Monday, April 14, 2008

SAN PEDRO TEACHERS ON THE RUN: Sharing classrooms making learning difficult

By Megan Bagdonas, Staff Writer ::  The Daily Breeze


Roving San Pedro High teacher Jeff Holyfield quickly erases math problems that he will have to rewrite in a few minutes in another classroom. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)

April 12, 2008 - With the clangoring of the bell heralding the end of second period, Kim Cadou frantically stuffs her over-sized bag with papers and school supplies.

She's got seven minutes ...

Squeezing her petite frame out the door where loafing students jaw about lunch plans, Cadou navigates the crowded halls of San Pedro High School.

Four minutes to go ...

Briskly she walks out the doors and side steps an immobile ring of gabbing girls before a sophomore waylays her with a geometry question.

Two more minutes ...

Down the steps, around the bungalows, she enters a classroom teeming with chatty teens within just seconds of the tolling school bell.

"OK, turn in your assignments," says the slightly out-of-breath algebra teacher.

These days it's not only students having a hard time getting to class on time.

Nearly one in three teachers don't have their own classroom at San Pedro High. Called "roving" or "traveling" teachers, they are the district's answer to accommodate the added classes needed to teach an ever growing number of students.

Throughout Los Angeles Unified School District, overcrowded schools are blamed for poor student performance, high drop-out rates and the deterioration of infrastructure. But for teachers, a school packed in like a can of sardines means you could lose the autonomy of having your classroom.

Built in 1903, San Pedro High School was meant to hold 2,000

students, maybe 2,500 max. Current enrollment: 3,600.

"It's unfortunate, but we can't just say, `Look, we're all filled up and you can't come to school,"' said Rita Davis, LAUSD high school director for the local district. "The district has a legal and ethical responsibility to provide an education for the residents of San Pedro."

Traditionally, teachers have a conference period, where they can enter student grades into the computer, make lesson plans, hold parent conferences

San Pedro High School algebra teacher Kim Cadou does not have an assigned classroom and must rush between rooms to set up for the next class. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)

or provide extra help to a struggling student. But at San Pedro High, having a conference period is increasingly becoming a luxury.

Instead, many teachers with a free period are asked to vacate their room, so that a traveling teacher can use it.

"All right, I'm off to go wander around aimlessly," jokes teacher Richard Wagoner as he packs his stuff into a backpack so a roving teacher can use his classroom for a fifth-period math lesson.

Wagoner said while it's inconvenient to be kicked out of his classroom, the ones who really suffer are the traveling teachers.

A roving teacher doesn't decorate classroom walls with student work, because the walls aren't theirs. Geometry lessons might be taught in an English class with quotes from "Lord of the Flies" and "Of Mice and Men" surrounding the room - not a single rhombus or parallelogram in sight.

And "see me after class" is not a term in the traveling teachers' lexicon. Instead, they have to make sure their students know where they can find them.

"The kids suffer because they never know how to find the teachers they are looking for," said special education teacher Tracy Litman.

Differing classroom policies also play a role. While one teacher might allow food and drinks in the classroom and is accustomed to their disorganized desk, the other teacher who shares the room might be fastidious about clutter or eating in class.

"The rooms aren't set up the way I would like," said math teacher Jeff Holyfield, who shuffles to three different classrooms each day. "But it's not my home, I am sort of a visitor so I'm not going to re-arrange the chairs."

Then there's the personal space issue. Basically, roving teachers don't have any, so they tend to carry around staplers, paper clips, extra pens and anything else they might need to teach a class. Stuff left behind often gets stolen or "borrowed" so that big bag, or even a wheeled cart, is usually necessary to transport supplies between classes.

To combat overcrowding, schools build temporary bungalows, switch to year-round schooling or put students on a staggered schedule to relieve the number of bodies on campus. But at some point these accommodations begin to take a toll on the quality of education provided, according to school board member Richard Vladovic.

"We need to relieve the overcrowding by building new schools," said Vladovic, who supports the construction of an 800-seat high school in San Pedro's Angels Gate Park.

Currently, the school district is preparing an environmental study for a 1,215-seat high school to be built on school-owned property and completed by 2012.

Roving teachers are neither new nor unique to San Pedro High School. Nearby, Narbonne and Banning high schools both use traveling teachers and next year Carson High School is also expected to have them. But the problem at other schools is not as endemic as at San Pedro High, which has had roving teachers for at least nearly a decade.

While district officials said they've capped the number of students at San Pedro High, teachers at the school said they recently received a memo from the assistant principal saying that 55 percent of teachers at San Pedro High will be roving next year.

Holyfield said he's been able to adapt as a traveling teacher without it affecting his curriculum too much, but he's not sure all teachers would be able to handle a deviation from having a home base.

"It's not really quantifiable, as far as how much grade scores will drop if x number of teachers are roaming, but (having more roving teachers) will affect the morale of teachers and that, in turn, will affect student performance, and student performance is everything," Holyfield said.

San Pedro teachers on the run - The Daily Breeze

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