Do you have a good relationship with your peers, other teachers? “Oh, yes. Now, that’s one thing I do miss about the veteran teachers; there are a couple veteran teachers who, my first year, really helped me out, as far as managing the kids, managing my time, showing me how to work smarter, how to use my time more effectively — those people, I’ve really missed looking to their leadership. They’ve either gotten out before because they’ve wised up, or many of them have been guilted-out by thinking, ‘Okay, maybe if I retire early I can save a teacher or two a job.’ So, to me, this is more of a union-busting effort. When you’ve got 10 percent of your veteran leaders leaving and nothing but new people at the bottom who know nothing but the Blueprint and don’t know education can be so much better…you know, it just watered down the whole process.”
You’ve received notice of layoff. What will you do? “I intend to remain working for San Diego city schools. I love this district. I love the population that I teach. I love having a rainbow of students in my room. I live in North County, in Cardiff. But I really don’t want to teach there. I want to have Samoan and Mexican and Filipino and black and white and every type of kid in my classroom. Where I live I don’t really get that. Even though it’s frustrating that we have 40 or 50 different languages in the district and it’s very challenging, I really love it. You get exposed to so many different cultures.”
You hope to be rehired, then? “Oh, yes, yes. If I do officially get a layoff notice, I intend to substitute for the district. However, that’s subbing at pro rata teacher’s pay but without the benefits. So it seems like Bersin is saying, ‘Okay, let’s keep all these teachers, just use them as subs, and we won’t have to pay them any benefits.’ ”
Do you feel any sense of betrayal? “Yeah, I do. I would have to say I feel betrayed. The fact that none of this had to happen. They take the people closest to the kids and ax them first? I don’t know if it’s ‘betrayed’ or just repeatedly insulted. I can’t say I feel betrayed, because I have no faith in the district. So it’s not like I had faith in them and they let me down. I expected them to let me down. I had very low expectations of them. I came into this Blueprint Bersin’s second year, and the only thing I knew about city schools was what I saw in the Union-Tribune, and to me it seemed like, ‘Oh, these horrible teachers. They’re so resistant.’ And once I got in the classroom, it took me about three days, and I figured out, ‘You know what? This isn’t the teachers, this is the district harassing people.’ They’ve brought in teams of lawyers to instruct administrators how to write people up to get rid of them. There’s a big three-inch binder, and every school has a copy, and in that it says things like, ‘Do not write anything positive.’ On your evaluations, you’ve got ‘effective,’ ‘ineffective,’ and ‘satisfactory.’ So the most positive comment you can get is ‘effective.’ They’ll say one thing to you verbally but write it up differently — just in case they need to come get you someday.
“We’ve got some darn good teachers that are being harassed. I’ve got some first-year teachers who don’t even want to come back to the district anymore. They’ve decided they would rather work for the Catholic schools for half the money and no benefits rather than work for the district.”
Has this changed your view of teaching? “It’s made me more determined to become active at the local, state, and national level.” The California Teachers Association? “Yeah, I just ran for CTA state council and got elected to that, and to the National Education Association representative assembly in New Orleans this summer. You know, it was bad enough fighting Bersin, and then along comes the ESA — Bush’s thing — and that’s going to be horrible for education.” What’s ESA stand for? “Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Under that, there’s going to be some very good teachers fired. Some of the standards are very good. But a lot of it puts direct accountability on the teachers but does not provide resources that the teachers need to improve their teaching.”
Has this hurt the morale of other teachers and students? “The doctor’s got me on Xanax right now, if that will tell you anything. Prior to the break, I was throwing up yellow bile every day for two weeks. I felt physically unable to get out of bed. The only thing that keeps me going is my kids’ smiles and seeing that light go on when they learn something, how much they appreciate it, how much they cherish it. Once they learn, then their thirst for knowledge just increases. I love that!”
What do you think should be done to improve things for teachers and schools? “In San Diego city schools, the board needs to release Bersin immediately. In order for true teaching to be able to take place, Mr. Bersin needs to either step down — do the honorable thing, ’cause he’s certainly not helping the kids — or the board needs to make a decision and get rid of him. One woman got $701,000 just to set up a website. I’m not a computer expert, but I don’t think it takes $701,000 to set up a website.
“The district seems to think that we’re all just a bunch of trained monkeys that are disposable and they can get anybody to come in to do this job.”
So you don’t feel respected as a teacher? “Not at all. In fact, I feel disrespected on almost a daily basis — by the district and by the administration.