There is a public secondary institution of learning in Sacramento called Hiram W. Johnson High School. Supposedly, things are not as bad as they used to be, but just say the words "Hiram Johnson High School" in the greater Sacramento area, and people's thoughts will turn to images of the 'hood, gangs, violence, out-of-control students, inept administrators, and harried teachers. This is the school that convinced famous teacher Jaime Escalante of Stand and Deliver fame, to quit teaching. He had transferred to Sacramento and Hiram Johnson High to perform the same magic that he had accomplished down south, only to throw up his hands in despair and leave the teaching profession. Granted, he was getting old and was ready to retire, but here is what Escalante told the Sacramento Bee in 1998 when he decided to put down the chalk... er, whiteboard marker:
Escalante said he was not able to achieve the same levels of success at Johnson that he did in Los Angeles for several reasons, including a high turnover of vice principals that hampered his ability to build a comprehensive math program.I bring up Hiram Johnson H.S. because of yet another useless education article in the Sacramento Bee. At the top of Saturday's Metro section was an article entitled: School's class shift criticized: Lawyer who blasted Johnson High's lengthy use of subs also finds fault with its solution.
Another difficulty, he and others said, was connecting with the diverse array of families whose students attend Johnson. At Garfield, Escalante enjoyed smooth communication and an easy rapport with the families of his mostly Latino students. At Hiram Johnson, he found that many parents either didn't understand or objected to his demanding style and requests that students come for tutoring on weekends.
Escalante also said he found many of the teenagers of the '90s less motivated and more hardened toward adults and learning than those of a decade ago.
Sacramento City Unified officials overhauled Hiram Johnson High School's master schedule in November to get rid of classes that had been taught by substitute teachers for nearly three months.The article goes on to talk in more detail about the school's teacher shortage and the disposition of the students whose schedules were changed:
In the shuffle, at least two dozen students designated as "English-language learners" were removed from an intensive language tutoring class and placed mostly in elective classes including piano, art, French, and Spanish-for-Spanish-speakers, according to the students and their records....
In November, several concerned teachers brought to light a teacher shortage at Johnson High that had left nearly 400 students in classes with substitute teachers. District officials attributed the situation to the last-minute departure of three teachers before the school year began and an unexpected increase in enrollment.In an amusing twist of coincidence, a bunch of students - from a school that is 31% Hispanic, mind you - were moved from a second period English class to a... landscaping class. This excerpt from the article was priceless:
Officials said at the time that they had fixed the problem mostly by moving students from substitutes' classes into under-enrolled classes with permanent teachers.
Some of the students who were transferred into the landscaping class said they did not understand the placement and that the class has been a waste of time. "We just plant. I already know how to do that," said Jose Hernandez, 15.I earlier called this article useless because it avoids the one burning question that the writer is apparently afraid to ask: Why couldn't the school find enough permanent teachers to make the use of long-term substitute teachers unnecessary?
Allow me to take a stab at this one: Among many other extenuating factors, perhaps one of the biggest is that few teachers in their right minds would want to teach at Hiram W. Johnson High School. This is especially true when it comes to the subjects which are difficult to fill, such as Math, Science, and Special Education. If I was a Calculus teacher who could pretty much name my own ticket as to where I want to teach, why would I want to work in an environment such as Hiram Johnson when I could pick from any number of wonderful and relatively peaceful schools in the leafy suburbs? That statement may rub some of you the wrong way on some kind of warm and fuzzy "but what about social justice?" level, but the cold hard reality is that this is the way the situation often works. Even if your Calculus students are the diamonds in the rough at that school, you are still working in a toxic environment that assaults your senses from the time you get out of your car in the parking lot, through your many necessary trips through the hallways and quads, and your extra teacher duties which involuntarily thrust you into the chaos of the general student population. So the question remains: Why put up with that, when you can work somewhere else that is much more peaceful?
I realize that I am being highly speculative here - I don't even know the subjects that were taught by the three teachers at Hiram Johnson who left at the last minute. However, you are not going to tell me that those three positions could not have been filled; especially if they were positions in Social Science, Language Arts, or P.E., where candidates are plentiful. Finding teachers and hiring them is not the problem; retaining teachers and getting them to stay is the problem. When a school makes a name for itself as an institution that chews up new teachers and spits them out, then eventually, hiring does become a problem.
Whatever the difficulties were in finding new hires to make the subs unnecessary, the fact of the matter is that Hiram Johnson's reputation is its own worst enemy.
Good Day to You, Sir