Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Practice Lesson at Torrance High School

"Go Beach!" I saw tattooed all over the bulletin board behind the teacher's desk. Such was Ms. S' room set up for me. She would be the mentor teacher who would lead me through some lesson planning and presentation for high school students.

Torrance High School -- my beloved alma mater. I have always loved the quaint aspect of that big and widespread campus. I was still a good acquaintance of the janitor, who let me watch home games for free whenever I had the chance.

My former band director, US History teacher, and some of my English teachers were also there, so I got to catch up and see what they were all up to. Not too much had changed at the school, besides the administrative staff, but that has always been a given at the high schools in Torrance.

So, I was there to teach a lesson, at my alma mater, and I looked forward to it.

This blond bombshell, Ms. S., would be my mentor teacher-lite, i.e., she would lead me through preparing a lesson for her sophomores after I observed her for two weeks. I wanted to teach a lesson on propaganda. The United States had invaded Iraq last year, and I was seeing a lot of racy rhetoric against President Bush, including one poster than compared him to the Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Propaganda was the theme for the week that I stepped in to observe Ms. S. She loved to dress up transparencies with little quotes from strange people. She loved making empty, yet pithy, phrases about what historical figures would say if they talked like the students of today.

She seemed like an easy going sort, at first, but the teacher who took me under her wing turned out to be an outlandish loud-mouth who considered herself God's gift to education.

She was a young prodigy under Mr. C. from Cal State Long Beach, and that should have warned me to steer clear of this self-praising cheerleader addicted to collecting frogs, talking about her frequent trips to Europe, and the frequent yelling at students who prized themselves on interrupting her while she was talking with other people.

She was full of herself, more intent on getting by than helping a teacher in training to get better.

I observed her class for a week and a half. She was quite a clown, adding contemporary pop-culture icons to the transparencies, trying to jazz up the study of World History, specifically World War I. She liked to make funny noises and take on different voices which she was giving a lecture.

It seemed to me that his lady was going out of her way just to keep the students awake and interested, when in all honesty it all seemed really fatuous and silly.

Still, she had spunk, she had energy, and she had willingly volunteered her time to help me earn my credential.

In the off hours, she and I decided that I would create a lesson based on propaganda. I threw myself into this new assignment, preparing fliers and games which connected with the United States' invasion of Iraq, which had taken place at the same time last year. I found a number of useful sites, as well, which I could copy and prepare for the overhead projector.

In addition to prepping a lesson for her World History students, I visited other classrooms, including my former English teacher. She was still a crass and unpleasant lady, smoking like a chimney when no one was watching. She still belittled everyone and everything that got in her way, gave her a hard time. She was not a pleasant lady then, and she was not a good teacher now. Mrs. P was a real piece of work, and not the good kind. I will have more to share about her in another post. . .

I went to see Mr. Zat in his US History class. I really liked his class. He was my AP teacher. I still remember getting a five on that test. I was so proud, but I knew that I was going to do very well on that test the first week of that school year, since the year before I had taken and passed the entrance exam with flying colors. Cheery and welcoming as ever, he told me that I would have a better time student-teaching during the spring semester, since the mentor teacher would have the students "civilized" for me to teach them.

I visited another history teacher, Mr M. a bright cherry of a man with golden-gleaming hair -- I envied the man, who looked so sharp and polished, even though his students felt that he was a condescending bore who spent an entire period telling them how to enter the room properly. After class, Mr. M. and I had a chance to catch up on old times. He asked me how I was supporting myself while earning the teaching credential. He then proceeded to tell me about surreptitious political problems which had been plaguing the district, in large part because of unforeseen budget issues. He also shared with me some clandestine matters which had led to the forced closure of necessary prep classes, courses which would have helped students to be proficient, if not college bound, yet which were closed on account of the fact that the "cult of equality" had begun dominating school boards over the past few decades. The whole time that Mr. M. was railing against district leadership, he kept telling me not to mention his name or to connect anything that he was sharing with me to him directly. I was hardly impressed with the man's forced suppression. Was this the domineering factor in school politics? All of this secrecy seems to be causing more problems than solving, but at the time I had no further interest in pursuing these  matters. I wanted to get a job and get out of the house and get on with my life, and a veteran teacher's personal problems interested me very little.

For the next week and a half, I was observing classes, catching up with familiar faces -- including my counselor, who helped me escape from one of the worst physic teachers ever, letting me take another French survey class, instead. He was dismayed that I was not pursuing French, but instead I was interested in teaching history. Still, I was happy to touch bases with him after all these years.

Finally, the day came, the day that I would teach a lesson in Ms. S. World History class. I was prepped, I was planned, I was prepared for the day that I would teach my lesson. Yet from the morning when I took off from my house to getting to the high school, I had nothing but trouble, so it seemed. I got into a mini-fender-bender on the way to the high school. I had to rush with about ten minutes left for me to use. From the get-go, some of the students seemed pressed to just give me a hard time. One young lady kept interrupting me, just seeing if she could knockoff topic. Another young lady took offense at one of the examples which I had used to illustrate how  popular commercials today reach out to target demographics.

I was not ready for the opposition that teenagers would just give as a matter of fact to new or guest teachers. I was really nervous for that day, especially from the slight rattling that I had endured on the way to work, plus with little time to prep. Man, what a tough day that was -- still, Ms. S. gave me a pass for the lesson. She wrote a nice little evaluation for me, and off I went.

Things could have been worse, I guess. I had no idea, however, how hard teaching would be for a student teacher, the pitfalls of which I only briefly learned about during these brief lessons. The makeshift practice that credential programs want teachers in training to endure are in many ways a grand and blasted waste of time. I cannot see the value in pushing a teacher to sit through a week or two weeks of observing, only to teach a little lesson to a bunch of students who have no real incentive to listen to you.

I had a lot to learn about the rampant failures of the teaching credential program at Cal State Long Beach, and the experience that I sat, watched, and taught through was but a tip of the iceberg.

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