By Steven Almazan
After one year of teaching in LAUSD, I was fired. Outside the district, given more time and mentoring, I was eventually nominated for Teacher of the Year.
I was raised in Boyle Heights. My parents were immigrants who didn’t graduate from high school, and my local neighborhood school was low performing. My parents worked hard to send me to a parochial school so that I would become the first member of my family to attend a four-year university, but most kids in my community didn’t go to college. Examine the demographics of LAUSD schools, and you’ll find a lot of students for whom that is the case.
When I started working in LAUSD, right after my college graduation, I was excited to help the next generation of kids from my neighborhood. But while I understood teaching theory, I struggled to manage my boisterous class – and my students struggled as a result. Additionally, despite my requests for assistance, I wasn’t given the coaching I needed from school leadership. Then, with three months left in my first year of teaching, I was informed that my contract with LAUSD wouldn’t be renewed.
Hearing that I would not be returning to LAUSD was crushing. However, I still knew I had potential. With time and the right guidance, I believed I could be a great teacher. Because I wasn’t granted permanent status (also known as tenure), I couldn’t go back to work in my district. But I learned that KIPP LA, a charter school in my old neighborhood, was hiring. I applied and was hired.
With mentors in my new school, I thrived – and so did my students. More time to learn my craft allowed me to find a rhythm in the classroom. Within two years, I was a finalist for Teacher of the Year across all KIPP schools in Los Angeles, based on my impact on student performance.
My story highlights what’s possible, but also exposes a clear weakness in how we support teachers. Principals in LAUSD have just 18 months to decide if a teacher should be granted tenure, yet research shows most teachers improve substantially after three to five years, and many keep growing.
With a teacher shortage across California, we cannot afford to miss these opportunities. By giving more time for administrators to assess a teacher and for teachers to actually improve, we can grow great teachers – and from the communities that need them most.
You can help make that happen. Assemblymember Shirley Weber partnered with teachers to craft legislation that will create a more effective tenure system. Tell your state representatives to stand with educators and support the Teacher and Student Success Act.
Steven Almazan is a Master of Public Policy candidate at UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy. Steven is a former LAUSD and KIPP LA Schools teacher and is a member of Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles.