Bell High School senior Fernando Flores was enjoying his second day of school in more than two weeks.
"Yeah I missed it," the 17-year-old Los Angeles Unified School District student said as he leaned against the door of the school print shop. When a majority of the 27,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles walked out of classes May 12, Flores, like many of his friends, hit the streets, the shopping malls, the beaches--anything but the books.
"I had fun, but I'm glad to be back," he said.
Like many Southeast students who flocked back to classes this week, Flores admitted that he was not overjoyed with the unexpected vacation. The strike ended last Friday.
Teachers Got Raise
"We are the ones that are suffering," he said as his friends nodded their heads in agreement. "The teachers, they lost a little pay, but they got their raise. And the (Administration), they didn't lose anything.
"But we got to work real hard now to get through and learn something. What did we get? Nothing, that's what. It's pretty tough to come back and be expected to take a lot of tests."
As schools in Bell, Huntington Park, Maywood, Cudahy and South Gate were getting back to normal routines this week, teachers, students and administrators in the largely Latino Region B were trying to sift out what lessons could be gleaned for the thousands of Southeast students caught in the middle of the contract dispute.
Many of those interviewed on campuses said they are still somewhat bitter.
Some regretted walking the picket lines, while others resented those who did. Some hoped that the walkout, which led to a pay raise for teachers, had provided students with lessons in labor relations.
"It was a lesson in social science for the students," Gage Junior High School counselor Jose Luis Torres said.
"I feel that I was forced to go on strike," he continued. "I didn't want to do it, but I felt that the Latino minority had to be represented on the picket line."
More than half of Gage Junior High School students stayed away from classes. "A lot of the kids just got bored," admitted Principal David R. Almata as he toured the crowded campus. "It's so good to see them all coming back. It looks like this is going to be a normal day."
But some teachers said that real normalcy may be in the future.
Expects Some Animosity
"The only thing I regret," mathematics teacher Ocie Tolson said as he prepared to give a lesson on pre-algebra, "is that there is going to be some animosity between (striking) and (non-striking) teachers."
Tolson, who proudly wore his UTLA-embroidered shirt to class, added that "they don't know how to relate to each other any more."
An English teacher, who asked not to be identified because she refused to join fellow union members on the picket lines, said that she has been spurned by other teachers. "And they talk about tall children," she said as she walked through the Bell High campus.
The reference was to UTLA Vice President Frances Haywood, who during a raucous union rally at South Gate Park told about 2,000 striking teachers: "We're going to get what we are asking for. We finally sent the message to L.A. Unified that teachers are not tall children."
The English teacher said that she had found numerous notes on the windshield of her car asking her to join the other strikers outside the school.
"Now they walk past me," she said. "They kind of purse their lips and walk by without saying anything."
As Bell High students Adella Ruida, Maria Leppe and Edith Sanchez walked to class early Tuesday morning, they said they hoped that the bitterness could be put aside. "It was hard on everybody," said Sanchez, 17.
"We did learn (during the strike)," agreed Leppe. "But it wasn't the same."
Jose Velazquez, principal of Park Avenue Elementary School in Cudahy, said that the children at his school were "very happy" to see their teachers return. Some of the youngsters wrote poems and gave presents to returning instructors.