They’re young, most of them, and love teaching. They’re also hurt, many of them, and mad. They are the hundreds of teachers in San Diego County who have been laid off. This spring over 1400 received pink slips in the San Diego Unified School District; over 500 received them in the Vista Unified School District; others received them in Oceanside Unified, Ramona Unified, and other districts.
Halfway through the following interviews, on April 30, the San Diego Unified School District rehired all the teachers that had been given notice, but that seemed to make little difference in the depth of feelings expressed — the frustration, the anger, and the passion for our children.
Tommy Flanagan teaches at MacDowell Elementary in Clairemont, a school for sixth graders only. He moved to California during his senior year in high school. His dad worked for Chrysler, which opened a design center in Carlsbad in 1983. Flanagan went to Mesa College for a year and a half and then transferred to UC Santa Cruz. After managing record stores and working for a recording company, he went back to school at the age of 26.
Why did you become a teacher? “This is my calling. It took me until I was 30 years old to finally figure out what I was supposed to do in life. I’m 36 now; I’ll be 37 in July. I absolutely believe this is my calling. I graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a history degree. They’re a dime a dozen, history degrees. And I said, ‘What am I going to do?’ I started working for this private tutoring center in Del Mar, and I just clicked with the kids there, and I loved it so much. Within a week I was enrolled in a credential program and blew through that program and got a job teaching. I come from a family of teachers as well, so I have certain insights about what things are like in other districts and other states.”
How long have you been teaching? “This is my fourth year.” Have you managed to pay off your college loans? “No. I’ve got 58 more payments to make. I’ve still got five more years to pay. My Perkins loan was paid off from working at MacDowell, because Bill Clinton had a program where if you worked in a low-income school, you would get a certain percentage of your loan knocked off each year.”
When you were preparing to teach, what were your dreams? And did you experience any disappointment with what you thought teaching might be? “Well, I have to say yes and no to that. I knew certain things I would be getting into, just having talked to my mom and sisters and aunts that are in the teaching profession, hearing about certain harassments people go through outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, I love it. It’s the best job I’ve ever done. I’m inspired by my kids every day. I was disappointed to see very low language levels and very low expectations in the schools. I don’t know if that was just with city schools. I have high expectations of students. What disappoints me sometimes is that many of the students I teach have never even considered the possibility of going to college, let alone what college they might go to. That’s one of my first questions, the first day of school. I ask them all to write down, ‘What college or university would you like to go to?’ And I’ve got kids who have never even considered going to college before. That makes me sad. So I’m trying to inspire them. I teach very underprivileged, disadvantaged kids that are several years behind with reading and math, mostly second-language learners. Very good kids in bad situations.
“I’m trying to, number one, break a certain macho cycle. I don’t let my boys push the girls around. I know we’re supposed to be respectful of cultures and things, but I’m not teaching my girls to be servants to men. Especially with the number of students I have where the dad is just not around, I want my girls to know they need to be able to take care of themselves without relying on a man. As well as getting to my boys the message, ‘You know what? It’s not okay to call her a bitch or to slap her.’ ”
So your calling is about more than teaching certain subjects? “Oh, yes; in particular, I teach mostly Hispanic students, and typically Hispanic voting rates in the general elections are very low. As teachers, we swear a written oath to uphold the Constitution, and it sounds corny, but that’s something I take very, very seriously. And I want to inculcate democracy into their hearts and minds and train them to be good citizens. Part of that is making them socially aware of what’s going on in our city and in our country and in our world and letting them know that they do have power with their vote. We’ve talked about boycotts too and the power they might have there. So I’m trying to, in my own little way, trying to get more Latino students to grow up to become more registered voters and to participate in the democratic process.”
