Economics teacher begins role as teacher on special assignment

Palo Alto High School economics teacher Eric Bloom has settled into being a teacher on special assignment (TOSA), with a focus on school climate, starting this semester. Climate change issues can encompass anything from events, such as Link Crew and freshman orientation, to policies on campus, such as the academic honesty policy or overall attendance.

“[A school climate teacher] does a lot of things, [but] it really has to do with the climate and culture of the school,” Bloom said. “It has to do with how people to treat other. When [Principal Kim Diorio and I] talked about what we want TOSA to be, it was the idea of building empathy but also this concept of building this collaborative culture. [Diorio] really wants to try to create a culture where we’re more focused on being empathetic and thinking about [questions like]:  ‘How is this going to impact the people I’m working with? How is going impact the students?’”

Bloom has already began to implement certain changes within his classes. Along with economics teacher Debbie Whitson, Bloom has revised the economics course schedule for homework and tests to prevent their tests from falling on the same days as other classes such as Analysis Honors, AP Calculus AB, AP Calculus BC and AP Psychology in order to spread out the workload. Bloom wants to experience what other students are feeling by participating in all the activities that they do every day.

“We want to try to do [something they do] in the middle schools [called] ‘student for a day’ [or] ‘teacher for a day’ for 24 hours,” Bloom said.

“From my point of view I want to do the homework, I want to do the classes, [and] whether you’re doing sports after school or you’re doing music after school. Just to get a feel of ‘what is your day like’ so that makes me better understand [the extent of if] I’m only giving you 45 minutes of homework a day.

Diorio said she would love it if we could get parents to do ‘teacher for a day.’

What does it mean to give five lectures, run five classes over the course of a day to the idea of getting each of us to understand another person.”

Bloom will take on a more transitional role in the student experience in which he is involved in both administration business and student interaction. He spends three periods teaching Economics and two periods focused on his duties on school climate. During these periods, he will be talking with teachers and students about the school environment and community on campus.

In addition, he will also be working closely with the Associate Student Body (ASB) and clubs in order to plan more community events that involve the students.

“What is interesting particularly to me is because [this position] is student focused,” Bloom said. “I’m interested in playing a different kind of role on campus: a more leadership role [that] gives me a chance to stay connected to students and teachers while fostering greater correctness and compassion. I’m trying to [have a] foot in leadership and keep [the] classroom part because that’s [the] part that I really enjoyed.”

Bloom has experience drawing from acting as an Instructional Supervisor and working on district committees such as the Paly Site Council and district-wide homework advisory committee, as well as acting as a leader and writer on the Western Colleges of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Curriculum Focus Group.

“For me, this was a nice sort of in-between because I still get to retain my classroom part,” Bloom said. “I think [this] gives me a lot of credibility with the students because they know me as a teacher and so if they see me as a school leader perhaps that makes it easier for them to talk to me about what they think is important. I think it’s really important for this job to also be a teacher because again it’s part of that empathy. You need to be in the classroom with kids so you can understand students and what is going on with students.”

The position was not originally planned until approximately halfway through the beginning of the first semester and caused a shuffling of class among teachers as other teachers were designated two periods of economics, which caused their classes to be shuffled to another teacher.

“Until now maybe [school climate] was a little of Diorio, Berkson, Kim, different [instructional supervisors] or particular teachers so [with] the idea of me having that position, we can start to create some structure,” Bloom said. “The first step is to create a climate committee and that would have teachers, students and maybe even parents so that they can feel that they have some input in the structure of the climate.”

Bloom intends to work and focus on bringing about more compassion and inclusion in order to build a more diverse community in which peers, students, teachers and parents can all draw support from one another.

“From the work of the committee it needs to be focused on remedy and the future as opposed to what did we do wrong for,” Bloom said. “It’s almost on a reconciliation and [focusing on] how do we restore and move forward.”

Although the climate committee is still in an intermediate process of being developed, they have discussed is the academic honesty policy and the consequences associated with violating the policy.

“My personal feeling is that we want to have something like a fair hearing [where we] talk about what happened,” Bloom said. “Is this straightforward plagiarism or [does] this [have] to do with ambiguity? Backing a little off of what’s the immediate consequence, and dealing with this idea of a fair hearing [is to allow people to] understand. Let’s think of an appropriate consequence [for the actions]. We’re not gonna give you credit for that assignment. Maybe we need to revise [the] syllabus. Maybe we need to revise the school-wide [policy] and say that this stuff is acceptable [or that] this stuff is not acceptable. So opening that dialogue is part of what we want to do.”

The future of the position is contingent on the success that occurs after this semester. However, if successful Diorio is committed to keep the position funded, according to Bloom.

“The idea is to be more aware,” said Bloom. “It’s how people treat each other. How can we better focus on building a caring culture? Let’s have someone to focus on making the place a nicer place to be.”

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