BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Janet Lipson, why are you a classroom teacher?
JANET LIPSON, SOCIAL STUDIES TEACHER, LONG BEACH (CA) POLYTECHNIC HIGH SCHOOL: I just think the classroom is one of the most exciting places one can be. There is a level of -- gosh, I don’t even know what other word to use, where students are involved, you never know what’s going to happen next, and it’s a chance to interact with some young people who are ready launch their lives.
LAMB: Where is your school and how many students do you teach?
LIPSON: My school is located in Long Beach, California. I teach at Long Beach Polytechnic High. And we have approximately 4,500 students on the main campus, and a satellite campus with another 500 students about two blocks away.
LAMB: And -- but how about your time spent? How many students do you have in front of you?
LIPSON: I have 185 students, 37 at a time, five different times on the -- we’re actually on what’s called a block schedule, so I see students every other day.
LAMB: What do you do on the off day?
LIPSON: See different students.
LAMB: So you do see students every day?
LIPSON: I do see students every day. A typical day would be, I start off with students for approximately 95 minutes with 37 students. They leave, we take a 10-minute break, another 37 students come. They leave, we have a lunch break, and then another 37 students would come. Every other day, instead of having a third set of 37 students, I am getting a conference period.
LAMB: Sarah Bakhiet, why do you teach in the classroom?
SARAH BAKHIET, AMERICAN GOVERNMENT & HISTORY TEACHER, LA JOLLA (CA) COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL: Well, I walked into a classroom about 12 years ago, and it felt like the most natural thing I’ve ever done. So I stayed there and it has just been getting better.
LAMB: Why did you go to the classroom in the first place?
BAKHIET: One of my former teachers, Bill Gulotta at Berkshire School, called me up. He was chair of the history department there. He heard I was looking for a job. And he said, why don’t you come down and give us a try.
LAMB: Berkshire School is where?
BAKHIET: It is in Sheffield, Massachusetts, in the very southwestern part of Mass.
LAMB: And what had you been doing before that?
BAKHIET: I had been lawyering for a little while, and had known from the beginning that that was not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I then took a little time off and decided to check out what was out there. I looked at the U.N. I looked at teaching overseas. And this was what came along.
LAMB: And what does your day look like compared to Janet Lipson’s?
BAKHIET: It’s a little bit different…
LAMB: Now you’re not at Berkshire anymore.
BAKHIET: I’m not at Berkshire anymore. I’m at La Jolla Country Day School in San Diego, California. I’m at a small school which is very different from Janet’s. My biggest class last year was 20 students. My smallest was 10.
I typically teach five periods a day, four or five periods a day. And we usually have one period off, and so I will -- depending on which period is off, the kids will come and go and I’ll have two or three classes in a row or sometimes one off in between. And we’ll see most kids every day.
LAMB: What do you teach them?
BAKHIET: I teach them American government and history, and sometimes a little English.
LAMB: Janet Lipson, what do you teach?
LIPSON: I teach American government and economics and have elective on criminal and civil law.
LAMB: What’s your goal when it comes to, say, American government? What kind of things and what year are these kids?
LIPSON: My students are seniors and probably my overall goal is for them to have an understanding of the American system of government and to encourage them to become active participants in democracy.
LAMB: How interested are they before you get to this in the course?
LIPSON: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, a 1. They need it to graduate, and beyond that, there is a lot of interest.
LAMB: Why do you think they’re not interested?
LIPSON: They’ve watched C-SPAN and they think government is boring.
LAMB: What about family, anybody in the family ever interested in this stuff?
LIPSON: Occasionally I’ve had students whose parents have run for office. A lot of the students I see are part of the immigrant community. Long Beach houses the largest Cambodian community outside of Cambodia.
LAMB: What else is the make-up of your student body?
LIPSON: Student body is approximately 30 percent African-American, 30 percent Asian, 20 percent Hispanic, I think it’s about 10 percent Caucasian, and then there are some Pacific Islanders, and I’m not sure what else that makes up the rest.
LAMB: Do they get along?
LIPSON: They get along phenomenally well, yes, most of the time.
LAMB: What’s the make-up of the -- is it the La Jolla Day…
BAKHIET: La Jolla Country Day School.
LAMB: Country Day School.
LAMB: Private school.
BAKHIET: Private school, yes.
LAMB: What does it cost to go there, by the way?
BAKHIET: It costs about $14,000 a year to go there, maybe a little bit more now, I don’t keep up on tuition. But it has been increasing steadily with the cost of living going up. The student body is generally very affluent, comes from very affluent socioeconomic backgrounds.
But there is a surprising degree of diversity, not in terms perhaps of the evident kind that you can see at a place like your school, but in the sense that there are so many different backgrounds at this place.
There is also quite a bit of racial diversity there, which I was surprised to see given where it was located and what I expected upon arrival. We have quite a varied student body.
LAMB: Do they get along?
BAKHIET: They get along very well. Everybody is pretty much treated the same way, with, of course, the usual cultural differences that exist among certain populations.
LAMB: So what about American government? How much interest is there when you get them?
BAKHIET: There is a lot of interest. The kids -- it is an elective in our school, which means you don’t have to take it. You have to take U.S. history but you don’t have to take government.
