Drive-Bys, Divorce, and Disneyland…

i teach in south central los angeles… where people who know live there, and people who think they know don’t… there is an image of “south central” that is not only portrayed in the mass media, but in the questions my friends and family ask me. (my personal favorite is when my dad makes an al too familiar joke about kevlar being part of my uniform… that one never gets old for him) it is also played out in my stories and thoughts at times… contrary to popular belief i am not above media corruption…

and although some of my students in the past have been shot, stabbed in the eye, dropped out to join gangs or have become pregnant… these are not the only things that afflict a teenager in south central. simple life, so real and unglamorous. today my colleague and beloved head coach walked a student (his former student) into my class tardy for the second straight week. personally offended as i still get about how someone could willingly ditch the best class in the entire school (sarcasm level increased minutely), i decided to find out what the hell was actually going on… after a thoughtful line of questioning i learned that fights at home between mom and dad were what was on the boys mind… causing him to make, in his own words, “poor decisions” knowing a little on the subject i was able to reach this student for the first time this year. solutions to problems still need to be worked thru, but he knows that i am on his team… and i know what is driving this student’s actions more…

as for the “happiest place on earth”… well, let’s just say that even though i enjoyed walking around the prefab imaginary lands, i do respect the 10 minute conversations of depth with my colleagues on the subjects of corporate sponsored infantile escapism, the true value of such things as over-sexualization, childhood imagination, and the capitalistic exploitation and possible suppression there of…

lunch time is never wasted amongst teachers…
here is a decent article about disney’s legacy (room for interpretation)

Political Victory!!

they are hard to come by it seems at times… but when they come it is time “to party
Karamu, fiesta, forever!!”

this is in regards to the NCLI legislation that i had written about earlier in a previous post. more money, in our society, too often means more legitimacy (especially when it comes to public financed bail outs of the private sector – don’t even get me started… just talk to bob barr)

yet i do believe in saying thank you, which is what i did when i learned that my congress people, at least the ones that represent the districts i am mostly concerned with (30th and 35th) voted for this legislation.

not as many students of color as i would like to see… maybe i should pull out my footage. but encouraging this news is, nonetheless…

PAD Thai humor?

my favorite Thai dish... my favorite Thai organization? can't speak knowledgeably about that...

although it is controversial when comedians make light of the serious dark nature of so many world events – and i am no comedian – i did find it extremely humorous when i heard about the recent events taken by the People’s Alliance for Democracy in Thailand. i found the humor not in the event itself but in the all too familiar world of acronyms. and my personal affiliation with the dish from Asian cuisine. in the need to find humor in the sad and frustrating realities of my school site (also concerning acronyms), i thought a post of seriousness with a lighter perspective would be personally therapeutic if not anything else… including substantive.

School starts with Stifled Steam and Sequestered Sails

after working all year to ensure a smooth start to the rapidly approaching school year, my colleagues and i were in for a shock when that work was slowed down and devalued by administrative oversight and some would say quite accurately, incompetence

among the various reform mandates heaved upon us this year, superintendent brewer’s High Priority School District, moving from year round calenders to traditional, and restructuring the school into Personalized Learning Communities to name a few… our staff took to the task of preparing ourselves to be the most successful in the coming year. our principal however was busy “taking a gamble” on norm projections (despite mounting evidence of LAUSD’s enrollment crisis). he over hired, anticipating the district to not enforce their policies on enrollment ratios to teacher positions…
in short he gambled with people’s jobs, their livelihood, their emotions.

hiring 9 new teachers, the already committed staff took to the task of welcoming them into our family and supporting them immediately into the difficult work of pushing this massive school in the right direction. they were committed and excited for the challenge. and we were excited to have them on our already fabulous team. then, on the very day much of our difficult preparation was to culminate, he told them that they could no longer be a part of they had worked so hard for.

