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Tell the whole sad story of Fremont High

Why do its students struggle? Why the revolving door for teachers? A former teacher there provides an insider's view.

July 12, 2010|By Samantha Koos

I've waited a long time for Fremont High School to be written about in the papers, about its dire need for help. But Howard Blume's July 7 article, "Fremont High's grand experiment begins," didn't present the story that needs telling.

I taught at Fremont in South L.A. for two years, from 2001 to 2003. I went into the job confident that I could change the world for the better, socioeconomics be damned. But in two short years, despite my love of teaching and knowing I had the potential to be a great teacher like my mother and her mother before, I left through that infamous revolving door of frustrated teachers.

No matter how hard I worked, my students were utterly ill-equipped to succeed in the traditional sense. Whatever gains I made did not put my students on equal footing with the rest of the educated world. The administration would trot out the latest cure-alls, but teachers would grow weary of the window dressings of reform. There was constant churn. Nothing ever changed.

Blume's story details the "reconstitution" that Fremont is the latest school to undergo. The theory holds that if you can change the teachers, you can change the culture. But it strikes me that you can't win a war simply by changing out your troops. Attacking what is undermining success for students at a school like Fremont is complicated. It can feel like a losing battle. But teachers are not the culprits.

Here's an illustration. I was assigned to teach an extremely low-level phonics program to high school students. The program called for each teacher to be assigned a small groups of 15 students, whereas I was given an unruly class of 35. I identified one of the students in the class as having some form of dysgraphia because where his writing was legible, his letters were backward. He'd made it to the ninth grade without this diagnosis, and all his counselor could tell me is that it was up to me to tutor him.

If I hadn't had more than 100 others in need of special attention and significant remediation, and if I had in fact been an expert in dysgraphia, perhaps I wouldn't have found this so untenable. He was a good student who held up his end of the bargain and never missed a day of school. He was intellectually curious, smart. He ended up selling candy bars in the park at night to help his mother take care of the family because he couldn't properly fill out a job application.

I would believe that this reconstitution effort was truly about understanding just how important it is to have the right people in the classroom, and not more window dressing, if my own experience at Fremont had been different. Show me an article about how teachers are being supported in the classroom. Show me how we're giving teachers, and therefore their students, the tools to succeed. Show me that the administration is not only interested in the appearance of reform and their own job security. Show me how you won't set me up for failure.

Show me these things and I will be the first in line to interview for that job at Fremont High School.

Samantha Koos is a proud product of the Los Angeles Unified School District and former Fremont High School teacher.

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