The class has become quite popular in the last few years. And there -- I get kids who are incredibly well-knowledged about U.S. government. And their parents are extremely well-acquainted with the government, and they want them to learn.
And they come in just excited and they want to learn more. And they want to tell me what they know. And they want to tell their classmates what they know. So it’s getting the best of all worlds I think, having these kids who really want to learn about government and do stuff with it. They want to be involved in it. So it’s pretty exciting.
LAMB: We should tell our audience that we’ve asked the two of you to sit with us today and just talk about your lives as classroom teachers and your background. And you’re both fellows, if you can use that expression, fellowship winners here C-SPAN spending four weeks with us. And you come out of two schools in California, both on the coast, right there on the water, in little different economic areas. So we’re just going to keep asking you questions about what it’s like to be a classroom teacher.
Go back to the teaching of government or either economics or any of the stuff that you teach. What tricks do you use, and I don’t mean -- that’s not fair, but you’re looking out on a group of kids and they may not be interested, what do you use to get them on your side?
LIPSON: Well, first of all, they’re on my side because I stand between them and graduation.
LAMB: But do they care about graduating?
LIPSON: They do care, very much they care about graduation. And the majority of them are planning to go on to college. And high school graduation is incredibly important to them.
Secondly I have to convince them that these are subjects worth talking about. So I try to get them to buy in. I have an incredibly supportive principal and generally the administration. So we start on the school level of school rules. They don’t things they want to change, and this principal is incredibly open and willing to come to the classroom and talk about why things are the way they are.
For instance, in the fall this year we have something called “international ambassadors“ rather than having a homecoming court. The story behind it goes back to 19 -- I believe it was, ’70, there was a riot and some people thought it was in part of race, because the court was primarily white. And the school decided, you know, we need to do something a little bit different. So they decided every ethnicity would be represented by “international ambassadors.“
It has been so long, most of the students don’t know why we have it, and some of them wanted to go back to the traditional homecoming court and didn’t understand why they couldn’t. I called the principal and he came and chatted with them about it and how it could be changed if that was what they truly wanted.
LAMB: So what about, like, homework? Do you assign them books to read or articles to read when it comes to government? And how do you teach it?
LIPSON: Yes, they -- we have a textbook, and in fact, California requires every student have a textbook that they can take home. Our school is part of a recent law settlement. The case didn’t actually go to court, called the Williams Settlement, that said in large urban schools in poor districts, every student must be afforded a textbook -- a recent textbook.
I have them. I teach them how to take notes in a textbook and grade that as homework, have quizzes, all the time-honored ways that teachers make students do it. And…
LAMB: They take notes in the margins of the text?
LIPSON: Oh no, they cannot write in the books, they take notes in the notebooks. They’ll…
LAMB: Do they have to buy these books?
LIPSON: No, they do not. They return the books at the end of the semester.
LAMB: And that book is approved by the State of California?
LIPSON: It is approved by the State of California. And it used for approximately seven or eight years.
LAMB: What about in a private school? Do you have the same restrictions?
BAKHIET: We do not. At Country Day they buy -- all the students buy their textbooks. I use mainly two different textbooks, one for the advanced placement government class and one for the regular government class.
When I first came to Country Day, I have to explain, there was one advanced placement government class, last year, six years later, I had three advanced placement government classes and two regular government classes. There was a demand for regular classes to begin so that students who were not going to the advanced sections could also take government.
Almost all seniors take government now with a handful who don’t, whose schedules don’t fit. Our books are similarly -- one is a college text and one is a high school text.
LAMB: Why a college text?
BAKHIET: Because the advanced -- I believe that the advanced placement classes should be at the college level. And I chose this text because it is one that was first recommended by the College Board and one that is used in colleges.
LAMB: Let me ask you both questions about yourself, because the one thing the audience doesn’t know and one thing about each of you that’s interesting, Janet Lipson was a plumber, and Sarah Bakhiet came from the Sudan. I want to go through a little bit of that.
Talk about the Sudan, were you born there?
BAKHIET: I was born there. I left the Sudan when I was an infant. My parents left with all of us under stressful political and economic circumstances. I returned briefly with my mother and my siblings -- three of my siblings, when I was about 4 or 5 years old. And we were there for a few months sort of testing the waters, if you will.
It did not seem like it was the right time to come back, so we left again. I grew up in Libya, which is an interesting choice when one is fleeing from political troubles. I grew up in Libya until I was 15. And that was when I came to the U.S. to finish my high school and go to college…
LAMB: Why Libya?
BAKHIET: My father, who was an agricultural irrigation engineer, had worked in Libya as a young man and had lived there even with my mother and my two older siblings when they first started out their life as an irrigation expert. And he was familiar with it so he chose that place to go. And when they left -- when left Sudan.
LAMB: What’s the Sudan like? How big is it?
BAKHIET: It’s the biggest country in Africa. It’s…
LAMB: In geographical…
BAKHIET: In geographical -- it’s also -- it’s populated in an interesting way. The concentrations of population are in the cities and it’s still quite tribal in the rural areas, if you will.
LAMB: Were you a member of tribe?
