So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Belvedere Middle School teacher defends his teaching after rocky superintendent visit

Deasy walks campus

Tami Abdollah/KPCC

Superintendent John Deasy walks through an economics classroom at Los Angeles High School during a surprise visit.

Remember Carlos Tejada?

He's the 7th-grade teacher whose classroom Superintendent John Deasy angrily walked out of during a surprise visit to Belvedere Middle School in April. Tejada didn't get back in touch with me in time for my profile of Deasy, but we were able to catch up last week.

Tejada was feeling enough paranoia (his word) to record our conversation in case Deasy took issue with our interview. "I don't know the man," Tejada said, "but from what I've heard, for lack of a better word, he's on a power trip, almost... I'm just covering my behind."

Tejada said he wanted to make clear that he welcomes people walking into his classroom at any time: "That's why I'm an educator, to serve the community. I'm a public servant," he said.

Tejada has taught at Belvedere since he started as a teacher 11 years ago. He said he wasn't surprised when Deasy walked into his fourth-period class. He kept his cool and continued his lesson on the Renaissance. Deasy was upset by what appeared to be a lack of rigor in the instruction. Students were being asked to define vocabulary words for an exam the next day by writing out the definition or drawing a picture.

But this wasn't any typical world history class. It was for level 1 and 2 English learners whose dominant language is Spanish. When Tejada asked a student to describe how the bubonic plague started, the student nervously responded in Spanish that he didn't know. Tejada called on another student to help out with the response.

Tejada was trained by L.A. Unified in SDAIE, or Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English, and was using the techniques that morning to help his students develop their language skills. The students had just begun studying the Renaissance, and so Tejada was having them break down the vocabulary terms and try and learn the concepts despite lack of mastery in English.

"When you give a question to students, especially ESL 1 and 2, you have to be patient with them, you have to give them time to reflect, to process information in English, to remember the vocabulary so they can speak back to you in English, or try to," Tejada said. 

He said he uses the technique to try to give students equal access to the information while teaching them English as well. "You're doing it at the same time, which makes it very difficult," Tejada said.

When Tejada read about Deasy's visit to the school, where Deasy walked out angrily and commented on the teaching at Belvedere, he said he was "surprised."

"[Deasy] shook my hand, and he said 'nice job,' and then he walked out, and then, when I read the story, I was like, 'Wow, that was a curveball,' because I did not know that was coming up," Tejada said. "I personally, I'm not shaken by it, I was surprised that he did do it, but I feel confident that I have worked well with my kids over the years."

Tejada said many people at the school were upset by what seemed to be a negative commentary on Belvedere's teaching. He said the East Los Angeles school had worked hard to raise its Academic Performance Index to 700 and was very proud of that.

"Our staff was disappointed ... we've worked so hard to get to 700," Tejada said."There's a lot of great things going on at Belvedere. We didn't reach 700 because of a fluke or a miracle, we've had steady growth over the years, and hopefully this coming August when scores come out, hopefully we'll bump up some more."

Tejada said he's never had a negative review and wishes Deasy had had a chance to spend more time on campus.

"We must be doing something right, because we are at 700, and if we are doing something wrong, then, honestly, I would love Deasy to stop, say 'Mr. Tejada can you give me a call, can I email you, give me a call, so we can talk about your lesson.'"

Deasy was clear that the visits were "snapshots" of instruction. When I followed up with Deasy again to see if he had known Tejada was teaching an EL class using L.A. Unified-taught teaching methods, he replied via email (sent at 5:34 a.m.):

"The issue is not what students were in the class nor the method being used. It is the quality on instruction and student engagement," Deasy wrote.

But Tejada, along with his principal Ignacio Garcia, felt the time Deasy spent visiting the classroom was too brief to gauge the teaching quality.

"He came in and saw two to three minutes of a lesson, to be honest with you," Tejada said, "and I think, if we would have talked, I think he would have understood what was going on in that class."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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