9 new teachers, “displaced”. a tragic but all to common scenario in LAUSD. (not totally biased i try to include multiple perspectives, including the screwy district i work for… but pay attention to the word “generally”)

but what of the rest of us? his apology, if it could be called that, was not felt. and although his intentions may have been in the right place, he stepped right back to the task of making our jobs more emotionally and mentally impossible, exhaustible… in short he asked us to fix the problem that he helped engineer. and when we tirelessly came up with a solution, he allowed us to go home feeling somewhat accomplished in the face of adversity, only to email us at 9:30 PM the night before we were to initiate our new plan and ask us to modify it to an option that had been previously and unanimously deemed as the worst option…

welcome back to school… hang on to your seats ladies and gentlemen… this is going to be one wild ride.

Addicted to Stories

my name is mark gomez… and i am addicted to stories. as i sit and watch with anticipation (some would say anxiety) the final episode of The Wire, i am forced to realize that i am an addict. stories, histories, herstories, narratives, fictions… for the entire summer i have been hooked on a steady diet of stories from hollywood, comic books, blogospheres, cartoons and the list goes on. the only story i guess i haven’t been paying due attention to is my own.


maybe it is the fact that through this steady binge of narratives i have come to realize a little about their nature. that the sun always sets at the end. panoramic shots inspire reflection. threads tied together make a nice knot in your stomach, those that stay untied leave a different kind of knot, the one that leaves you craving for more… ahem, addict… dialogue, no mater how cheesy, is usually premeditated. sometimes the wrong characters die and sometimes the right one does. and for however similar the stories i have been up on are to my own… there are some fundamental differences.

my life has been written by so many different authors. and it is not finished. that brings up another type of knot…

bad news = reassigned….

full of fear i am as i complete my third year in a a Los Angeles Public Middle School… fear that i so often put aside the dark knowledge that so much of what goes on in my place of work is unacceptable…. that if it were another school district, in another neighborhood, this would not be tolerated for as instance. or it might receive the attention it deserves. this is not to convince myself in a time of anger and frustration that this does not happen in white, affluent schools as well. this happens for too often everywhere. it is also not an over-simplification or uncritical comparison of the behavior of a sick individual versus a twisted system. it is more of my disdain for the response. i work for a school district that does not put their students first. no matter how many dedicated teachers we hire, we protect so many harmful ones that we have gotten ourselves in a mess many question is even worth cleaning up… which translates to unwarranted and ignorant views of the communities that we “serve, educate, and protect?”

i grow even more scared as i enter into a position that is so often complicit in this, for while our district further erodes foundations for success thru $$$ reallocation and cuts, my union fights to have destructive individuals reassigned to out of classroom positions, “protecting” any future students from similar harm? the damage is being done daily. and i am sick of being part of the problem…

Father, where have you gone?

for weeks i have not posted anything… lord knows i have tried. apparently writer’s block begets those who are not even writers, but under a more common name i would say… overwhelmed. i have been overwhelmed as of late. for various reasons, obviously. i say obviously because the nature of the word suggests various reasons… too many things to handle efficiently. and i feared too many to express eloquently. so i waited until, perhaps one day this block would pass. but i realized that they never pass, just like being overwhelmed by things never goes away until you deal with some of the issues overwhelming you… one at a time.

some of the things i attempted to write about; wilderness trips, rites of passage, school reform, thought reform in communist China, graffiti, youth violence, union chapter building, high school football, hegemony, use of public space, critical literacy, the wire (the season i am currently watching), the rant of reverend wright, the deaths of 50,000 plus and 70,000 plus….. and one father…..

what do all these things have to do with each other? everything… if you are me right now. this is what overwhelmed look like. a bunch of thoughts that are not adequately explained… left for you to search and sort on your own. kind of like the death of a father. just as many if not more (definitely more) unanswered questions, unorganized thoughts, uncontrollable emotions, unforgettable memories, unintelligible dreams….

