birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Teach the Dream

After many, many interviews, I was finally offered a job in LAUSD. At the time, it seemed like the promised land. For a second career, a job with benefits at an elementary school relatively close to home, and the ability to pick up my kids after school seemed like a dream come true. With a fairly decent salary to boot. My teaching career had consisted of a year at a now-defunct charter school, and a few years teaching high school at a non-public school. I had gotten into teaching because a friend of mine convinced me to, because I could pick up my kids after school. That was my reasoning.

I would be teaching an SDC (special day class) class, a 4/5 combo with a total of 16 students. My heart leaped at the thought of teaching states and capitals, writing descriptive paragraphs, reading "A Wrinkle in Time," and going over improper fractions. The students in my class would have learning disabilities, but I was halfway through my credential program, so I thought I had a pretty good handle on what to expect. I had taught and tamed high school students, plus I had 3 children of my own, so how hard could it be? The first few weeks consisted of getting to know my students and parents, when they dropped off their children. I had a few students with ADHD who were on meds, a student with MR (mental retardation, now called "Intellectual Disability") or ID (SPED is all about acronyms), but most had auditory or visual learning disabilities. I loved them all.

At this particular school, it seemed that every teacher had been teaching for years, their whole lives in fact. I was convinced they knew everything, which, considering it was my second career, made me feel nervous and apprehensive around them. Not so when it came to teaching special education. Apparently, they regarded me with awe. Or was it pity? I wanted to learn from them too, but I had to run after them. Rarely did they come to me.I had fantasized about collaborating with other teachers, but in fact, I was on my own. It was all left up to me.

During my third year, things began to unravel in my classroom. There was a student, who knew how to press every one of my buttons. Every day I started with a fresh slate, yet I used to jump up and down for joy when he was absent. The pressure was mounting. I was feeling a huge amount of stress. My behavior management skills began to break down, even with an amazing instructional aide. My university supervisor had been observing me in class and that added to the huge task of teaching and keeping my students under control. Not to mention that I was having trouble in my marriage; my teenage son was smoking way too much pot and my twin daughters needed me to be at countless parent events at their school. One day, while she was there, my class was out of control....I felt in a way that I had crossed the line...maybe I was the one out of control. I knew that how I was handling it was wrong. I could tell what she was thinking, yet it didn't prepare me for what happened the next day.

The next morning, my assistant principal called me in to her office. My supervisor had decided I wouldn't pass my class. My assistant principal told me that I would be removed from my classroom and placed in a first grade classroom on D track. On for 6 weeks, off for 6 weeks, on for 6 weeks, and so on. The infamous LAUSD track system.I was devastated, shocked that nothing in my program, nothing in my life had prepared me for something like this. I had been grooming to teach special education. I knew nothing about teaching first grade, only that they had accidents.

Two weeks later, I was in a first grade classroom teaching 5 year olds about fact and opinion, and how to summarize a story. The other assistant principal, the mean one, was now my supervisor and she informed me she would be observing me on an ongoing basis. And she did and I became convinced she was out to get me. When I didn't meet the criteria on her checklist, support was offered to me. I took it all in, and did everything I could to make it work. Previously, she had observed me, professed to know nothing about special education, and had given me high marks. This time, she gave me such low scores, that when it came time to lay teachers off, I was first on the list.

During this time, I went to my union rep and filed a grievance, to no end. I looked for work, but could no longer work for LAUSD. I ended up at a high school in a charter network, where my character, my work, and my skills as a teacher are valued. I work collaboratively with other teachers and when I need support, I get it. I am lucky to have found such a school- the district be damned. I taught the dream, but in the end, I felt like I was part of the assembly line. And it felt great to get off it.

It All Started with Mama Cherokee

Jung and Jesus