BAKHIET: I was not -- everyone is in Sudan, I mean, when you’re identified in Sudan, you’re identified with a certain people. So yes, I was obviously identified with my father’s people and my mother’s people there.
LAMB: What was that? What was the term?
BAKHIET: My father’s people come from a place called Al Gujer Aba (ph), which is on the Nile where he grew up as a young boy. And my mother’s people are Shaigia (ph), which is another tribe that’s indigenous, actually, to the Sudan.
LAMB: So originally when your parents left there, what were the political differences that your father was involved in?
BAKHIET: Well, my father was extremely unpolitical. He was his whole life. He was a philosopher and an analyst. But he never really was a political person. It was mostly my mother’s family, her brothers, who were political, who were in the military, who attempted to make changes in the government with disastrous results.
And it was primarily because of that that we sort of exited the scene in a hurry, if you will.
LAMB: Have you been back?
BAKHIET: I have not been back since that time when I was 4 or 5.
LAMB: So what do you remember about Libya?
BAKHIET: Oh, I have actually great memories of Libya. I spent my early childhood in Benghazi before my preschool years, where I was home-schooled by my mother who was a teacher. Both of my parents were teachers at some point in their lives.
And I spent a wonderful childhood sort of living in a rural suburban, if you will, part of Benghazi where there was a great deal of freedom to sort of roam around and be natural. And I remember those years very fondly.
Then we moved to Tripoli and I started school there. I went to English school for the first few years. And then in the fifth grade went to the American oil company school in Tripoli, Libya, which was -- and I was there from fifth through the ninth grade. And I still say those were the best educational years of my life?
LAMB: Was Mr. Qadhafi in charge while you were there?
BAKHIET: Mr. Qadhafi came into charge in 1969, and that was when sort of the bucolic, calm, tranquil experience in Libya changed drastically.
LAMB: So what year did you come to the United States?
BAKHIET: I came to the U.S. in 1980.
LAMB: Come back to it in a moment. I want to ask Janet Lipson about being a plumber. When were you a plumber?
LIPSON: What was I a plumber -- where?
LAMB: Where? When?
LIPSON: Fairbanks, Alaska.
LAMB: How did that happen? Where had you grown up, by the way?
LIPSON: I grew up in Long Beach, California, and I went to school, my undergraduate, at University of California-Santa Cruz, received a bachelor’s degree in economics and moved to the Bay Area to work as an economist.
Was living in Berkeley, working in San Francisco, having a great time, 22 years old, 21, 22, and all this and thought, I have settled down. I am starting to put roots down and thought I was far too young to do that.
So I called a friend from college who was in Los Angeles struggling to find a job. And we agreed that we would leave California. Fairbanks, Alaska, turned out to be the destination.
Being a good student of economics, got there, saw there was not much of a market for economists, but the construction industry was booming, so that’s where I went.
LAMB: And plumber? I mean…
LIPSON: There was an opening and at that time they were trying to get more women into the construction industry. So the federal government was willing to pay half my wage if an employer was willing to train me. And there was an employer who at that -- figured it was worth a try.
So I started out in the office and worked Saturdays in the field and then convinced them that that’s where I wanted to be full-time.
LAMB: And how long did you do it?
LIPSON: About 10-12 years.
LAMB: Every day, went in, put the pipes together and all that?
LIPSON: I am -- yes, I have my Journey card in plumbing.
LAMB: What was it like being a plumber?
LIPSON: It was challenging for me in terms of I don’t have that much natural mechanical aptitude. A lot of fun, weren’t many women in the field. Met my husband who was actually the master plumber who taught me how to be a plumber.
We started our own plumbing company. And Fairbanks, Alaska, was a fabulous town to be young and start your own business. People took you seriously. And it was a great experience.
LAMB: Now I understand that some of the video that we have that was shot in your classroom which is not the greatest video in the world, we’re laughing about this, was shot by your husband. Is that right?
LIPSON: That’s correct.
LAMB: So he’s at your school too?
LIPSON: He is. We both became teachers.
LAMB: So why -- how did that happen? I mean, you married where, in Alaska?
LIPSON: We married in -- yes, we married in Alaska.
LAMB: What year?
LIPSON: Whenever the Challenger crashed?
LAMB: Mm, ’86 or something?
LIPSON: It was a while ago.
LAMB: And you both decided to be teachers?
LIPSON: I was about 30 years old, our business was incredibly successful. There were a lot of people who were urging us to become larger, to hire full-time employees. I didn’t think I really wanted to do that, nor did he. And I started to wonder if I really to do this for the rest of my life. Construction is very difficult on the body. And at 30 I realized this won’t be fun at 40. So I started thinking about another career. I sold myself on teaching and sold my husband as well.
LAMB: So how did you get into the classroom then, did you have to go back to more school?
LIPSON: I did. I went for my teaching credential at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Did my student teaching in Fairbanks, Alaska. And as I completed it they laid 150 teachers.
LAMB: And what about your husband?
LIPSON: My husband also -- we went back together. He also -- he had a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, so he went through the teaching credential program with me. We student taught at the same high school in Fairbanks, Alaska.
