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First Day of School : At Semester’s End, It’s Replacement Teacher Who Has to Catch Up

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With only three weeks left before the end of the semester, Grant High School history instructor Jeremy Lawrence--in his first day as a permanent teacher--had more to worry about than opening-day jitters Monday. He had chapters to review, exams to give and the names of more than 150 students to learn in less than a month’s time.

Lawrence, 26, is one of hundreds of entry-level instructors replacing approximately 485 veteran teachers who retired last week in exchange for cash bonuses offered by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The early retirement plan, instituted to save money for the cash-starved district, was sharply criticized by many of the departing teachers because it prevented most of them from finishing the fall term. But on Monday, school budgets and district politics were not Lawrence’s main concerns.

“It’s the first day of work,” he said, sitting in his new classroom on the Van Nuys campus, “and I’ve got 150 bosses to please.”

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It was a day of mixed emotions for Lawrence, who has been a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District for the last six months. He was happy to finally be a permanent teacher. But he also was sad for his new students.

“It’s terribly unfair,” Lawrence said of the sudden change in teachers. Most of the students had been cooperative Monday, but he had to admonish a few for disrupting the class and not respecting him.

“It’s understandable,” said Lawrence. “They’re threatened by me because I’m new, and they’re worried. They’ve had the same (teacher) for 16 weeks and all of a sudden you’ve got this stranger walking in, telling them what to do.”

He also felt for Frederick Parker, his predecessor, who had taught at Grant for more than six years. Many of Parker’s teaching materials still adorned the bulletin boards and filled the bookshelves.

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Two dozen students ambled into Lawrence’s fifth period, his last class of the day, to review for a test on Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Lawrence introduced himself to the class and spent much of the hour helping students individually and encouraging them not to merely memorize the textbook.

A couple of the students had to keep looking at the words “Mr. Lawrence” written in chalk on the board to remember their new teacher’s name.

A few students acted up by speaking out of turn, while others procrastinated after Lawrence gave them an assignment to write answers to questions that would appear on an exam.

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But at least one student apologized to his new teacher for misbehaving and for not bringing his textbook to class last week, when Lawrence substituted for Parker for two days.

“Now that he’s our regular teacher,” said 17-year-old Jack Kazanchyan, “I have to give him respect.”

Kazanchyan said he had been shocked to find out Parker had retired. “Mr. Parker was a great teacher,” said the 11th grader. “Then one day, we see a substitute and he tells us Parker’s not going to come back.”

But, said Kazanchyan, “Lawrence is good too.”

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Such compliments still didn’t wipe away Lawrence’s feeling that he was taking over someone else’s space.

“It’s still Parker’s room,” said Lawrence, pointing out Parker’s textbooks, National Geographic magazines and educational recordings that still filled the shelves. “One of my major objectives will be to make this my room. But I wouldn’t want to insult someone who’s taught for years by just putting his stuff in a corner.”

Lawrence said he hopes to talk to Parker to find out what to do with the teaching materials left behind. He also wants to discuss the students’ work habits to make sure he gives out fair grades, and he will use tests Parker wrote to make the transition in teaching methods easier on the kids.

But come Feb. 14, the beginning of the new semester, things will change, said Lawrence. And the only shoes he will have to fill will be his own.

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“I’m saying (for now) we’ll do it the way Mr. Parker did it,’ ” said Lawrence, “but next semester we’ll do it my way.”


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