What do you enjoy most? What makes a great day for you? “The light that goes on in their eyes when you’ve been trying to teach a particular concept — let’s say in math — and they’ve not been getting it, not been getting it, and are frustrated, and all of a sudden, the light goes on and it all falls into place for them. That, and the smiles and hugs I get from them. I’ve saved every little picture, every little note, that every student has given me.” You’re with them a lot of hours. “Let’s just say, on Father’s Day when we make cards, I get more cards than they make for their fathers. I’ve got some very good fathers, but the fact is, I’ve got some kids who don’t know who their father is — or they are in prison. I want to let the kids know the difference in sentencing laws between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine. ‘Look, the crack is going into your neighborhood, and if you do this, you’re going to get a lot stiffer jail penalty than somebody else.’ Things like that they might not necessarily hear in life.”
Have you seen your profession change in the four years you’ve been in it? “I’ve seen — I can’t even count the number of — outstanding teachers that are veteran teachers that have said, ‘The heck with this. This is not why I got into this.’ They have literally been harassed out of the profession.” By whom? “By administrators, by the district. Administrators were instructed, and all of them have in their office a copy of a book — I don’t know the exact name of it, but I believe it’s something to the effect of On the Edge — and it’s written for corporate executives, and the premise of the book is that you should fire two or three people a year to keep everybody else on edge. And that’s what the district did. There was a principal at Roosevelt several years ago that had a heart attack, that was stressed from all this. I don’t think the district understands the difference between fear and respect. People are afraid, but they don’t respect the district.”
What do you think of Superintendent Bersin? “Honestly, I think it is ludicrous that he is in this profession at all. Even more so, Gray Davis has placed him on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Here’s a man who’s never taught a day in his life who’s determining the standards by which we become teachers? It’s a joke. In my opinion, we are stepping stones for him to the governor’s mansion or the White House.”
What do you think of the Blueprint for Student Success? “Well, my school is specifically exempted from the Blueprint, even though we have the lowest test scores in the entire county. So we don’t get the 20-to-1 and 15-to-1 class size that the other focus schools get.” Why are you exempt? “That I don’t know, and I have been trying to find that out. The school I teach at is in Clairemont, but the kids are bused in from Sherman, Logan, Kennedy, King, Brooklyn, Perkins, pretty much the Southeastern barrio schools. They’re bused into Clairemont, you know, 15 or 20 miles away from their parents. They’re there for one year, so there’s no buy-in. So I’ve seen kids grow to hate reading and hate coming to school. And teachers, you know, learn to hate it. The first years of the Blueprint, there was no real plan. There were all these consultants and nobody really knew what they were doing. They kind of made it up as they went along. We’d say, ‘What do you mean by “shared reading”?’ and the people that the district had trained could not tell me. They just kept saying, ‘Go deep, go deep.’ Well, please explain what you mean by ‘go deep.’ I think it’s a joke. If I had listened to the district as much as they would have liked me to, I would have been much less of a teacher. So it’s almost as if one has to feel guilty about properly teaching, but you have to be sneaky about doing it.”
How many days were you out last year for professional development, in-service training? “Oh, gosh, days total? I’d say at least 10 to 15.” Were they helpful? “Not at all. They were redundant, and they were substandard. This woman, Catherine Casey, who is the district’s reading guru — I think this woman’s a joke. I went to one training with her, and I’ll never go to another one. She came with Tony Alvarado from New York.”
How many are in your class? “Right now I have 29.” What’s the projection for next year? “Well, see, MacDowell is closing, which I think is a very good idea, because to me my school is nothing but bused racism. My kids come from south of I-8 but the school is north of I-8, and we don’t have the resources the other kids north of I-8 have. And in fact, the schools they come from have far better resources than MacDowell. We are kind of like a dumping zone. A lot of times we get misbehavior problems from other schools. A lot of issues with gangs, with students fighting. Sexual assaults. I had a boy this year — 12-year-old boy — masturbate on the bus and wipe it on the girls when he finished. To me, that’s sexual assault. This happens all the time. We’ve had boys expose themselves to the girls, on a more frequent basis than I would imagine is even possible. That’s the sort of thing I want to get through to my boys: ‘Look, this girl is not your sexual object, and if she says no that means no, and you whipping it out and playing with it and when you’re finished with it wiping it on her, that’s assault.’ Honestly, if I had a daughter and a boy did that to her, we wouldn’t have to deal with contacting the police, or, for that matter, use the ambulance. Just call the coroner. I’m serious. If some of the parents knew what was going on in the schools, the way their sons and daughters are being treated, it’s just horrible.”