When they laid off all the teachers, we thought maybe it was time to find another place to live. And we debated where that would be and we were choosing between the West Coast and Michigan, and finally decided Long Beach, California, would be a good starting point.
LAMB: So you’ve been at Long Beach Polytechnic for how long?
LIPSON: At Poly High, for I think 14 years.
LAMB: Fourteen years, and you’ve now been at La Jolla Country Day School for how long?
BAKHIET: Six years.
LAMB: Back to the Sudan, Libya, United States experience. How did you all -- in the family, how many in the family came here?
BAKHIET: Well, at different times we had all come here from various reasons. We were all educated here. I have four siblings, two sisters and two brothers. We were all, except for one brother, educated in the United States.
We all came in the early ’80s.
LAMB: How, though?
BAKHIET: Interesting. My brother and sister -- sisters I should say, both applied to graduate school and were accepted and came here as students. I was a little bit different since I was younger and I was coming to high school, I applied to go to a boarding school.
It just so happened that my father died at the same time that I was scheduled to -- the school ended at the ninth grade, the school I was attending, the oil company school. And so we had to do something after that to finish. And we were all agreed on the fact that I wanted to finish in the American system, which my father believed in quite a bit.
So two of my teachers, Pete and Ellie Noel (ph), sponsored me and accompanied me to the United States.
LAMB: To where?
BAKHIET: To Massachusetts, actually. We were sort of doing two things, looking at schools and they were looking for a home to buy. They were both teachers at the oil company school and they wanted to buy a condo here in the U.S. for their retirement.
And I was looking at the schools that were available. And they said, well, the best schools are in Massachusetts. So let’s go look at those. And I had applied to a few and we went to see them.
My first impression, when I walked into some of these renowned that I heard about, was that this was college, that this was a college, this was not a school.
LAMB: They have campuses?
BAKHIET: Yes. The boarding schools -- the large boarding schools of the Northeast of New England, and I thought, this didn’t quite feel right. And so I kept looking until I came upon this little school called the Berkshire School in western Mass. And now when drove up the driveway of this place, I knew immediately that that’s where I wanted to go to school.
I think it’s the most beautiful place, probably on the face of the earth. And in testament, I went back and became a teacher there for six years. So it’s…
LAMB: And -- but after the Berkshire School, where did you go to college?
BAKHIET: I went to Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, not too far away, about an hour or so away from where I went to high school. My oldest sister had also gone to Mount Holyoke years before me. And I had seen the pictures of her on Mount Holyoke College campus and I declared at age -- I don’t know, 8 or 9, probably, this is where I want to go to college.
So it was the only school I applied to. It was the only college I applied early decision and I got in, luckily.
LAMB: Did you need any more education in order to teach?
BAKHIET: I did not. I went to graduate school right out of college. And I did not need to get any credentials. I still to this day don’t have any credentials.
LAMB: Because you’re private school.
BAKHIET: Yes. That’s correct.
LAMB: Let’s go back to -- we are going to come back to some of this later. Let’s go back to teaching. You know, you can -- you both hear various people criticize schools today by saying, they don’t teach history. The impression you get from some people who are outspoken about it is that kids in high school are not taught history.
Let’s start with that. Are they or aren’t they?
LIPSON: They are, but not the way they used to be. First of all, there is a lot more history to learn and not a lot more time dedicated to it. So that makes it tough. And secondly we are on -- at least in the public schools, a huge testing binge. And there…
LIPSON: I believe the idea is that they want to assess, they want accountability, and decided the best way to do it is to test. It also has to do with the No Child Left Behind Act which requires that states test periodically.
LAMB: What is your instinct about the No Child Left Behind Act?
LIPSON: I think that it was a good idea that they’ve gone about all wrong.
LAMB: In what way? Give us an example.
LIPSON: That one test can tell you how students are doing.
LAMB: And why can’t they?
LIPSON: I think anytime you just use one instrument on a given day that is largely multiple choice you run the risk of leaving a lot of what learning is really all about out. Additionally it seems to be used to decide whether or not a teacher is qualified.
And while I feel I do a great job with my students, if a student doesn’t perform I don’t think that necessarily reflects whether or not I’m qualified. I certainly know the material.
LAMB: You’ve said 37 students in a class, did you?
LIPSON: Thirty-seven students. I probably average 35 in a class.
LAMB: And a hundred and how many?
LIPSON: One hundred eighty-five.
LAMB: How many of those fail?
LIPSON: A couple percent.
LAMB: Is that steady over the years?
LIPSON: Pretty -- no, it has gone down some. As a teacher’s reputation gets established, students will either perform or avoid said teacher.
LAMB: Did they -- can they choose you?
LIPSON: In a limited sense, yes. For the most part, no, they’re assigned via what are called academies, which is a way to try to make the school smaller. But they certainly or a parent can call and ask not to have a teacher or to have some other teacher.
LAMB: Sarah Bakhiet, does the No Child Left Behind Act apply to the private school?
BAKHIET: That’s a question that’s fairly technical. And I don’t know the answer to that. If we have to actually -- I don’t think -- as long as we don’t accept public funds, I don’t think we have to adhere to any national laws, at least that would be my instinct.
