About This Blog

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 5.51.53 PMMy name is Ellie Herman. This blog, Gatsby In L.A., is my record of my sabbatical from teaching during the 2013-14 school year, during which I visited high school English classrooms across the socioeconomic spectrum in order to answer two questions:

  1. What’s a great teacher?

2. What do we mean when we say “a good education?”

Before writing this blog, I taught English and electives at a charter high school in South Los Angeles.  Along the way, I talked to dozens of teachers, administrators and parents, sat in many, many classrooms, and connected with readers in Los Angeles and beyond.  Several of my posts went viral, picked up by other, larger blogs and shared by teachers on social media.  My most popular post was “Why Do Teachers Obsess that They’re Not Good Enough?”

Even now, two years after I stopped posting, teachers continue to seek out this site, sometimes very late in the night. I don’t have easy answers to anything, but I hope that these posts, and my search here, can provide community.

If you are one of those teachers, this blog is dedicated to you, out of respect for your choice to give so much every day when our educational system sometimes does not honor, respect or prepare us for the essential work that we do.   I hope that this blog can introduce you to other teachers who also work so hard for the dream that every child has an equal right to an education.

Thank you for all that you do every day for the next generation.



8 thoughts on “About This Blog”

  1. Hi Ellie,
    I too taught in LA for many years, HS English, Social Studies, etc., mostly at North Hollywood High – the HGM and the Naturalist Academy – but also Hami & Bravo. (Lil’ bits on the Discovery Channel program Monster House, PBS documentary Beyond Brown, and local papers.) Now I’m in Pescadero, from the urban to the rural, and my principal sent me your article in EdSource. If you are following 11th grade English and would like another perspective, let me know.
    Best wishes,

