June 16, 2022, marked the end of my career as public school teacher for the Long Beach Unified School District (It was also my oldest son’s, Wayne, 25th birthday). This 2021-2022 school year was a hectic one, one that I may write later in another post.
I finished student teaching in December 1987. I took my teacher credentialing classes at CSU Long Beach. I taught a 5th grade class at Muir Elementary for the first quarter and a 2nd grade class at Bixby Elementary for the second quarter. I learned quickly that I didn’t have the patience nor the stamina to teach 2nd grade and any grade lower than that.
I interviewed with Los Angeles Unified first, and then Long Beach Unified. Long Beach made the first offer, because poverty and I don’t get along very well. I lost a lot of weight while pursuing my multiple subjects credential. Top Ramen was the staple of my diet at the time.
My first teaching assignment was at Gompers Elementary in Lakewood, as a 5th grade teacher. I was taking over a 5th grade class after the Winter Break on January 1988. The previous teacher was granted a transfer a day before Thanksgiving 1987. According to the other teachers, this teacher and the principal did not get along, and she had put in for the transfer the previous school year. After the Thanksgiving Break and before the Winter Break, this class “went through” two subs. I met with the second sub the day before the Winter Break; she sounded and looked like she went through hades and back.
When I reported for my very first day of my teaching career, the class thought I was substitute #3. I told them I wasn’t the sub, but the permanent teacher for the rest of the year. These kids were tough; these were the kids that were bussed from the other side of Long Beach, the area near the Queen Mary. I think maybe a total of 4 students in the class lived in the neighborhood.
When I attended my first assembly with my class, I noticed a stark contrast between my class and the other 5th grade classes. Most of the kids in the other classes were white, who lived in the neighborhood, while my class was predominantly minority kids (Black, Hispanic, Asian). The other teachers informed that the principal intentionally did that in order to make the previous teacher’s life less than pleasant.
Needless to say, it was by the Grace of God that I hung in there with those kids. A number of those kids came from single parent homes, homes where the parents didn’t speak English, and from neighborhoods infested with gangs and drugs.
Towards the end of the year, the school had scheduled a Multicultural Celebration. So I brought my guitar and amp to school and told the kids that we were going to perform “La Bamba” at this celebration. If my memory serves me right, the movie of the same title came out at about that time. Some of the kids volunteered to choreograph a dance, while the rest of the class sang with me.
I could tell that there was some trepidation when the rest of the school saw me with my guitar, amp, a microphone, and this rag-tag bunch taking our places on the playground. After I hit that first chord, you could see mouths drop in the audience, eyes wide open as saucers. The kids singing and dancing nailed “La Bamba” to the wall, and the audience went nuts. After the performance, my class was hugely complimented and congratulated for their work and effort. No longer were those kids known as “Oh, no. Not those kids,” but “Oh, yeah! Those kids!”
That was 34 years ago. I hope those kids remembered that. Will I miss teaching? I’ll save that for another post.