GARDENA — For an hour every Friday, Karen Miles is a teacher.
Nothing unusual about that, except that Karen, 17, is a junior at Gardena High School.
Every Friday, she and 23 other students in a course called Exploring Teacher Training are in front of the class, not in the midst of it, teaching science to younger youngsters at nearby 186th Street School.
On one recent Friday, for instance, Karen explained the miracle of pollination to second- and third-graders as she helped them dissect bright pink hibiscus blooms.
The classroom experience has been an eye-opener for Karen and Gardena's other teen-age teachers.
They Learn Understanding
Teaching has taught them many things, they said. It has inspired some to prepare for teaching careers, and convinced others that there must be easier ways to make a living. It has taught them that having to teach a subject requires them to learn it first. And, to a degree they never expected, it has taught the teen-agers to better understand their own teachers.
"It's totally different when you're in the teacher's place," said Ruby Delarosa, 16, who plans to become an elementary school teacher as a result of the course. Her colleagues agreed.
"With the kindergarten class we had trouble keeping order," Karen Miles said. "Now when I'm in class and the teacher's up there teaching, I know how he feels and I try to listen."
"I understand a lot of attitudes of teachers that I didn't understand before," said Edith Meza, 17. "We had some students who were kind of rude, and it really got to me."
A Homework Lesson
Anthony League, 17, found that his semester as a teacher transformed his opinion of homework.
"You spend all that time making up the lesson, and then they don't do their homework! You want to resort to violence," he said, indignant at how blase some of his youngsters were about the lessons on big cats and the skeletal system that he gave up precious television time to prepare.
Many of the student teachers were surprised to discover that teaching is hard.
It was no cinch, they found, to determine just how difficult a particular lesson should be for a particular class. Last year, during a pilot version of the course, a team of student teachers discovered that their carefully prepared lesson on plants whizzed right over the heads of their fourth-graders.
They tried again, with considerably more success--"The next week they came back with a whole puppet show on botany," recalled Walter Wooden, the Gardena counselor who proposed and coordinates the course.
The student teachers found that their classroom responsibilities even changed the way they dressed.
Advised to dress professionally, many of the girls gave up stirrup pants for dresses, stockings and high heels. Anthony League, one of only five boys to take the course, never went so far as to wear a tie but he, too, was affected sartorially by the course.
"I wear shorts to school," Anthony said, "but I wouldn't wear them to teach."
The student teachers also discovered that, even before they can read, children can, and do, ask remarkable questions.
Anthony was stumped one day during a lesson on the skeleton when one little boy asked him how bones get into the body. Not prepared to lecture authoritatively on embryology, Anthony tried to wing it with an explanation of how cartilage eventually matures into bone.
"What's matures ?" the child asked.
Stumped by Saturn
Ruby Delarosa was stopped in her tracks during a lesson on the solar system.
"One boy asked me what would happen if you were caught in one of the rings of Saturn," she recalled. The young teacher assured the child that he shouldn't worry, it could never happen.
The course, new this semester, is open to college-bound students who have taken biology. Next year it will be a full-year course.
Wooden did not have the nationwide shortage of trained teachers in mind 10 years ago when he developed a prototype of the Gardena course, he said. As he explained, he was teaching high-school biology at the time and devised the student teacher program when his advanced biology students finished the entire year's course work in one semester.
Birth of Program
"I wanted them to utilize what they had learned and all I could think of was having them go into a classroom and teach it," he said.
Gardena and Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, which has a magnet-like teacher-training academy, are the only schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to offer teacher training, a district spokesman said.
Wooden and Charlotte Dudley, a member of the biology faculty who teaches the course, said they were impressed with the ability of student teachers to improvise solutions to classroom problems. Wooden cited the ingenuity of two girls faced with the question of how to keep a live ant in place so their students could look at it under a microscope.
"They decided to put it on Scotch tape," Wooden said.