I don’t know if it applies to us. We do have to obviously be credited -- be accredited. And we do go through a process which accredits us every five years, I believe, we’re coming up this next year.
Having said that, I’ve been looking at some of the requirements and standards that are -- since I’ve come here, actually, and they seem to be exactly what we teach. So if we did have to adhere to certain standards, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult.
LAMB: What about this business of history? Do you teach enough of it in your school?
BAKHIET: I think we teach enough of it. I think we teach history very well. We have a very strong history department. I like the textbooks we use -- the textbook we use, which is the same for the advanced classes as it is for the regular classes. And it’s a challenging book.
I think history, just from what I’ve seen in the last 12 years of teaching history, has become a lot more relevant to the people who are studying -- the young people who are studying. It has certainly become more relevant to me as certain aspects of history are becoming -- it’s evident that they are important.
LAMB: Are you an American citizen?
BAKHIET: I am, yes.
LAMB: And what part of American history that you teach do you enjoy the most?
BAKHIET: Wow, that’s a difficult question. The Revolutionary War.
BAKHIET: Because that’s where it all started. Everything can go back -- the ideals of independence and freedom are incredibly heady material for someone of my background. I think that that aspect of American history, that uniqueness of the Constitution, the fact that this is the oldest living constitution in the world, those ideals are so exciting to teach.
That for me, I think that’s probably the part I love the most. And closely followed by, of course, the civil rights movement, which is -- probably is the second independence -- war for independence, if you will.
LAMB: Now, Janet Lipson, you’re talking about your school having a large Cambodian population. What other countries are represented?
LIPSON: Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, a lot of Pacific Islanders. So we have Samoans -- gosh, I hate to be thinking that I’m leaving somebody out and I’m sure that I am.
LAMB: But you’ve mentioned enough though to go to the point that Sarah Bakhiet was talking about, about history and freedom and the Revolutionary War. Do those Cambodians and those Laotians and the Vietnamese care about this, this issue of freedom?
LIPSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. They -- in the U.S. history classes they get very excited when learning about the Vietnam War. A lot of their parents will not talk about that area, Pol Pot, and the regime is something else that when they get to do independent research, it’s what they want to know.
And this year in Long Beach we had an event, the Long Beach community wanted to honor the Cambodians and chose to have a parade which the Cambodian community had been urging them to do. Unfortunately their choice of day was the day that commemorated Pol Pot a number of people. And so the Cambodian community became very divided; some who thought it was more important that the parade go on as a means of acceptance, and others who said that you cannot have it on this day.
And the students loved that there were readings at city council and different groups doing different things. And students on both sides of the issue. The parade did go on but they changed the date.
LAMB: There is an impression also that a lot of people who come here aren’t interested in American history. And there is -- you hear worrying about that, that they come for reasons -- economic reasons, and the last thing they care about is what the history is. What would both of you say about that? Have you seen that being true in some cases or was the opposite true?
BAKHIET: I would say that’s -- the opposite is true. I think people who come here are very interested in history. It’s the reason why most people come here. I think, yes, economically that’s the reality, you have to survive economically to be able to say you’ve made it.
The ideals that we talked about before, the American freedom of opportunity, that’s the reality. But I think the ideals are what bring people here initially. That they’re coming here for freedom. The ability -- the freedom to do what they could not do in their own countries, whatever that may be.
LAMB: Same experience?
LIPSON: Somewhat similar. I think for a lot of mine, it is probably more economic freedom, but in order to become a citizen one has to pass a test if not born here. And so because there is a compelling need for citizenship, a lot of them want to learn the history for that reason.
Again, going back to the Cambodian community, students who are not citizens, if they commit crimes, can be deported. A lot of these, they’re residents, they’re not citizens. They don’t know their homeland whatsoever and have had older brothers or sisters who were deported. So they want to become citizens.
LAMB: Can an illegal alien go to your school?
LAMB: Does it happen often?
LIPSON: We prefer not to know.
LAMB: And how does that work? I mean, does a student have to sign up and say that they’re here illegally do you just…
LIPSON: We don’t collect that kind of data. If a student proves that he or she lives in the area that we serve, then they are allowed to go to the school. That’s the public schools.
LAMB: And what are you under the law supposed to do? I mean, if you found out somebody is illegal, I assume you could tell the authorities. But you just ignore it?
LIPSON: No, actually, I believe California passed such a law and it was thrown out by the courts. And right now we have no obligation to tell anyone in terms of legality or illegality.
I have students who will admit to me that their family did not come here legally. And we’ve sometimes tried to enlist star -- congress people to help them out in terms of amnesty or anything that -- the heartbreaker is when students are applying to college. And those who are here illegally do not have the resources to go on to college. And that’s the stopping point.
I believe there’s an act in Congress, I don’t think it has passed yet, the dream act, which is supposed to take care of students in that position.
LAMB: What about in a private school, do you have illegals?
BAKHIET: We do not to my knowledge have any illegals.
LAMB: Both of you seem to me to have a very different experience. You’ve got a small classroom -- I mean, a small group of students. You’ve got large -- larger. There are just a lot of differences. Would you ever teach in a public school?
BAKHIET: My mantra in life is “anything is possible.“ Yes. Probably, yes, if the circumstances were right, I would.
