After 18 years as a teacher at Wasatch Junior High School, Joe Spendlove had it made.
The school, in the Olympus Hills area of Salt Lake County, is in an affluent district. Spendlove taught gifted and talented students, whose parents gave a lot of their time to the school and its teachers. Shopping trips to Cottonwood Mall turned into social outings when he would hold court with the current and former students he always managed to run into.Two years ago, Spendlove transferred to Granite Park Junior High.
It's a different world.
The neighborhood, located in the unincorporated area between South Salt Lake and Murray, is not affluent. Parents are stretched just to get the kids to school on time and get to work - never mind having lots of time to volunteer in the classroom. There is a lot of movement in and out of the school attendance area. This school year, 60 percent of Granite Park's students were in transit.
And when that many students are on the move, education suffers.
About one-third of Granite Park's students are in the school's Chapter 1 program, a federal program designed to bring students at least two years behind in their schoolwork up to speed.
For the past two years, Spendlove has headed Chapter 1 at Granite Park. He went from being on top of his profession at Wasatch Junior High to being the new kid on the block.
Making such a radical change was not an easy decision.
"I loved it there," he said of Wasatch. "I just felt I wanted a change. I had reached a plateau. I wanted to search in other directions.
"Some teachers find it more rewarding to be secure," he said. "I find it more rewarding to teach different subjects, have different experiences."
It has quieted down now that the school year is into its eighth month, but up to April, on any given day, three or four students were in Spendlove's office taking a series of tests to determine just howfar behind they were.
There was one student with a good grasp of math, but he didn't know long division, Spendlove said. Turns out the boy's family moved five times when he was in the fifth grade, and those long division lessons were lost in the shuffle.
Another boy refused to work. He had finished just two assignments - which take an average of 20 minutes to complete - in an entire month. The boy told Spendlove he just didn't care for school.
But trains and jet aircraft fascinated him. So Spendlove tailored a learning program to the boy's interests. As a result, the student is reading more difficult material than he has ever mastered before and says he wants to be both a train engineer and a Stealth bomber pilot.
Student Richard Valdez hopes to pass his driver's license test this summer. Trouble is, the Utah driver's handbook is written to the 10th-grade level, but Richard reads at about seventh-grade level. So the manual has become central to his learning program. He has incentive and a time limit, and he's succeeding, Spendlove said.
"Not all the kids make it through the program. I admit it," he said. "And I don't have a classroom per se like I did for 20 years. But I'm in classrooms every day. I find all kinds of opportunities to tell students, `You need these skills. These are survival skills.' "
Spendlove said he could go back to Wasatch Junior High "in a minute. But I'm not going to."
Instead, he would urge other teachers to stretch themselves and check out other communities, other schools, other lives.
If he hadn't done so, he said, "I would always have wondered, `What would it be like to teach there?' "