Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Teacher Deserves Credit for Taking Plunge

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

New Teacher Deserves Credit for Taking Plunge

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee, Times-Union columnist

Steven Waln shouldn't be so hard on himself.

Waln, 43, is a chiropractor who is plodding through his first year as a teacher at Eugene Butler Middle School in West Jacksonville. He is part of a program designed to lure professionals from their cozy offices into the chaos of public school classrooms to teach math and science.

He's a brave soul.

Being assigned to a core-city school was what some first-year teachers have cavalierly referred to as "doing their time." If teachers likened being at a certain school to being in prison, then maybe they had settled on doing just enough to get themselves sprung, not to educate or inspire.

I don't get that from Waln.

He's exasperated, and rightly so, about the horseplay, the blurting out and the yammering that goes on while he's trying to teach. Says he wishes he had more schooling in the ways of keeping order. But in the long run, his willingness to stop and answer questions about mosquitoes, West Nile virus, Egypt and the pyramids may count for more than just sticking to a testing track.

At least it will with those students.

Besides being up against the rambunctiousness and raging hormones that infect middle-schoolers, Waln is up against something more at Butler.

He's teaching at a school that, at least six years ago, had more students leave during the year than any other school in the city. Since that time, the school has done a good job of bringing in new programs, such as an interactive science project, and the city has fixed many of the streets crumbling around it.

But poverty still stalks the area. Ninety-eight percent of Butler's students eat free or reduced-price lunches.

Jobs in the community are still scarce.

This means some -- though certainly not all -- of the students in Waln's classes come from homes where adult responsibilities don't leave a lot of room for them to vent curiosities. …

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