How about your relationship with your principal? How would you describe it? “In no way collaborative. As union representative, I requested at the beginning of the year that we sit down together once a month, whether everything is going smoothly or not, just to sit down and say, ‘What needs to be addressed?’ and she didn’t think that was necessary. I spoke to Chris Moran from the Union-Tribune about a boycott at my school — the parents boycotted it because they didn’t feel the kids were safe — and I was written up for that, for contacting the media. So now I’m very, very cautious. Not answering my phone during school hours or anything like that. I guess we cordially despise one another. I respect her position, but as far as her performance, it’s very difficult to follow someone you don’t believe. And I’ve most definitely been harassed for using my First Amendment rights — whether it’s speaking to parents, or speaking to the media, or speaking to other teachers, or speaking to the kids.”
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.
“I saw a press release saying that Bersin was going to announce tomorrow that there would be no layoffs. But until I actually get a letter in the mail rescinding it, I won’t believe it. But definitely the impact of these layoff notices is going to be felt for years. My mom’s a retired teacher. They did this in Carlsbad ten years ago, and it took five or six years for the district to heal, just because of the mental wounds inflicted upon the teachers. Even if he reinstates everyone, the board needs to hire a superintendent who is capable of healing and bringing this district together again. I don’t want to be divided against administrators. We’re all in this to help kids.”
Julius Lockett teaches high school at ALBA — Alternative Learning for Behavior and Attitude — in Rolando. He was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended Georgia State, receiving an M.A. in public and urban affairs. For ten years he was a police officer in Atlanta, but he decided he wanted to do something different, wanted to move to California. He went to work for the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program in the Central Valley as a mediator and case manager. Along the way he met some professors at Fresno Pacific University and was invited to speak to a class in a summer program for urban youth. After the class, the organizer said, “You’re doing the wrong job. Those kids were spellbound.” He talked Lockett into the teacher education program, which Lockett finished in 1997. Because he had been a police officer, there seemed to be a natural assumption he wanted to work with the tougher kids.
What do you enjoy about teaching? “What I got today from a kid who came in — we were talking about me leaving, because I tentatively accepted a job with L.A., with the layoffs and everything — and he said, ‘You got me thinking about my education, and so you’re not going to be here at all next year?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, if they lay the teachers off, I have to go ahead and secure me a job.’ That’s what it’s about. Realistically, I was one of the alternative ed kids, but we just didn’t have a program like that when I was growing up. I mean, I got in trouble in school all the time. They suspended me, and they did all the different things. With these kids, it’s almost like seeing myself growing up again. It feels like I know exactly where to go because I understand where they’re coming from.”
When you were training at Fresno Pacific, what were some of your dreams when you thought of becoming a teacher? And what disappointments have you had in your actual working? “I was amazed to find that school districts work the way they do. I was amazed about the level of discipline with the kids. I couldn’t believe some of the things they allowed kids to do, that there were no real consequences or anything. My goal was to be able to go in there every single day and have the kids walk out of there learning something that they didn’t know the day before. And, in fact, I tell them, ‘It’s a wasted day if you come here and stay for eight hours and don’t learn something.’
“At ALBA we’re a community day school. We are divided — we have a high school, a middle school, and an elementary school. I worked at the middle school last year, and it went great. The kids learned; we were productive. The high school had a lot of trouble. The rest rooms were set on fire; they tagged all over the place. It was serious. So the principal asked me to move to the high school, and things have gone great. No rest room fires. The rest room is not tagged all to hell.”
