context, for my discussion about the “Inner City Teacher Blues” blog.   Again, I shall not opine anything till […]

  2. I skimmed of this guy’s arguments and problems with LAUSD. . . here are my comments

    I think it is important to be idealistic in this profession. I think that when you are not idealistic, you loose effectiveness, eagerness and overall skill in the classroom. I have watched this happen over and over again in my own school. You have pessimist, non committal people working in a crowded classroom with discipline problems. This problem is hard to solve b/c teaching a hard job and it will wear on you! It’s emotionally as well as physically draining. There should be some sort of refresher or retreat for teachers to combat this problem, but it doesn’t seem to be any concern about this (at district or national levels) high turnover rate.

    No, graduate school or teacher education programs do NOT prepare you for what really happens in an inner city school. No one prepares you for the parents. No one prepares you for the politics of the district or even the school. Surely, there is no preparation for dealing poverty and how it affects students’ education. But, at the same time, I’ve heard CaliforniaTeacherGuy say over and over the teaching profession is a calling. It is a calling you must be wholeheartedly committed to even with the “good, the bad and the ugly.”

    Mr. Geib’s biggest complaint is student apathy. If you are teacher, you must be committed to educate the students even if they don’t want it. Unfortunately, now our job requires us to motivate the students, b/c they are not getting it home. We have to show them that what we are offering is good; however, the teacher must first know that what they are offering is good. Then the students are motivated to learn.

    I celebrate little things as well as big things. I learned this from being in AmeriCorps. Poverty creates apathy—what has changed the environment of my classroom is that I celebrate little as well as big things! One thing that we have to keep in mind is that we will not always see the effects of what we do. As much as standardized tests and other things try to measure it, we will not know the magnitude of our work for at least ten years. Sometimes we’ll never know. Mr. Geib gave up easily—people aren’t computers, they won’t instantly be produce results or be grateful. Our students are not like when we were growing up. Our students aren’t neat little boxes. We must meet them where they are and then build them up to where they are supposed to be.

    Also, “Stand and Deliver” is a good movie, but seeing that it is about 20 years old, it wasn’t exactly an accurate depiction of what happens in an urban classroom. Surely, folks know this. It was the Hollywood edited version. If you want to be Mr. Escalante, play him in the sequel.

  3. Proverbs, I can’t agree with you more. Your response was eloquent and on the ball. I only have one thing to add. This teacher seemed to go into teaching with the mindset of becoming the hero, saving the students, and life just doesn’t work that way. The teacher expects to make an impact immediately without first working at becoming a teacher. From the four stages of teaching (Fantasy, Survival, Mastery, Impact), Mr. Geib had a fantasy of teaching and never left the survival stage, perhaps he did not intend to become a teacher, only a hero. Our students don’t need a hero. They already have too many “heroes”. They need a teacher, and that requires hard work, time, commitment, and a willingness to fail time and again during the learning process.

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