At 11:27 PM 6/25/97 -0700, you wrote: Your essay made me very sad. I have been teaching at one of the elementary schools which feeds to Berendo for five years now, and I have such a different perspective. Maybe some incredible change happens between elementary and middle school, or maybe I am just naive.
I'm sorry my essay made you sad. And, yes, the difference is huge between middle school and elementary school. In fact, I noticed a huge change between sixth and seventh grade (I much preferred the sixth-graders). In middle school, the kids either go one way or the other. This is normal adolescent development, but Pico-Union is not a "normal" place for adolescents to grow up in and hence the results which are so plain to see...
To deny that large amounts of ex-Berendo students (and probably students of yours and mine) do not go on to commit murders, robberies, etc. in later adolescence and adulthood is to truly be naive. As teachers, you and I can only do what we can do; any students that do succeed in such an environment fraught with such danger is partly to our credit (as well as the hard work and decisions made by the students themselves). If the bad and the ugly be realities, so is the good. Now blissfully away from Pico-Union, the troubled and violent students who caused problems and didn't care about school at all have long since begun to fade into fuzzy memories while I often think about those students who I really enjoyed teaching. I think about them and I contemplate what a privilege and pleasure it was to simply spend time with them. And more than anything else, I wish them well wherever they are now.
At any rate, I wish you luck out there in Pico-Union with your students. I also hope you were able to visit some of my more positive webpages.
Very Truly Yours,
P.S. Check out the following URL for a more optimist take on my Berendo days:
At 02:34 PM 6/26/97 -0700, you wrote:
You say that to deny that many ex-Berendo students go on to commit a variety of crimes is to truly be naive. Woah--that stings! Although this may very well be true, I can not let that thought affect my teaching. I suppose that one of the priveleges of teaching Kindergarten is to be able to look out at all their enthusiastic faces and do your best to hope that the children can maintiain whatever level of innocence and excitement they bring with them to school for the time that they spend with you. If I thought too much about which road they would go down once they got to middle school I might just decide to throw in the towel.
I really sound idealistic don't I? Maybe this is just how I maintain my sanity.
I do not remember you saying that some ex-Berendo students do not go on to commit a variety of crimes, etc.; it was not meant as a personal criticism of you. The more I think about it, the more I think it all happens in elementary school. The team teacher I used to partner up with and I used to get so pissed off at the beginning of the year when we would get the sixth graders from elementary school and discover they could hardly write a coherent sentence in English or Spanish. We would say to ourselves, "What the hell have these kids been doing for six years in elementary school!?!"
Now I don't mean that as another personal insult to any of the Berendo feeder-schools because I know the many problems that those students face. The high school teachers say the exact same thing about us middle-school teachers. However, no matter how important it is to be a supportive parental figure to young people, it is our job primarily how to teach them to read, write, and do arithmetic. And it is there that I was most frustrated in working for the LAUSD.
I became a teacher because I loved literature, languages, history, ideas, and thinking. Even at the sixth-grade level, the kids are just too young to really start teaching anything that I find very interesting. I am busy interviewing for high school positions for the next school year. People tell me high school is better because the absolute worst-case students drop out and the school and teachers are left with the "core group" that really wants to learn. We shall see as I truly hope to not teach middle school again. But I know wherever I go, I am going to once a year take the middle school teachers out to dinner at my expense to show my appreciation and urge them to keep sending me academically well-prepared students.
I think I would not last two months teaching kindergarten or first grade. A man has to know his limitations and I bet they would get squirrely and then I would get mad, raise my voice, and then the students would cry and everyone would be miserable. One of my New Year's Resolutions this year was to be teaching Advanced Placement classes in a prestigious school district within two years. You can find motivated college prep students and AP classes in the LAUSD, but there are sure a lot fewer of them than in other districts. We shall see what happens.
I genuinely believe that most people (teachers and administrators) in the LAUSD are trying to do their best to help their students. However, I also believe that the bottom line is that they are not producing very many well-educated and academically prepared young adults ready for university work. When the Cal State system comes out with some scathing report about how poorly prepared are the freshman entering the system, I just want to tell them, "No kidding! Tell me something I don't know! It is very easy to criticize the LA city schools. Why don't you come on over here and spend six months teaching here day-in and day-out?" People don't know what it is like. I didn't know what it was like until I taught there and it broke my heart.
Interesting about Yucca and Wilcox. I lived in there in 1994 and the place was drug dealer central. It boggles the mind some to think that it used to be a place with a decent quality of life. Yet one of my best friends grew up across the street from Berendo at the corner of New Hampshire and Pico and he told me the area was not so bad when he was growing up. He said that it only started going to hell in a hand basket during the late 1980s. He finally moved his mother out of the area shortly before the riots and now you could not pay him enough money to move back there.
Very Truly Yours,
P.S. Good teachers are idealistic by nature. I very much respect idealism when it is at the same time tempered by a strong dose of reality. :-)