What do you mean “tagged”? “Graffiti, gang markings. We know that it’s there, but it’s under control. One of our instructional aides told me when we went out for a walk and I told him I was leaving, and he said, ‘They gotta be kidding. Don’t they realize you’re the one who makes this program stay together?’ My ambition was to get with kids who really have special circumstances and work it out with them. I was talking with a kid today when we went for a short walk, and he told me it was too late for him to change because he was involved in a gang. I was explaining, ‘No, it’s not too late.’ And I was telling him about the way it was when I was growing up and that there were gangs in my neighborhood, and at some point I had to break away from that kind of thinking and take a different road. Today he was still stuck on ‘but it’s too late,’ but you know, I still got until June to get him to change his mind.
“But the other side of this, what the administration asks of teachers — it is so much for so little! Well, of course, I’ve got a teaching credential. My credential is in social science, and I’ve got a supplementary credential in physical education; I’ve completed all the cultural diversity courses and applied for my certificate in that; I’ve gone through two years of beginning teachers standard and assessment training; I’ve been teaching for six years, teaching history, government, and econ; and then I was voted Teacher of the Year for the three ALBA schools.”
A great deal has been invested in you, and now, for what? “It’s like a washer, and in the wash the clothes are now so dirty that the water’s dirty. But now we can’t throw out the clothing, because that would be like tossing the kids, but what we can do is change the water. And I think that Bersin would be like the water in this situation. He is the person who would probably need to be changed.”
The level of morale is so low? “They did an internal survey, and it was over 90 percent said there was negative morale and he was the problem.” That influences day-by-day teaching, doesn’t it? “Well, I think that goes without saying.”
Catherine Fox-Copeland teaches English and AVID — a college-prep program for underachieving students — at Mira Mesa High School. She grew up here in San Diego and graduated from Mount Carmel High School and San Diego State. At first she didn’t have aspirations to become a teacher, even though she came from a long line of educators — parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. “All we’ve ever known is education,” she says. “So I thought, well, I’d like to do something different. My parents said, ‘No, you’re going to be a teacher.’
“It was in my senior year of college, and I was a TA at University City High School, and all of a sudden it was, like, this is the right thing. This is what I enjoy doing. And everything I thought I wanted to do, all of a sudden it was, like, no, I don’t think that’s right for me. So my parents were right. And then I made the switch. I got my credential and started student teaching at La Jolla High School, and then got hired on with ‘class-size reduction’ the second semester. Now I’m at Mira Mesa High School. I do AVID — Advancement Via Individual Determination — and English.”
How many years have you been teaching? “This is my fourth year.” Are you still paying off your college loans? “Of course.” When you decided to go into teaching, what did you hope to happen with your life as a teacher? “You know, we all think back, and you think about what education meant to you when you were in school, and you always have those teachers who put a spark into class and turned you on to learning. You know, I wanted to be able to do that for at least one student — to be able to keep them interested and motivated in learning.” Did reality match your dreams? “You know, you have your good days, you have your bad days. It’s a cycle. At the end of the year, when it’s all said and done, and you’re closing up your class, and you have students return — that’s when everything you went into education for hits. When they come back and they tell you individually what your class meant to them, and when they keep coming back after they’ve graduated, year after year.
“My husband’s also an English teacher. In Vista Unified. He was also pink-slipped. We had a lot of emotions going on for a while. We had just bought a house. We have been trying to buy a house for four years. It was, like, finally, everything came into alignment and we were able to buy a place, and the week after we moved in we got pink-slipped, both of us, the same week.”
So what are you going to do? “My husband’s was rescinded about a week and a half ago. So now we’re feeling a little better. But you know, you still worry. You wonder, ‘Am I going to stay in education?’ ” Has this changed your view of teaching? “When you first come in, the day after you find out — ’cause you don’t find out on Friday, you find out midweek — and then you have to come around and get ready for class and still be 100 percent when you walk in the door, and it’s really hard to detach yourself from the personal feelings you’re having and all of a sudden come into class and be the teacher you need to be. So trying to compartmentalize your life a little bit and say this is personal and this is professional and just keep working. That was a little tough. I’m a union rep at school, and so all the teachers come to me and say, ‘What do you know? What’s happening?’ You feel a little responsible for them too.”