  2. Hi Elie,
    I too until recently was a teacher at LAUSD’s Crenshaw High School and was enrolled in the District intern program after serving as a substitute teacher for 9 years. No one can deny my dedication to my job, I was prepared every day and was focused on helping disadvantaged students learn math. Before my carreer in education I was a senior production illustrator in the film industry, I entered the classroom with a strong desire to serve the needs of all of my students. I chose math even though my passion is in the arts because it is often a way towards a meaningful carreer and provides a path out of poverty. I sacrificed, taking several tests, and enrolling in the
    District Intern Program which required me to teach and learn at the same time.
    From the outset my experience with LAUSD has been on of frustration and revulsion at the graft, corruption, and incompetence exhibited by the administration and leadership of this school district.
    I graduated in 2012 from the D.I. program, earning a preliminary credential in Single Subject Math and was prepared to start BTSA to clear my credential,expecting that I was going to be on staff for the second year at Crenshaw High School. What transpired the next fall was all part of John Deazy’s plan to get rid of veteran teachers and unburdening LAUSD of having to pay their higher salaries. I was placed in the teacher substitute pool and was told that I had to answer to a ‘teacher quality specialist’ that would ‘help’ me to find a position. What this person’s real job was to try to find any excuse to write up as many veteran teachers as she could, needless to say she was useless in her apparent job to place me in a position. I was in effect I was told that it was my responsibility to find a position, and that I could not participate in BTSA because I did not occupy a permanent teaching position. I soldiered on during that fall doing the competent job I had done for years as a substitute teacher working in some of the most challenging schools in the district. What I saw during this time was principals that behaved like tyrants, administrators that were unhelpful or incompetent and students that were served poorly by LAUSD.I still went out on interviews and did my best to teach the students in my charge . I felt disempowered by system and increasingly indignant at the way I was being treated, but no one , including my union wanted to help. I was placed in a disadvantaged position since being assigned as a ‘pool teacher’ made me a marked man by implying that I was placed there because I was incompetent in the eyes of principals that could hire me even though I had recieved nothing but favorable evaluations. Despite this I was not about to quit so when a math position opened up in the spring at Crenshaw high school I jumped at the chance to interview at the school I had taught at the previous year. I did well when the hiring committee interviewed me (some of the members were colleagues who had seen me teach before) and was hired without being interviewed by the principal.
    I entered my teaching assignment at one of the lowest achieving high schools in the state three weeks into the semester. What I walked into was utter chaos, a flood of substitute teachers had come and gone and needless to say student behavior was conducive to learning math, and the students were by and large not at grade level in any of my 6 classes. I wrote a letter to the princepal outlining my strategies and asking for the things I needed to be successful, he spoke to me briefly saying that he would address these issues but in the end he did nothing. I took the ball in my hands and contacted as many of the students parents that I could introducing myself, explaining what I wanted to accomplish for their children, and when necessary informing them of their son’s or daughter’s inappropriate behavior. it took the administrators at Crenshaw 2 weeks to get me the teachers editions of the textbook I needed to teach 4 different classes, Algebra 1. Algebra 2, Geometry, and remedial math (that’s right 4 different preps!).Despite my repeated requests for an LCD projector to project problems and solutions on the white board, I was never given one because some incompetent administrator had ordered the wrong bulbs for all of the projectors at the school and I was told that we had already exceeded our budget for technology. I dealt with all of the discipline problems and made progress in fostering a positive learning environment for all of my students. I brought food for them to offer incentives for them , I stayed in at lunch and nutrition, I stayed 2to 3 hours after school organizing my classroom and making myself available for tutoring (I had few takers). My work day started at 5:00 am and often ended at 10:00. In summary I did everything I was trained to do , I put my heart and soul into my job and I challenge anyone to do better.
    What happened next was surreal, in February, I was notified by my Teacher Quality Specialist that I would not be asked back to teach for LAUSD the next fall. I met with this person and was told that the reason that I was not invited back was that I did not occupy a permanent position. I asked the principal why I was given a non reelect; his response was that he knew nothing of this and that he had no reason to issue me one. My teacher quality speciialist met with my principal, afterwhich I discussed my tenure at Crenshaw with him and asked him why I was being treated the way I had been, he just equivicated and I never got a straight answer from him. My only course of action to preserve my reputation as a teacher was to resign ( a non-reelect on a teacher’s record is the kiss of death). So I did, the only time in my life that I have walked away from a challenge.What else could I do? It was impractical suing LAUSD since they have a substantial budget for legal services and I longer have a job.So I have moved on.
    The point in telling my story is so that you know that competent ,dedicated teachers are being unjustly forced out by a corrupt , and ineffective school district, the story I have told you is being perpetrated on other undeserving teachers as we speak.Where are our constitutional rightst? We are being subjected to a devious and cruel plot to get rid of veteran teachers, or anyone that question John Deazy’s and the school boards corrupt plans to privatize LAUSD. If you don’t believe me , follow the money ( Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Ex NYC Mayor Bloomberg). Veteran teachers are the lifeblood of an effective teacher corps.Let’s see where student achievement and graduation rates are in 5 years (good luck with common core!).My reward for wanting to help adolescents to better their lives through learning Math is that I, along with many great teachers are being thrown under the (school) bus and blamed for student failure by the people that are causing it. I doubt that I will continue in my teaching carrreer since the climate for teachers is one of disrespect , blame, and disdain, so I feel free to ask this question: Where will you find teachers that want to make a difference in young people’s lives, to help them find a brighter future when the conditions they are subjected to are unjust, untenable and ultimately antagonistic. Whenever I hear any thing about LAUSD these days I feel disgust at the thought of having been vicimized by the bully’s that run the districtand the special interests that back them and the hurtful lies the promulgate about dedicated teachers daily.

      1. His experience is not uncommon and sometimes I feel like I am just lucky to still be working for the district after 14 years. I know many, many fine teachers who were forced out.

