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Don't dismiss older teachers

For decades, husband and wife teachers Joe Petralia and Sherri Bottger taught in adjoining classrooms at Alhambra High School. Petralia taught physical education, geography, U.S. history, and world history at Alhambra Unified School District for 32 years, starting his career at Marguerita Elementary School before moving to AHS. Bottger taught psychology, and occasionally U.S. and world history, for 30 years.

Now retired, the couple joined Alhambra Source’s Reporter Corps in February to reflect on lessons learned, how teachers in Alhambra were affected by budget cuts, and how they feel about teaching today.

Dr. Roz Collier, president of the Alhambra Teachers Association, said it takes at least 7-10 years for most teachers to come into their own. Do you agree with that?

Joe Petralia: Yes. That’s why it’s frustrating when we get new administrators who have two years of experience, and they’ve got all the answers. Older teachers get dismissed so easily, but the one value they have is they’ve seen so many trends that have taken place over and over again.

I think with credentialing now, they spend so much time stressing strategy instead of telling people, “If you’re going to teach history, know history.” I was a mediocre high school student, but I loved history, I probably didn’t take a note, but I had a guy I liked and I listened to him and I think I did pretty good. Now it’s people talking about teaching strategies all the time and I’m not sure what your strategy is to teach if you don’t know the material.

There are reports that California will be facing a teacher shortage due to budget cuts, layoffs, a growing number of retiring teachers, and young people who have been discouraged from pursuing careers in teaching. How do you think this issue can be addressed? Would you encourage young adults to pursue teaching?

Sherri Bottger: I don’t know that I would right now. We get blamed for everything — for every student who doesn’t achieve, or go to a four-year school, we did something wrong or we’re lacking. When we were growing up, when the teacher punished us, our parents punished us again. Now, it’s more likely parents will sue and then the district backs down. We feel that there’s no support.

JP: I don’t think budget cuts in California are going to be as big of a problem. I think the big issue is going to be, “Why would you want to do this?” The younger teachers that I know will make great teachers but with the times now, I don’t know if they should do it. I became a teacher because I wanted to so badly. Once they find out what the grind is, I don’t know if everyone will be up for it except for the people who really love it. It’s not for everybody.

The Advancement Via Individualized Determination (AVID) program was a college preparatory course offered to middle achieving students. The program was one of the first elective courses to lose its entire funding at Alhambra High School during the early stages of the budget crisis. How did you feel about that program being cut?

SB: It was such a great program because they were there to push the college applications and to remind the kids about deadlines.

JP: Especially for kids who have immigrant parents who aren’t informed of the process, or kids who have parents who work all the time, it was such an important program. I don’t want to be overcritical of what has been done, but it deserves to be criticized. I’ve spoken to younger administrators and they’ve told me that it’s supposed to be about the kids, but it isn’t and I know that. Some of them try to voice their opinion, but by doing so they end their administrative careers.

SB: They either become "yes men" or they leave.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

SB: Despite all our complaints, I love teaching. I loved my subject, my students, and my colleagues. We have lifelong relationships with our students. It’s wonderful.

This interview was edited and condensed. This story is part of a Reporter Corps series on the Local Control Funding Formula and its impact on Alhambra students, teachers, parents, and community. Learn more.

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