Have you seen a change in your profession in the four years you’ve been teaching? “That’s an interesting question. The biggest change I’ve seen is looking at the change in the teachers. The biggest change I’ve seen in education right now is the young faces. When I first came in, the staff was everybody you’d look up to; they were very senior teachers, had been doing it for a long time. And now you look around and there’s fewer and fewer of them, and this year in particular we’re really going to see it.” Why now? Natural retirement? “Well, it’s natural retirement, and also, education goes in cycles. You’re going to get a lot of people the same age coming in… a lot of people going into education in certain periods of time. So probably in the next three to five years you’re going to see the most turnover in educators, just by natural progression of retirement.”
How many days last year were you out for professional development, in-service training? “Oh, gosh, a lot. Not as much as when I taught genre studies [an intensive reading program]. I was out, total, probably about 12 days.” Was it valuable? “It depends on what the staff development was. If I chose to go to the staff development, to the professional development I thought would be meaningful, the answer is yes. If it was professional development that was mandated to go to, that was different.”
How’s your relationship with your principal? “I get along very well with my principal. Our relationship is very collaborative. She really wants me to come in and talk with her and discuss issues that I see going on.” Does she visit your classroom? “Yes.” Is that a good experience? “For me, yes. I respect my administrator.” What about your peers? Do you share ideas? “Oh, yes.” So you have a good relationship? “Absolutely.”
What do you think about the district leadership, particularly Superintendent Bersin and the Blueprint for Student Success? “I have issues with the Blueprint. I have concerns. I think there’s some positives that came out of the Blueprint. When I taught genre studies, I saw students at the end of the year reading more significantly than they did before. They actually chose to pick up books. When you walk into classrooms, you’ll see students actually have a book on them, and they’ll pick it up and they’ll read — which we weren’t seeing there for a while. I see students, also, that are turned off from learning, somewhat defeated. They feel like they’re not like everybody else. ‘I’m in special classes, in genre studies.’ So that’s hard, that’s frustrating.”
What do you think about Alan Bersin? [She laughs] “That’s the tricky question.” That was a loaded chuckle I heard. “Yes, that’s a tricky question. That’s a hard one.” Hard because you don’t know how to answer, or you don’t know if you should answer? “Yes.”
Do you feel betrayed? “I feel hurt. You know, I talk with the older teachers who have gone through these things before, and they’ve all been really supportive and try to help you work through the emotions you’re having. Even my principal called me in and wanted to talk with me about how I was feeling. But it’s hard. You understand fiscally what they have to do. Deep down, you understand that. But it’s hard to accept at the same time, to still show up and put in 100 percent effort.” Did your parents ever go through anything like this? “Yes. They really worked me through it, and the union helped. But it’s still stuff you have to go through.”
Has the layoff in any way changed your view of teaching as a profession? “It discourages you. You come in and think you’re doing a good job and you get positive evaluations, and none of that means anything. You’re a number.” It’s just about seniority? “Yeah, you’re a seniority date, and that’s what you are. And that’s hard, but that’s the reality of the situation. And you have to try to understand that too. But we were talking, a bunch of us in this category — there’s 20 of us, and we get together and talk — and we were saying it’s like a death in the family. You’re going through the same grief as losing someone. You don’t think of it that way, but it’s going through each of the stages of grief.” So you’ve gone through the stages of denial and anger and…? “Absolutely.” What stage are you in now? “I’m more at the accepting stage. You know, I understand the reality, I understand what I need to do and that this isn’t a personal attack. But initially, I was at the stage of anger. And we went to the district meeting that they had for all of us, and they brought in people to recruit us for other professions. And that hurt. That hurt. No offense to life insurance, but I did not want to become a life insurance salesman.” Did I understand you correctly? They brought in people to recruit you for other professions? “Yes. I came home, and I looked at my husband and I said, ‘Did they have recruiters at your meeting?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Obviously, it’s tough for people going through this, but what about the teachers who were not given pink slips? Has it been hard on them? “Yes. It has absolutely changed every single one of us. The morale at school is so low, and it was low beforehand. But it’s brought all of us together as teachers and made us a collective unity. The one thing that just stands out in all of our minds is when you have teachers who are thinking about retirement but aren’t 100 percent ready, and they say, ‘If I retire now, will I secure a position for somebody else?’ To stand up and say that — it says so much about the type of people in this profession. And when you look at them, you have to respect them. And they respect you. That’s why they’re doing it.”