LAMB: What’s the advantage of a private school?
BAKHIET: The small classes, the intimate contact with the students, the getting to know your students, and they getting to know you, the impact you can have on your students because there is that close essential relationship between you and the students.
LAMB: Now you have a blog.
BAKHIET: Yes, I do.
LAMB: That you are keeping while you’re here in Washington. Do you students know this?
BAKHIET: Yes. Some of them do. We set it up after school was out, which is unfortunate, because I could have publicized it even more. But yes, many of them do.
LAMB: Do you want to give our audience the address?
BAKHIET: Well, it’s SignOnSanDiego.
BAKHIET: Yes. SignOnSanDiego. It’s through the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper. And I think if you go to communities and then Miss B, you’ll get on the blog.
LAMB: You’re Miss B?
BAKHIET: I am indeed Miss B.
LAMB: And what is the advantage of having a blog like this with your students?
BAKHIET: I think it will get a discussion started. My hope is that next -- those of them, the student who have seen it, we can get something started. I planned to use C-SPAN more extensively next year in my classroom teaching than I have in the past. And I think this would be a great spot to start.
LAMB: How much of your life do they want to know about in the classroom?
LAMB: How much do you tell them?
BAKHIET: Some things.
LAMB: What about -- do you do a blog too?
LIPSON: Absolutely not.
LAMB: Why not?
LIPSON: I think I’m more private than that. I like a separation between myself and my students. I don’t think I would be comfortable in the setting that Sarah is in. In fact, I could pretty much say I would not teach in a private school.
LAMB: And why is that?
LIPSON: I believe in the public schools. I think they’re egalitarian place. And I think we’ve got to do everything we can to help them survive.
LAMB: Do you ever come in contact with students from a private school?
LIPSON: Occasionally. Mm-hmm, usually through competitions, things like -- of that nature, we would come into…
LAMB: Should the private school even exist?
LIPSON: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I think options are a great thing for everyone. But if you want a child to really get an idea of what the country is all about, what better place than to see students from every socioeconomic background imaginable.
And I think -- I can’t imagine trading that in for anything.
LAMB: So what is wrong with today’s high school environment, if anything? What would you change in the system if you had carte blanche?
LIPSON: I would like to make, wow, a lot of changes. First of all, our public high schools are seriously underfunded. The classrooms that the student is in don’t look cared for. The school that I’m at over a hundred years old. We don’t have air conditioning. The heat is either on or off. We don’t control the heat. The paint is peeling.
I think we put more money in the prisons. So first of all, simply the infrastructure, finding computers is difficult. I would love it if my students had more access to technology.
Secondly, the class load for teachers is horrendous. And I would delight in halving the number of students that I see.
LAMB: Are you paid enough?
LIPSON: I’m satisfied with my salary, but I didn’t go into teaching to get rich. However, if one looks at the amount of education most teachers have and things they could be doing instead of teaching, we’re seriously underpaid.
LAMB: What would you change?
BAKHIET: About education in general? All the things that Janet mentioned I would agree with. I would -- if I could change one thing and nothing else, it would class size. I would make the classes smaller.
LAMB: Even in your size class, which is what?
LAMB: Did you say 14, 15?
BAKHIET: Well, my classes I think are the ideal size, 14 or 15 students, between 10 and 15 students per class I think is ideal, which is the reason why I teach in the kind of school where I teach. I think I’m most effective in that kind of environment.
But I think that if there was one thing that could be changed about all schools, that would be it, the class sizes would be smaller so that teachers can do what they do best. And they could reach all the kids in the class.
There is no way, if you are doing your job, that you could miss a student, that anyone could be left behind if the classes are between 10 and 15 kids.
LAMB: Now what we haven’t talked about, and you mentioned your education, is your law degree. And you know -- and I would ask you the same question: Do you make enough money in a private school to live?
BAKHIET: Of course not, I think teachers are grossly underpaid. I don’t think teachers make enough money. I don’t…
LAMB: How much should they make?
BAKHIET: I think they should make the most of anyone, I mean, ideally speaking. Teachers, I think, are some of the most important individuals in society. Everyone has had one at some point.
LAMB: Had many.
BAKHIET: Yes, had many, more than one, and usually there are one or two that have influenced one’s life in a way that is extremely profound. Given that, of course, if you want to make compensation sort of relative to the task, teachers should be some of the most -- the highest paid individuals in our socioeconomic scale.
But of course that’s not the way it is. Given that, I’m very satisfied with how much I make.
LAMB: Where did you get your law degree?
BAKHIET: At the University of Iowa.
LAMB: Did you ever practice law?
BAKHIET: I did a stint a very small establishment, I wouldn’t call it practicing law, because I had not really -- I hadn’t even taken the Bar yet. And so I did practice. I call it lawyering because it went around and sort of tested the waters before deciding whether this is what I wanted to do or not.
I had suspicions in law school that I did not want to practice a traditional law. And sort of in the back of my mind that was always there. But I never took the leap in actually went into the legal professional, traditional law practice.
LAMB: Go back to being in the classroom and confronting, if that’s -- that may not be the right word, your students. Again, what do you do that you see them coming with you, and what kind of approach do you take to the students to keep them with you for the whole, what is it, 50 minutes -- or no, 95 minutes?