yet it is in the dreams and in nature where all these things have made the most sense to me. losing my father has put me in several places all at once. many of which are juxtaposed, not seemingly plausible in coexistence. yet here i am. strong yet vulnerable. found but lost. it baffles me to realize that so many of my students are going thru this and yet i rarely ever address it in my curriculum. how do i help them? how do i help the two students of mine whom were shot this past year? and their families? friends who are still in my class? all of the links of life have to be connected by those of death. and if i am ever to teach in an interconnected way i have to remember that.

i think the only thing to do is to embrace this feeling and maybe begin to express it, talk about it, write about it. something besides think about it. i know where my father has gone… i helped to bring him there. by the side of his favorite lake, under the shadow of his favorite mountains, in the company of those who loved him…. that is where he has gone. and i am here. still overwhelmed….. but confident that i will find my way again. rest in peace Dad.

T.F.A. as a long term solution? not anytime soon…

sitting in the 29 Bar today, deep in Trojan territory watching my Bruins get spanked in the Final Four.  this was not the only  glaring contradiction of the day.  as Antero and i debated about whether or not we could have prevented our mediocre workshop on graffiti from being so mediocre… i happened to over hear another conversation about Teach for America. immediately distracted from my mediocre conversation (no offense Antero, we were both tired) i tuned in to catch a tag line that would give me any bearing as to the the resident opinion of this highly controversial topic… Teach for America teachers. how much of a benefit are they to the education profession and all its ridiculous baggage.

in a moment’s time my fears were confirmed. the patrons discussing this at the table next to ours had said that, “teachers in TFA are positively affecting the classroom more than teachers from traditional credential programs as well as those with more experience.” i glanced at Antero’s face which reassured me that his suspicions had also been aroused (if anything it confirmed the fact that our previous dialogue was in need of a change of topic). i held my tongue a minute longer to see where this obviously misinformed discussion was headed when the lady who had began the discussion (whom i am indebted to for providing me with additional information in the upcoming link – thank you) referenced a study that backed up her assertion. i couldn’t bare it any longer so i leapt into the conversation uninvited. my clarifying question had also confirmed my hypothesis that this lady must have a daughter who was about to enter the program. i asked if shoe wouldn’t mind sharing this article with me and true to her word and my request, she sent the above link….

i pondered before i began writing my rant of a response. i thought about my own prejudices for TFA. my own everyday experiences with very close colleagues and friends who are members of TFA. i wanted to collect my thoughts to maintain the appearance of an objective and fair evaluator of issues, after all i am an educator. yet i could not shake the emotional part of the response i am about to share. the above study cites data from testing scores which everyone who knows anything about education realizes, despite the conventional wisdom, that test scores is not the only nor the best means to assess a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. however i could see how this data could be validated. the TFA teachers i know are far more dedicated to the perfection of their craft as teachers, way more committed to a reflective practice that with time, proper cultivation and administrative support would no doubt lead to a critical pedagogy bent on the transformative type of education so desperately needed by by our students and our country at large.

yet what was no addressed in this study was the saddening fact that TFA teachers are quite often not committed to the long term commitments to the field of education as other teachers from traditional universities, those who knew they wanted to positively affect the youth thru education specifically… those who may have had more than naive expectations on how to survive in the profession for any length of stay above the normal and frightening attrition rates commonly experienced by inner city schools like mine. what is even more depressing is the reasons why they are leaving… ask my friend, a 2nd year teacher who was assigned to quite possibly the most difficult assignment at our school, why she is leaving. one of the finest young teachers i have had the privilege to work with will not be on my time come next year. although she is one of a kind, she is not alone in this trend. another article written in 2004 highlights the issues concerning a program like TFA. before i can whole heartedly believe that TFA teachers produce better results, i have to figure out how to get around the many stories like the ones of my friend and my first mentor teacher, who change our students life for the better only to leave the profession and relegate the students once again to the horrors of a modern education system that provides them with under-qualified long term substitutes that rotate almost everyday, further eroding an already unstable life… one that does not set them up for the kind of success our society insists on measuring with bubble filling. maybe it is the definition of success that needs to be explored when we examine why these amazingly successful teachers choose to leave our profession to seek out struggle and success in others.