Are teachers disappointed in the way the district has handled this? “There’s a lot of feelings that there’s been poor management of spending. We keep spending. You know, the biggest thing that smacks you in the face when you open up your e-mail after a board meeting or read what they send you from the district, and you see how much they’re spending on consultants from other countries and other states. And they’re still doing it. I understand it’s grant money and it’s not tied to salaries, but it’s a slap in the face to teachers to keep spending this kind of money and talk about firing people at the same time.”
What about students? “They feel betrayed. They look around and they see who it is. I coach softball and I teach AVID. The kids know, they know it’s the young teachers. And they look at you and say, ‘Are you one?’ They don’t want that. They have a personal attachment to you as a teacher.” Will this affect the students from a pedagogical standpoint? Will class sizes be changed? “It could be. That’s why we’re on the list. If they change the class sizes it’s going to have a major impact on the students as well. I mean, as it is right now, I have 40 in my English classes.” How do you help 40 students learn how to write, for goodness’ sake? “It’s a juggling match. You’re trying to balance everything. It’s hard to get to every kid you need. You know, you do after-school tutoring for writing, and before school, lunch. You give them as many opportunities to come in as you can because you can’t get to them during the period.”
What do you think should be done to improve schools? I mean, besides rehiring you and the others who have been fired? If you were superintendent and you could do one thing, what would you do? “Quit and run away.” Would you keep the Blueprint? “No. In the beginning, I was one of the first teachers to teach under the Blueprint and teach the Blueprint classes. I was a brand-new teacher. You know, you’re still learning how to teach, and all of a sudden they give you a class — genre studies? What’s that? You have to come up with a curriculum. Nobody’s giving anything to you. There’s no book. There isn’t anything. And they tell you they want ’em reading, they want ’em writing, and they want ’em to be reading at grade level. They give you a little bit of minor training. Give you basically one unit. And then they send you out and say, ‘Figure it out.’ And that’s basically all it was. And that was teachers coming together and saying, ‘Okay, we have a problem. What do we do? How do we get these kids learning?’ Okay, so we did that, and we were going. Six weeks later you start saying, ‘Okay, this worked, this didn’t. We need to go back and fix this.’ And then Tony Alvarado and Alan Bersin put together meetings, and they want input from teachers, from students, and from parents. And they went to numerous different school sites, had meetings in their auditoriums. And they didn’t listen. They didn’t listen to the students, they didn’t listen to the teachers, and they didn’t listen to the parents. And that was hard, because you felt like, ‘Okay, we’re telling you there’s a problem. Not that we need to dismantle it, but there’s something wrong and you need to address that and fix it.’ That’s all we wanted. And nobody listened. And that was the first problem I saw with the Blueprint. And there was some improvement in the test scores, you know, but not enough. They wanted us to be reading teachers, but they never gave us training in how to teach reading. High school teachers don’t know how to teach reading. We don’t go through that training.” Because students are supposed to know how to read by the time they get to you? “Exactly. We teach them how to analyze literature, how to write. You know, all of it, the higher order. But we don’t get into the basics of how do you actually break down a word and read it? How do you break down a sentence? We don’t do that. And all of a sudden that’s what they were telling us to do. And we were saying, ‘I don’t know how to do it.’ We still don’t know how to do it. And they had trainings for us to go to, but the people who went said, ‘I don’t understand.’ So that was hard.”