LIPSON: Ninety-five minutes. Yes, it’s tough trying to generate enthusiasm to care about the subject, convince them that I think this is one of the most important things to study, that it can make a difference in their life.
LAMB: And you’re -- not to interrupt you, but economics…
LIPSON: Actually, I do government the first semester and economics as a second course the second semester.
LAMB: Do you call on each student? Do you make them speak?
LIPSON: Occasionally, yes. Yes, everybody is accountable in the classroom. Probably the thing that I found the most amazing with that many students is students seem to think it’s OK to sleep in the classroom. And I will not allow that.
If a student puts his or her on the desk, I will go over and ask if they need to go see the nurse because healthy teenagers should not be sleeping during the day. And usually is, no, no, I’m fine. And then they’ll get back and engaged.
LAMB: What are some of the other things that, as they go through a semester with you, they know that you’re going to do?
LIPSON: They know that I will call upon them, especially if I don’t think that they’re paying attention. They know that they will get a chance to make decisions, to work in groups with other students in the class. And they know that there will be tests that hold them accountable for the information that we…
LAMB: What doesn’t work from your experience in the classroom?
LIPSON: Calling on student without giving him or her any warning, just putting them on the spot, embarrassing them, or telling them that their is flat out wrong.
LAMB: What’s -- Sarah Bakhiet, what’s your own experience? By the way, what do your students call you? Do you ever let them call you Sarah?
BAKHIET: No. Most of the students call me B or Miss B or coach, sometimes, depending on…
LAMB: Why coach?
BAKHIET: … what kind of relationship. I used to be a coach. I coached for many years cross-country running and retired a couple of years ago. One of my goals in life was to retire from a successful venture before I was 40 years old. And that was it.
So I had a wonderful time coaching. And some of my students, bless them, less now, have actually had me as a coach. So that’s where that came from. But most of them call me either B or Miss B.
LAMB: What techniques do you use in the classroom?
BAKHIET: Everything. Mostly -- because government is such a discussion-friendly subject, we talk a lot in class. We do a lot of debating and arguing and shouting sometimes, and yelling. And…
LAMB: Do you tell them your politics?
BAKHIET: Yes, I do. I do, which is a controversial issue, but I do, yes.
LAMB: And why do you do that?
BAKHIET: Because I think it generates better discussion, it generates a more interested audience, if you will. They are more likely to speak and agree or disagree with you if they know what you are thinking. Plus I think it would be impossible for me not to.
LAMB: You know, it’s interesting, though, if I asked both of you your politics and you were to give it to us today, people watching would immediately react either favorably toward you or negatively toward if you told them your politics.
So would you like to tell us what your politics are? You’re taking a chance. You don’t have to.
BAKHIET: My politics are fairly complicated. They are -- I can’t -- I don’t think I can describe them as simply liberal or conservative, because, as my students have noted on many occasions, they’re fairly schizophrenic.
LAMB: What is your biggest concern in the society then, biggest issue?
BAKHIET: Right now? The war.
LAMB: And where are you on the war?
BAKHIET: I don’t agree with it.
LAMB: Did you ever?
LAMB: How about you, Janet Lipson, do you tell your students what your politics?
LIPSON: No, I generally don’t. I will tell them after an election how I voted. Beyond that, I try to keep it out of the classroom for the most part.
LAMB: And why is that?
BAKHIET: Because I think it’s too easy for students and their parents to be dismissive, much as you suggested with an audience that was watching to say, oh, well, she thinks that because of whatever. And therefore, I think I lose some credibility.
LAMB: Do they try to figure out what your politics are?
LIPSON: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And I feel unsuccessful when they’re all convinced I voted the way they would.
LAMB: And do they want to vote? I mean, most of them aren’t old enough, are they?
LIPSON: A lot of them turn 18 during their senior year. And in fact I make a point of giving them a gift. And one of the gifts a register to vote form, a kind that already has the -- they don’t need to put a stamp on it. So it’s a pretty big deal.
In November elections, very few are actually able to vote. When we have primaries or anything in California, we love initiatives and we love special elections. So a lot of times they are able to vote during their senior year.
LAMB: What would you say that most of your students are interested in more than anything else? I mean, if they had their free time and they were going to go do something, what would it -- what would they do? And I’ll throw to both of you, also, do they work? Do they have jobs?
BAKHIET: Most of my students I would say do not have jobs, at least during the school year. They do too much. There are so many demands placed upon them academically and otherwise what we call co-curricular activities. Most of my students play a team sport and go to school full-time, a very rigorous school. And they do something else, some other extracurricular activity, whether it’s art or drama or something else.
So they’re extremely, extremely busy. They don’t really have time to have jobs during the year. In the summer most of them I think do. And as we reach the end of the senior year, many of them began having jobs, as we sort of began to slow down a little bit at the end of the senior year.
LAMB: How many of your students will go to college?
BAKHIET: All of them.
LAMB: How many of your students will go to college?
LIPSON: If you include the community colleges, probably 70 to 80 percent.
LAMB: And is that higher or lower than most of your California school experiences you know about?