  3. I admire your writing, and as a writer/ reader I can be something of a snob. I am rather confused about your affiliation with a nonprofit ( though I can’t say for sure how offensuve it is since you haven’t named it) and LASR. I am not wearing binary blinders nor am I a reactionary, but Corporate Education Reform is against real teachers who believe in an authentic arts based public education. They have no respect for academic freedom. Their top down lunacy is about profit and establishing power that is oppressive and dangerous.
    So why is an intelligent, reasonable human like yourself writing for Jaimie Alter Lynton? While it has tempered things down somewhat, I assume that is because the editor is asserting some sense. I guess I just might have answered part of my own question.
    So why work at a non profit? What does this mean!? Do you have students? If so, how large are your classes? Do you teach to the tests? Is the school in a hood? What about your students? If you’re not teaching, what do you do?
    If you are writing text to market the master plan …well, it just is not the right thing to do. Thousands of older teachers, whistle blowers, and victims of vile discrimination have been purged from lausd diring the last 5 years. They have been ruined because they cost too much, abided their duty to report abuseand/or noncompliance , advocated for students and/or were black, disabled, over 40 or otherwise …
    Divided and conquered, teachers are living in terror, many underwater with their mortgages
    ( thanks to deals we got at our schools), aware they could be destroyed on a whim. And they are right yo be afraid they will end up like so many colleagues: shamed, poor thanks to a purloined pension and without healthcare. Being displaced, wrongfully terminated, forced to reisgn or , in some cases, being associated with LAUSD ( which has written letters of rec for perverts and trashed many of its finest in the last few years) is enough to make a teacher unemployable ; unfortunately they lack vision . If they had vision they would find solidarity apart from their judas unions and unite with parents to maje publuc education a truly local concession to Democracy and progressive politics.
    Being torn away from the school and students is devastating to the teachers who are committed to them. The reasons we have tenure are obvious; if people saw what has gone on in LA and NYC they would see it too, for they’d know the casualties of education reform include suicides, premature deaths, homelessness, stress related illness, poverty, foreclosure and mental health crisis inflicted directly by bullies who are running our schools into the ground. There will be children who have no svhool because they are EsL or IEP. Test scores will define them. It will also feed a trillion dollar education industrial complex . This is not just in LA. It is all across the country and according to http://www.teachersolidarity.com, this is an agressive global assault on education, which is, in effect , a class war. As the taxpayers feed manufactured crisis with tax dollars that will not be redistributed as wages for the people but profits for charter schools, non profits (sic) , Pearson Earning ( Bill Gates with the creepy common core), and Edtech required to test for it (heads up, kids in NYC are still hovering at a 70% fail rate, but the stats are skewed to work against success–so the good news is : kids are NOT stupid. Arne Duncan, however…)
    VAM is a Scam. Do not take my word for it. Google: VAM is a Scam
    THERE are presently 50 or more students in English classes in a LA hood. Most of their teachers are not credentialed. They are interns with five weeks training. Some of them are talented and very sincere. My bet is they are the ones behind an emerging resistance to this militant mind set, having recognized the fall out from poverty. They comprehend the educRAT$’ propensity for waste and corruption, see it playing against these miracles teachers are expected to perform, and do perform, but sabotage like this is corrosive. The teachers in LA are demoralized .
    In another district 300 kindergarteners have been herded together in one ciass, an experiment . I want you to consider this from every angle. The child’s, the teacher, the parents, the administrators, and the ceo’s.

    Is this the best way to socialize youngsters, who have yet to be identified as IEPs, ELs, behavior problems? I bet there are no more than 5-6 teachers over seeing this. This sets the tone for kids experience. Which, lets face it, is unlikely to improve.
    Look at the mess with Misis. LAUSD has had plenty of tech disasters to learn from. They are currently and illegally suing teachers for overpayments from the payroll disaster a few years back. Things are hopping at the OAH as Deasy rapes and pillages teachers even though the district won a case against the program vendor, receiving a reward that includes the overpayments they cannot prove exist, by the way. Then there os the iPad which rolled out on one wobbly wheel, in a breath-takingly egregious show of corruption, incompetence amd hypocrisy . It doesnt work, which will be great for LAUSDeasy because the reason it is being installed has much to do with ADA fraud.
    This is just a small part of the education racketeering . To learn more visit http://www.edshyster.com , http://www.hemlockontherocks.com, http://www.bigeducationape.com,www.DianeRavitch.net, http://www.susanohanian.org, http://www.endteacherabuse.org

    As paranoid as all this implies, I assure you my Foil Fedora is a fashion statement and the evidence against Rheeform, Herr Deasy, plutocrats, educRAT$ , TURN, AFT, NEA, , CTA, CTC, LAUSD, US DOE, UTLA, UWLA, ACLULA, E4E, LASR, LASP, TEACH+, STUDENTS MATTER, LCFF, PARCC, CCSS, TFA, DFER and almost all the acronyms are just jargon in this brave new world. In otherwords 💩

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