What’s a Magnet School, Anyway?

Now, I’m not a complete idiot.  Many of my friends have sent their kids to magnets schools.  I’m aware of them in a vague “before there were charters there were magnets” way.  I also—full disclosure—did not send my own children to a magnet because my husband and I were bewildered by the complexity of the magnet application system and daunted by the sense that in order to get our kids in, we would have had to apply before they were even born, maybe before we were even born.  Continue reading What’s a Magnet School, Anyway?

And Then I Found My Home

Jennifer Macon, 11th Grade English Teacher

Grover Cleveland High School Humanities Magnet, Reseda, CA

What you notice first about Jennifer Macon is her smile.  Jennifer has one of those terrific, radiant, genuine smiles that—okay, I’m not going to say her smile actually lights up the office/supply closet/photocopy room where we meet, but it definitely feels that way.  A bubbly, enthusiastic woman in her mid-thirties with glasses and shoulder-length curly hair, Jennifer appears to be in the middle of talking to a student, planning a lesson and conducting several simultaneous impromptu meetings, all crammed into this tiny space.  And despite the fact that we’re all maneuvering around supplies, file cabinets and each other, everyone seems to be in a good mood. Continue reading And Then I Found My Home

What we need is “crisp, data-driven, measurable methods”

My hope in starting this blog was to spark some authentic debate among readers.  I was delighted when Steve Kane threw down a strong opinion on my post “What About Alejandro?”  Here’s his comment:

“yup – our notions of a “good teacher” are just outmoded, sentimental, fuzzy and useless unless that person also produces measurable results Continue reading What we need is “crisp, data-driven, measurable methods”

What About Alejandro?

As I begin my quest, my first piece of business is to round up some 11th grade English teachers to observe in the classroom, having decided that a narrow subject focus will help me see differences more clearly (for a longer explanation, click on “Gatsby?” on the toolbar.)   I fire off emails to…well, basically everyone I’ve ever met.  While waiting for responses, I run into Ben*, an intensely energetic guy in his early thirties who teaches math at a large public school in the Valley. Ben is a rational guy, a believer in evidence and logic, and until recently he always believed a great teacher should be able to produce measurable results.  Right?

And then he met Alejandro, who’d taught math for 20 years at Ben’s school.  He was a mentor and role model to his students, an “awesome, awesome teacher,” according to Ben. Every year, former students of Alejandro’s, now grown and with families of their own, would come back and tell Alejandro that he’d inspired them to finish college.

The year Alejandro retired, teachers’ test scores were made public. Alejandro’s students had the worst scores in the entire school system.  Continue reading What About Alejandro?

About This Blog

In 2007, after twenty years of working as a television writer, I decided on an impulse to become an English teacher.  It was the end of the writer’s strike, and I was making proclamations that I was going to drop everything and do something meaningful.  I’d seen the inspirational movies about idealistic new teachers who marched into a school and shook things up with their no-bullshit awesomeness.  I would never have admitted it to myself, but on some level, I imagined standing on top of a desk reading poetry out loud while my students wept quietly, inspired.

Within a month, I had a job at an excellent charter high school in South Los Angeles with a student body that was 97% Latino and 3% African-American.  96% of the students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, meaning that most of them lived below poverty level.  I would get my teaching credential in an intern program where, instead of student-teaching, I would go straight to my own full-time teaching job, taking the required credential classes at night school.  And so, on a sizzling September day five years ago, with no training in education, I stood for the first time in front of a classroom full of teenagers and realized too late that I had no idea what I was doing. Continue reading About This Blog