Those who can, teach;
Those who can't, administrate.

Hasta los perritos abren los ojos a los quince días; Los pendejos, jamás.
--un refran mexicano de José Burciaga

California Teachers:

The educational bureaucracy is firmly entrenched and has us all scared. I'm not. I'm not in that condition of indentured servitude of "internship" or "teacher in training," attempting to get my credential while teaching at the same time. While I'm still somewhat fearful of "the bureaucracy," I also know that in any field, the closer you get to the top, the nicer people you find. It's just in the areas of middle management when dealing with people suffering from the Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome that we find the most twisted misapplications of the most well-meaning reforms. Well, that's what happens when you get your information from a video and not from books and research. We've all got a whale of a tale to tell or two for the annual "bad boss" contest. It's a great stress-reliever too. If we can collect enough stories in one place (and you can hide behind me), we might be on our way to equity in education.

Let me start you off with some especially memorable job interviews. First, I labor under the handicap of real certification obtained on my own: an M.A., two California credentials, a Language Development Specialist certificate and 95% of a bilingual certificate in Spanish. The teacher shortage is manufactured. I have gone to many districts to be "screened [out]," a formality to give the illusion of legal compliance with fair employment practices. You see, they have interviewed people with the qualifications, "but they weren't qualified."

Every couple of years I make a foray into the barren field of public education, rebuffed, disgruntled, disgusted, and worst of all, nursing severe damage to my ego--I pay for districts to keep the illusion of compliance. I return to my many part-time jobs in remedial education at the community college level. I'd like to get in at a level to try to prevent the necessity for remedial classes. Bureaucrats don't see the logic in that--"Why if we actually educate people during the time we're supposed to, we might lose out on some of those government categorical funds that are there to help us remediate our failures!"

One year, I called Hacienda-La Puente for an interview because I noticed that the business signs in the area were in the kind of Mandarin Chinese spoken and written in Taiwan, where I lived for ten years. I thought I could be a good cultural liason between the Chinese speaking parents and the district. They interviewed me in Spanish. After receiving my Language Development Specialist Certificate, with Chinese as my second-language base, I was interviewed to be a junior high school Spanish teacher in Lancaster. I was interviewed in Spanish twice in Alvord Unified, once before I knew more than my high school Spanish and once after having given up and enrolled in Spanish classes.

In Palmdale I suffered through a meat-market job fair and interviewed with several districts. I had $20 in my wallet and nothing in the bank and got lost in the desert on the way home and nearly ran out of gas, but no job. The one district that seemed interested, "Gee, you absolutely exude intelligence. Why do you have so many B's and C's on your transcripts?" (Gee, I don't know. Could it be that when I graduated from college, a "C" was a good, hard-earned grade, and what is now a four-unit four-hour a week art class was then a two-unit four hour a week class and I took at least 16 units a semester--if it's not taxing your math too much, figure it out: that's 26 hours in class per week plus 52 hours outside of class work for those and a grand total of 78 hours a week is the minimum work for 16 units in my field. You learn to make sacrifices. Why not look at all the A's or the 100% in Math and English on the National Teachers' Exam: that is a comparison of my abilities to the standards applied to college graduates today.")--I was questioned until it was discovered that I didn't know how to bar-code a CD to play in class so that I could make advance selections. How hard in the hell can that be? I still don't know how to do it, but I do write web pages.

I interviewed in Alhambra Unified--ESL coordinator to provide hands-on experiential lessons for the district, including teacher training in appropriate ESL/Language Development strategies. It looked like a job tailor-made for me. I met with the moldy representatives in a trailer full of grammar-based ESL books. The requisite overweight bilingual specialist in moth-eaten sweater was there. She objected to me because I speak standard Chinese (Mandarin--the language of all of China, regardless of whatever other regional dialect they may speak), and, knowing little to nothing about China or Chinese, insisted that everyone there spoke Cantonese, which is an entirely separate language (it isn't). It's funny how many people in Hong Kong I can converse with in Chinese. I was not hired because "it seemed that [I] was more inclined toward "Language Learning than Language Acquisition." The job went unfilled.

The last straw was with Torrance Unified, where I "was not selected for a [sic] elementary position"--and there's more to this story than the attached open letter, but I can swallow these insults and remain silent no longer. By the length of the letter, you can see I remained silent too long. You might want to print it out to read; it's long.

Fortunately, after that "last straw," I got a break, temporary, but a break nonetheless, and went to work for Westminster School District, where I found the people in the district office some of the best-educated and most courteous people I've met in a district office since I left Taiwan and Taipei American School and ELSI.

Any ACLU lawyers out there interested in taking on the state and getting the people responsible to more adequately supervise districts? We need to clean house from the top down.

12 January 1999. Maybe with a change at the top--Welcome, Governor Davis and your education committee--some things will change for the better, but right now, I don't know how much good my suggestion about getting "the state to more adequately supervise districts" would do.

Compton Unified, taken over by the state some five years ago, provides a good example of the lack of leadership on the part of Delaine Eastin's office, which is largely decorative. It is fond of saying that it has no control over individual districts, so what does it exist for? According to the state board of education, Ms. Eastin is the school board for Compton Unified. Faced with a complaint against them, regarding suspect hiring practices, she passed the responsibility for writing a response on to a subordinate to write that she had no control over the district, that it was under local control. Mind you that her office is being sued by the mayor and citizens of Compton to have control returned to them in the face of gross state mismanagement of resources. She then praised the State Superintendent for Compton Unified, Randolph Ward, as "a talented administrator." Under his "talented" leadership, the fields at the schools are dry, the bungalows look like storage shacks, listing this way and that, hinges askew, off their foundations, and 60% of the teachers are uncredentialed, but Ward writes to the Los Angeles Times (December 1998) with pride, citing as an accomplishment of his administration that they have built a new administration building.
With any luck, Eastin's office, an elected office, will soon be dissolved, to be filled with someone who is actually in education and not a political science graduate who "has taught" (guest lectured?) "at the community college level."

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Substitute teachers: how are you treated? Some districts treat us as valuable members of the district (after all, without us, the schools wouldn't get their bucks for bodies in the classroom when the teachers are out); many districts treat us as second-class teachers. What has your experience been?

I invite you to contribute any horror stories you have had or articles you have read to the collection. Please contact me at
Collected horror stories
National Project Organizing Substitute Teachers
Militant Educational Reform Sites
Education Reform from the Radicalized Middle
Seattle Public Schools' Un Home Page
5 Towns High School Confidential
An open letter to Torrance Unified
Compton Unified (under construction pending copy of Superintendent Randolph Ward's letter to the LA Times, December 1998) prides itself on a new administration building while it can't afford to water the grass on its fields and has "some concerns" about the hiring of credentialed teachers from "the other side of the tracks."

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California Department of Education Site
"America Reads"
(not yet--federal dept. of education; senate records)
California Challenge Standards
California Reading Initiative
California Reading Initiative
Materials from workshops
Mrs. Johnson's Launch Pad
Great American Culture and ESL Links and Pages
Ali Baba's Books for Teachers
Lots of books for new teaching of reading practices
Mrs. Johnson's K/1 Combo
What a great bunch of children and parents I was blessed with. These are the people education is for--not the administrators. Let's not lose sight of who it is we serve and who pays the bills.
Mrs. Johnson's Hot Links
(SCORE Lesson Plans and some others are linked here already)
Ali Baba's Bookshop Annexe
Books for ESL and Developing Readers
Grammar Police
Lie/Lay; its/it's; past participles; and a spell checker's only as good as your knowledge of usage (see the Dept of Ed's "scared cow"!)