"I feel comforted that there is someone who is putting out the truth."
Date: Wed, 24 Sep 1997 02:08:15 -0700
To: Richard Geib (email@example.com)
At 02:08 AM 9/24/97 -0700, you wrote:
I feel comforted that there is someone who is putting out the truth. But as you clearly stated, saints do not get rewarded for their work, and they certainly do not get paid in any financial way. That is the way of movie stars, boxers, and action heroes which society holds mightier than any teacher. How sad, but true. But how fortunate for teachers to risk their lives. Why what a hell on earth we would have if they didn't risk their lives in those places which are aptly described as being hell. Hell what would people think if suddenly hell was unleashed from the schools as a result of a massive shortage of teachers. A permanent shortage of teachers. Let the games begin. How unimportant teachers would be. Society would be begging us to return. To sacrifice our lives. And for nothing more than the silence teachers live with today. Except for now where the truth is being circulated through cyberspace in a forum where all can read about and express the catastrophe that is going on in teaching. I was a teacher and I suffered greatly. I was harassed and assaulted by students-and blamed for it. Administrators did almost as much damage as did students. There was a time when I could withstand almost anything-even death threats from students. But over time my resistance to such abuse gave way and I found myself burnt out and fatigued with the constant day to day battle zone fighting that went on in my room. One day I finally walked away. That was the greatest day of my life. Leaving and not feeling guilty about the whole thing. I saved my humanity on that day and realized what it meant to be a teacher. It meant knowing when to get out. I feel sorry for a friend who felt ashamed for not succeeding at school. He felt his masculinity to be at stake if he left. He forced himself to teach for two long miserable years before he was almost fired-literally. In his last year his room was fire bombed, his car windows were broken several times, and he had to take leave because students threatened to take his life if he came to class. Now he is a nervous wreck and wishes he had left like I had. I agree with you that all Hollywood is interested in is making a lot of money by portraying teachers as romantic heroes or idiots who somehow make it "work." We know better. Like the trenches of World War I, the schools of America continually take the lives and souls of the teachers who try to make a difference. The shortage of teachers is obvious in that I repeatedly get phone calls from principals who want me to come in and take over classes that aren't working. Yet in all cases I haven't applied for a job in years! But they're still calling. When will they ever learn that some people just don't like to be tortured on a daily basis? I guess not as long as we as a society allow for this terrible tragedy to continue. I only shudder when I think of the results that are about to reach us in the next ten years. I came to teaching with a heart of gold and left with one that was full of lead. For after teaching in a war zone you are lucky if your heart is not dead. I really liked reading your web page and I hope it grows. The truth must be known.
Despite the special students I did have at Berendo, I look back upon my time there with horror. And I only calm myself with the thought that my solitary URL exists in cyberspace telling the "truth" so anyone can read it. I managed to get Yahoo! to list it and now almost a 1,000 people a month visit that URL, and this makes me immensely happy. But I have put Berendo and the LAUSD behind me, and I refuse to give it the power to continue to affect my mood. Everyone has their comfort zone, and it seems both of us have been outside of that in past teaching jobs. So we moved on.
I now teach at a private college prep school where I am very happy. Every single day I am thankful to be teaching here and not at Berendo, and I really feel for the first time that I teach in a school (and not a ESL-citizenship/babysitting/prison/school). I get paid considerably more money, the conditions are much better, the students more polite, the level of teaching incomparably higher, etc. And there are absolutely no problems with discipline and the students care very much about their grades and want to learn! I am in heaven! There are other teachers at my school who have only taught at private schools and have no idea what is like elsewhere. That is a trap I will never fall into. I know how good I presently have it and am doing all I can to teach better than ever before. I feel "empowered," to use that trite word. At Berendo, I was completely "disempowered."
I fully understand your anger. But if you don't let go it will burn you up inside. I taught in a "war zone" yet I did not leave with my "heart dead." I left wondering at the infinite fallibility and weakness of people, and I learned a humility which comes from watching people struggle to survive when they have very little going for them. Watching all the waste out there in bozoland, I just wanted to cry. Not blame people or curse, I just finally wanted to cry. But I have put that stage of my life behind me and now I am open to whatever life throws at me next. This world can hurt and even kill me. But it cannot destroy me. That is a part of the good Berendo taught me, and I am richer for having learned it.
And as for the predator types who threaten teachers, other students, "firebomb cars", and "break windows" - mess up anyone or anything that crosses their paths... Well, there are all kinds of justice in this world and they will be the ones who ultimately pay the most for their actions. A gangster with a gun in his belt wants to stand up and say to the world, "I am here!" Both you and I know that if he doesn't change his ways soon, he might not be "here" very much longer. Any mindless idiot with the will to violence can be a gangster, but not everyone can work hard, learn discipline, do well in school, and make something of themselves. Secure in this knowledge, this allows me usually to look upon gangsters not with hatred but with pity. Those gangsters have their path in life and I have mine. I wish them only what they deserve - no more, no less.
Not all schools fail to protect their teachers. I am sure in every corner of this country good schools can be found if you take the time to look. I found one (even in the Los Angeles area!), and the job now is so different that it fairly astounds me! I am a new teacher again (with a "heart of gold")! Perhaps you can find such a school and renew your faith in the honorable profession of teaching. As a teacher you might be bloodied, but you will be wiser. My students might not have any idea why I am smiling so much when they arrive to my classroom, but it doesn't matter and my happiness is infectious. And I have no doubt there are kids who need you in the same way.
My link about teaching at Berendo will stay on the Web for years and it is advertised so anyone searching for "LAUSD" etc, will stumble across it (as did you). And my webpage will continue to grow. Thank you for the kind words about both.
I hope this e-mail finds you well up in NoCal.
Very Truly Yours,