teachers of the year… and the winner is…

what makes a teacher worthy of a title like teacher of the year? one of my colleagues was nominated and subsequently dubbed a teacher of the year for a certain region. i love him. he is my department chair as well as my friend. but i doubt that these were the reasons for his recent title.

so what does make a teacher qualify for teacher of the year. i am not going to lie and say i looked up the criteria for this. i wouldn’t do so not because of lack of interest but for fear of navigating a district website. but even if i were to find out the criteria, which i could just as easily ask my friend, i wonder if i would agree with what makes a great teacher.

my wife is a great teacher. she cares genuinely about her students, or should i say authentically as the theory suggests? she works very hard to serve her students as best as she can. she strives to improve upon her practice and is very reflective of such a process. she is dedicated and willing to see error as an opportunity for improvement. yet recently she was to share her periodic assessment data (the standardized tests our district has our students take in between the state standardized tests periodically) with a room full of principals. this protocol, which was facilitated by UEP and designed to analyze the data reflected from the tests to begin to develop ways to improve test scores (which maybe the problem right there) instead took on a hostile tone towards the sharing teacher, who was present while these principals apparently forgot the previously stated objectives of the protocol. but more importantly what they forgot was that we are dealing with human beings here. human beings that have feelings, needs (both emotional and physical), prior experiences, desires, all that goes along with human nature.

which brings me back to my original question; what makes a teacher a great teacher, worthy of recognition for teacher of the year? are they looking for teachers who can produce data that “they” tell us we want to see? how close are we then to mechanized teaching done simply by numbers and “objective” data? or is a great teacher more than that? are they in fact measuring teacher greatness by human beingness?

La Profesora

La Profesora se fue ayer. La maestra, mi Abuela. Yet absent in the physical world, ella esta presente en espíritu todavia. She was so strong in spirit that today when I woke up reluctant to go to work and teach my students, she was there pushing me. “Levantate! Vaya a trabajar hijo. Tiene que enseñar tus estudiantes.”

i am not sure how well i taught today, but i did nonetheless. and in this i learned a little bit more about mi Abuela. Sobre que tipa de mujer fue ella. Ella fue fuerte, ella era dedicada. Por estos todos la conocen. While i was down visiting her for what would turn out to be the last time, i was truly in awe of the impact this one woman could have on a place. yet when compared to the impact it had on my heart that was usually 2000 miles away, it all made perfect sense. the waves of people that came by to pay respect, para ver si La Profesora esta “OK”, estas olas fueron símbolos de las olas sentimientos en mi corazón. There is not enough i can say about mi Abuela. She was a force on this Earth, one of good. and this is what i take from her.

Now it is time to be my own force. To pick where she left of. To follow in her foot steps, paso a paso. Porque somos maestros. there is a certain prestige and power that comes with our titles. and mi Abuela knew that. and she used it to conquer the ignorance that helped feed the darkness not only of the uneducated but the “overeducated”, the elite that so often use education to keep the masses down. She helped lift them up. and so now it is time that i do the same.

everyday i step foot in the classroom i do my best to lift. but i know that this is not enough. looking at my grandma’s life it is quite clear. there is so much to be done. and i need to have persistence and strength to survive let alone overcome this system that pushes my students down and pushes me around. so it is in her spirit now that i move forward. combined with the spirit of so many others, here and gone. if it is change we seek then it is change we become. this blog is merely one aspect of the work that i attempt to do, always work to do. true conversations that need to happen. what is really going on in our schools? what is going on in our lives? here i will try to utilize this space for whoever is ready to join in conversation. the theme: ed 4 change.
para mi Abuela, te quiero muchisimo… y yo voy adalente para conseguir cambia.