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Teachers tackle a mass class

(ran WEST, EAST, SOUTH, editions)

Half the senior class at Clearwater High School trickled into the auditorium as Linda Smith and Gus Haynes clipped on their microphones.

"Get to your seats and get out those outlines," Smith, 49, called out from the front of the auditorium.

Haynes, 51, wove his way up and down the aisles as Smith headed to the middle of the room, where a student handed her a newspaper.

"The Fed's half-point rate cut surprises economists and investors," Smith said, reading from the business section.

"If interest rates drop, what happens to the money supply? Does it hurt savings?" she asked the class.

Haynes popped in with commentary and played the devil's advocate, and Smith continued to press the class with questions.

Both teachers graduated from Clearwater High more than 30 years ago. Before they graduated, they took a required course called Americanism vs. Communism that was taught by two teachers in a college-style lecture.

It wasn't the subject matter, but the chemistry and camaraderie they found in that class that inspired them to try to co-teach a class themselves.

Now, they team up to lead an economics class for high school seniors.

"We always thought about doing something like that, especially to get seniors ready for college," Smith said. "We wanted to try to come up with a unique experience for them."

Their teachers back then, Steve Gerakios and Ray Rilling Jr. were complete opposites, Smith said. Gerakios, who became Haynes' mentor, was outgoing, and Rilling was reserved.

According to their students, Smith and Haynes are repeating history.

"Mrs. Smith is . . . laid back," Casey Cothran, 17, said. "Mr. Haynes is upbeat loud, all in your face. He really wants you to be there and be awake."

The class is also an arena for senior priorities, such as caps and gowns and graduation announcements. Each semester one half of the senior class takes the course.

"I like how everybody's together. It's an intro to college size class," said Corey Shapiro, 17.

But handling 225 students isn't easy.

"It takes a lot of talent to do this and do it effectively. It's not just done to warehouse kids," said Betty Douglas, supervisor of secondary social studies, who verified that Smith and Haynes are the only ones in the district to teach a social studies course of this magnitude.

Smith and Haynes take turns leading the class which follows a basic curriculum, fashioned to state standards. But they have a style all their own.

"They're both really great teachers," Shapiro said. Haynes is more humorous and acts more like a kid, she said, and Smith is more serious and down to business.

In a discussion of taxes and demerit goods, items analysts consider intrinsically unhealthy, Smith reminded the class that Bill McBride suggested a 50-cent-a-pack tax on tobacco to raise money for the class size amendment.

Now, the government is going to have to find a way to pay for smaller classes, she said.

"I believe Mr. Bush stated he had a devious plan," Haynes said.

"Anyway, he does regret saying that," Smith retorted.

Midway through class, Haynes walked to the front of class, where a few students pointed out a young woman who was taking a nap. Usually sleepers get a playful nudge and a comment like, "This is God talking. Wake up."

This day, she got a break. Haynes stood in front of her for a moment or two until she stirred.

"All righty, ladies and gentlemen, get up. Shake it up. Get the blood in your brain moving. Football players, too much practice? What's the problem?" he asked.

After a three-minute break, the class was back in their seats and ready to go.

With late night campus activities and early school days, sleepy students deserve some slack, the teachers agree.

A young woman in the front couple of rows spent a good chunk of the class making a gum wrapper chain as she called out answers.

In fact, most of the students yell answers instead of raising their hands.

The atmosphere in class is relaxed, but the grading is strict.

Students are provided with quizzes and work sheets to do on their own, but are graded only on tests. Despite the strict format, failures are rare, Haynes and Smith said.

Both said it would be "impossible" to teach the class without the other.

"She literally has strengths in every area I have a failures, and I have strengths in the few areas she has weaknesses," Haynes said.

Smith said her chief strength is dealing with day to day details, such as paperwork and record keeping, and one of Haynes' key strengths is his 24 years of experience teaching economics.

Smith catches problems right away, Haynes said. And Haynes has a knack for offering options, Smith said.

And together they brainstorm solutions. "It's the whole ball of wax in two people," Haynes said.

Haynes won't talk politics. Smith said she's the conservative one.

"I used to get madder than heck at her," Haynes said.

But now they've agreed to disagree.

And they both have one thing in common.

"We're both here for the kids," Haynes said.

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