A Tale of Two Back to School Nights

Excitement and enthusiasm were in the air as teachers in my new high school in a middle class neighborhood prepared their classrooms by decorating their bulletin boards, displaying student work, and straightening desks. Welcome messages abounded, Remind.com messages were sent, and we opened our doors to meet the parents.
I have done these events for 24 years, four times a year at my former school in South Central L.A. But this year’s Back to School Night left me reflecting, and perhaps shedding a tear.
First, my new parents were fantastic. They were friendly, enthusiastic, and supportive of the new ideas I bring to the school. I knew in them I would have allies to incorporate my findings from my Fulbright exchange in Finland earlier this year. Parent after parent nodded their heads and strongly affirmed that break time was important to students, teachers, and workers in general. They were excited to hear about the summer travel programs I had prepared.
As I looked at their warm and s…

Farewell, Ms. Sanlin

Teacher of the Year is Inspired and Enlightened by Talented, Laid-Off New Teacher

Dear Ms. Sanlin,
My mind is having a hard time accepting the reality of what is to come in less than three weeks. You, a superbly talented new teacher, who has been a source of invigoration and inspiration to me and fellow colleagues for the last two years, have chosen not to linger in limbo and have accepted a teaching position in New York City next year.  When you received your Reduction in Force notice on March 15th, I know you hoped it would be rescinded, and that the District would realize that you cannot decimate a struggling school by laying off 23 of its 112 committed teachers.  This is, however, what happened and it means that 200 students in our hard to staff school in South Central Los Angeles, will be deprived of the magic of your teaching and your vibrant personality next school year. 

I remember your first year of teaching (last year), when we shared a class of difficult students.  One, in particular, posed a plethora of challenges.  I was at my wits end with interventions, when you calmly turned around to look at me at a meeting and told me of your surprise home visit to the student's house.  You had kept a minute by minute log of the student's egregious behavior in class and proceeded to recite it to her gathered family.  "At 2:21 pm, Sara* got out of her seat and hit Diego in the head.  2:23 p.m.  After I isolated Sara in the front row, she threw her notebook at Mario.  2:27 p.m.  Sara shouts profanity across the room...,"  Sara's mouth dropped as you recited these facts to her parents because she never believed a teacher, much less a new one, would ever dare visit her home.  In your class, Sara succumbed to your authority.  In mine, she hovered over the acceptable behavior line.

Your classroom management was instant.  You immediately picked up on the nuances that linked motivation and performance.  You knew how to engage the students while upholding high standards of student conduct and civility, even though you were not assigned the Honors classes.  This allowed you to attack the California Standards in US History in a planned, methodical way (although you had been told they would be impossible to cover in a year) and taught them in-depth, with complexity.  Your students, by the end of the year, were performing on-par with the Honors students.  You not only covered all of the material, you infused it with literature, music, and primary sources.  When I asked you where you came up with such great ideas, you answered "its in the standards."  

You brought our department into the 21st century by establishing a google group where we could post updates, pacing plans, and lesson ideas.  You showed us how we could have a common calendar and receive email updates when we were off track.  Thanks to you, the chronic problem of communication at a three track school was resolved.

You taught your science class with the same creativity and intensity, and managed to conduct several labs that involved students handling hazardous materials, combustibles, and possible projectiles.  Not once was there a behavior problem.  In fact, you knew how to motivate students to prove to you that they were responsible enough to handle these objects, and you established clear rules of behavior during these times.

As an African-American teacher, you were a role model to young girls who idolized your wardrobe and were intrigued by your "proper" language.  You had the teachers laughing in the lunchroom when you described how your students would sneak by your classroom, dragging their friends along so they could hear how you spoke.  I'm sure it wasn't just your language that attracted them.  It was also your quick wit, your tech-savviness, and your ability to not fall for the obligatory tricks they will play on new teachers.  

Our school has marched in front of Beaudry, leafleted every Friday for three months, called, emailed, and faxed our board members to no avail.  You and 22 other talented teachers will be unwillingly removed from our school site on July 1st.  I knew you would not, and should not, leave your fate in the hands of people who have admitted themselves to not know the solution to this overwhelming economic crisis.  The money the charter school in New York spent to fly you out for an interview was money well spent.  They have stolen the light of our future from under our noses, and we were powerless to stop it from happening.  Tracie Sanlin, my esteemed colleague, I thank you for your two years of service to L.A. Academy.  Your students will never forget you, and neither will I.
L Martha Infante
*not student's real name


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