The rumor I hear is good news, that you’re going to be rehired. “That’s what we’ve been hearing. That’s why I feel optimistic. And I do, I really feel optimistic, because I don’t think anybody truly wants to fire the teachers.”
Cynthia Aragon teaches English and drama at Ramona High School. She grew up in El Cajon, attending Granite Hills High School. She majored in English and history at the University of Colorado, and she received a degree in secondary education at Western New Mexico University. She began teaching in New Mexico in 1996.
What drew you to education? What were your hopes and dreams? “Well, the first thing was, I loved English and history. I loved analyzing the written word. So I wanted to teach English and teach children how to do that. In New Mexico I had some advanced placement classes, and pretty high-level classes. That was really fun. And since I had a theater background — I’d done theater from middle school to Granite Hills — they gave me a theater class to teach in New Mexico. When I moved back here from New Mexico, they gave me more theater than English.
“But the other thing that drew me into education was the security of it. You figure every town you go to, you can pretty much teach there. And so, I’m a single parent now. Another lady who got laid off from my district is a single parent as well, and that’s what drew her to education — the security that she could provide for her daughter.” How many children do you have? “I have one — a seven-year-old. And you know, I own a home in Julian, so I have a pretty hefty mortgage to pay.”
What other disappointments have you had with teaching? “You know, the kids are great. The kids are great. The kids are everything I could hope for. And the way I can teach literature, that pretty much worked out. I guess the only thing that stepped on that a little bit was the state testing, and the fact that a child’s worth, you know, seems to be more on a test score. That is kind of a disillusionment. Because you want them to understand and enjoy literature, but you take the enjoyment out of it by pressuring them so much to get a good score. It becomes not fun. There’s so much material that we’re supposed to cover for state standards, and now for testing, that you end up covering so much information, you can’t, like — say, Huckleberry Finn: you can’t just read that and flow along like the river does and really enjoy it and get into it, and maybe make a play of it, and then maybe do a little research on rivers. You can’t expand. You have to go so quickly. ‘Okay, here’s Huck, here’s the main character, here’s what he does… Onward.’ So you don’t really read it. You read it to be able to answer some test questions, and then hopefully in college you aren’t so burned out you’ll pick it up again and then really enjoy it.”
Have you seen changes in the profession since you started teaching in 1996? “Only the hoops they’re making teachers jump through. I haven’t seen any change in the knowledge base of the teachers, except I’m seeing more tests and more requirements of teachers. And the funny thing is, that’s working inversely. It’s just like these layoffs. The people with the most seniority are still there. These are people that have lesson plans that have corroded because they use them so much. Those are the people that should go, but it’s the new people that they’re laying off and that they’re discouraging from starting to teach, while these oldie-moldies are in the classroom. The whole system is just… That’s the only thing I’ve seen change, the hoops you have to jump through.”
Do you find it discouraging that everything is based on the seniority system? So no matter how hard you work, no matter how well you do, no matter what praise you might receive, it really doesn’t matter in the end? “That’s really discouraging. Because as a drama teacher, I put in about a thousand hours after school for free. I don’t get paid for it. It’s something I like to do. The kids like to perform, and I like to be there. And we make T-shirts, and we make programs, and I teach the technology of the theater, and I do a lot. And I know you have some teachers who do the minimal, and they’re still there. And I’m leaving. That’s totally discouraging. That makes me want to redo the whole system, because it’s all seniority; it’s not ability at all.”
Were you let go, in part, because you teach drama? Is this part of a cutback in the arts? “Well, it seems there is a general move to eliminate the arts. Sports come first, and then arts come second. We had one ceramics teacher retire, and they aren’t going to reopen that class. I don’t think my layoff is trying to get rid of the arts, because I fall under English, and I’m low on the seniority list for English. But I’m sure that that goes along with it.