LIPSON: I think we’re a little bit higher.
LAMB: And why would that be?
LIPSON: My particular school has a magnet program that attracts -- it’s for the gifted and talented, it’s a gate program, so we get a great number of students. All of those students will go to college. And I think it trickles down that the school has an atmosphere where very much college is on the agenda.
LAMB: Do your students have jobs while they’re in high school?
LIPSON: Absolutely. A lot of them work anywhere between 20 to 30 to 40 hours a week.
LAMB: What do they do?
LIPSON: A lot of them start out in the fast food industry. Some of them -- service industry. Some of them work for their parents.
LAMB: Why do they do this?
LIPSON: Economic necessity.
LAMB: And what kind of a lifestyle do most of -- and this may be not a fair question, do they live, and what economic level are most of the students that you teach?
LIPSON: Again, it’s a strata from the very lowest to probably the upper 10 percent of the economic strata in -- at least in that community, pretty wealthy.
LAMB: Now both of you have been in the classroom. You a total of how many years?
LAMB: Sarah Bakhiet, a total of how many years?
LAMB: What has happened to the student over the last 10-12 years?
LIPSON: I think they’ve gotten busier. I think there are so many demands on their time. Right now we also -- I think it’s more difficult for them to get to college, to pay for college. And I think they are very, very concerned about the future, more so than they used to be, particularly in California, the chances -- they don’t see the possibility of owning their own homes because real estate has just gone completely up in the stratosphere. And for a middle class individual it would be very difficult to own a home. So they’re not sure what’s going to happen. .
LAMB: I know this is a tough one, are they brighter or not compared to these students you’ve taught over the years. I mean, are they getting smarter or are they…
LIPSON: I don’t see them any better prepared. And in the public schools we’ve gone to a smaller class size in K through 3 where they have 20 to 1. I don’t really a difference that way. But I think they are more sophisticated.
They are certainly more hardwired for the latest technology. They’re pretty attuned to current events. But I don’t know that I would say that they’re any better prepared, really.
LAMB: What have you seen happen in the classroom?
BAKHIET: I would agree that they’ve become busier over the last few years. Now my experiences were very different. My first six years was in a boarding school. And my last six years have been in a day school. So the activities that students engaged in were fairly different.
The boarding school life is very structured. And their minutes of their day are pretty much accounted with little leeway in the boarding school. The advent of the Internet and the computer, the facility of computer access and the fact that everyone now pretty much has a computer in the school where I teach, has changed their lives drastically. They’re doing a lot of communication, a lot of their work, academics, and otherwise through the computer.
They’re getting their information from the computer, just about everything comes from that little instrument.
LAMB: Well, let me ask you both about that because people in the older generation, and I don’t know what age that is, but it’s not the students’ years, wring their hands about the fact that there is less and less reading of newspapers. Does it matter and is it true kids don’t read newspapers?
LIPSON: I would agree that students do not read newspapers. I don’t know that they ever did in large numbers. But I think it’s much smaller now. They also don’t necessarily watch the news. I think Sarah is absolutely right. They get their information online.
And the scary part is if they read it on the computer, it must be true.
LAMB: Where do they go for their news on the computer? Do you try to steer them?
LIPSON: Yes. I sometimes try to steer them to sites that I think would be reasonable. More importantly, I try to give them ways to figure out when they can trust a source and when they can’t.
I think their favorite place on a computer is myspace.com where they all communicate with one another and have their own Web pages.
LAMB: What’s your experience with newspaper reading?
BAKHIET: Throughout the time I’ve taught, the students who have regularly read newspapers, they stand out in my mind right now. And I can probably count in the fingers of two hands. I would completely agree that I’m not sure they ever read newspapers very consistently at that age.
Is it a great tragedy? I don’t think so. And I think it’s better now because they have a source of information that they did not have before, which is the Internet. And I think many of them are reading newspapers on the Internet, or they’re accessing at least Web sites where they can get information, they can get news.
LAMB: Final question: Are you both glad that you decided to be a teacher? And at any point did you think you made a mistake by spending all your life doing this, other than being a plumber for 10 years?
LIPSON: Yes. I had a few other jobs before becoming a teacher, and no, I don’t regret it in the least. I think it’s a fabulous occupation and one can definitely find happiness in the classroom.
LAMB: What’s the best part about it?
LIPSON: The best part about it is that I get to choose every day what it is we’re going to do there.
LAMB: What is your own experience, Sarah Bakhiet?
BAKHIET: I have never regretted being a teacher. My only regret was over a short period of time when I was an administrator, I then saw the light and went back into the classroom. I think it’s the greatest job in the world.
I have been extremely happy doing this. And I can’t see at this point -- I have no regrets.
LAMB: Sarah Bakhiet and Janet Lipson, both fellows here at C-SPAN for four weeks, both from California. Sarah Bakhiet, born in the Sudan, raised in Libya, and then came here, what, age…
LAMB: … 15. Janet Lipson, born in Long Beach, other than your 10 years in Alaska, have spent most of your time in California, University of Santa Cruz?
LAMB: Thank you very much for sharing your experiences as teachers, appreciate it.
LIPSON: Thank you.
BAKHIET: Thank you.