“Not to totally dis on the district, they never acknowledge what I do. I never have an administrator come into my room, look at what I do, pat the kids on the back. They never acknowledge the arts. Now, if I wore a jockstrap and hit the ball out of the field, they’d be in my room all over me. And you can quote me on that one. All of the arts department at my school feels that way. We take a back seat… My kids in the theater department, since I have been there — I’ve been there three years, and I’m tenured, but that’s not saving me — my improv team won the San Diego National Comedy Theater Tournament for the year 2003. We compete this Friday too, against the professionals. We just did spectacularly. I put a banner up outside; I put it in the school bulletin. No administrator came over to say, ‘Good job, kids.’ Not one person stepped into my room to say, ‘Good job, kids.’ Oh, one counselor did.”
What’s your relationship with your principal? “It’s horrible. It’s horrible. I’ve had problems before with some colleagues, and I’ll go in to try to solve these problems, and so will the person I’m having a problem with, and nothing gets solved. He launches into what your personality type is. He won’t solve the problem. Because I have no support, it’s not a pleasant environment to work in.”
What about your peers? Your relationship with other teachers? “It’s good, really good. The people in the arts department, we all work well together. I’m in the English department as well, and the English department at Ramona High School is just fabulous. It’s just mostly the administration. And I’ve had problems with coaches, because their game is scheduled for the same time as a drama performance. So they run to the principal, and the only time the principal has come into my room is to talk to me about letting a kid out for a sport.”
What are you going to do now? “I don’t know. I have to do something to be able to pay my mortgage. And there aren’t many jobs that really pay enough, and as a single parent I can’t do a lot of things where I’d have to pay child care. No one’s hiring a whole lot right now, because, you know, everyone’s in the same boat. So I’m going to… I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to do what I can.”
Do you feel betrayed? “A bit — and I’ll tell you why. They didn’t say, ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job, but we have to deal with this.’ Then I wouldn’t feel so bad. But the way they’re handing it is so underhanded. They’re not being straightforward. They’ve written me out of the schedule. Then all of these hours that I’ve put in after school, they know they’re not going to get anyone else that wants to do them, so they’re going to create a new position now, a paid position for someone — anyone — to come and just watch the kids as they try to go about putting on a play after school. So everything I did for free, they’re going to pay someone to do it. And no one ever said, ‘You know, we have to lay you off, but would you like this position? I know it’s not much, but here it is.’ They haven’t even offered that. They haven’t even told me about it. They’re not being very nice. If they were just nice about it, you would go, ‘Yeah, that really is a bad thing, the budget cuts, I understand.’ But the way they’re doing it makes you feel really resentful. There’s one lady that’s worked in our district for 20 years, and they’re laying her off. I kind of think this is the way for them to solve some of their problems they’ve never dealt with, and now they’re using this budget as an excuse, because there’s more things that impact the budget than just teachers’ salaries, but that’s all to date that they have cut. No sport programs. No administration.”
Has this in any way changed your view of teaching as a profession? “No, no, it hasn’t. I mean, teaching the arts, I suppose, is a difficult thing, because the support isn’t there. So that’s opened my eyes to how it is to teach drama. And a lot of drama teachers feel that way. Teaching the arts is difficult because you don’t get any support. Teaching English — it hasn’t changed my mind about that. The interesting thing that I was going to mention to you — another reason why I’m getting laid off — they’re choosing to eliminate the class-size reduction law, which says you can only have 20 kids or so in a classroom — kindergarten and ninth grade you usually only have 20 kids in a classroom, because kindergartners are so little and ninth graders are just filled with hormones…” It’s a tough age… “It’s a really tough age, and so now they’re going to cram 40 in a classroom? In math and English, they’re eliminating that class-size reduction, and so ninth-grade math and English teachers are being hit hard. And if they’re worried about test scores, I don’t see how they think cramming 40 kids in a classroom is going to help them. It’s all very confusing.”
How do you think these layoffs have affected the morale of the other teachers and the students? “Oh, you can see it. You can see it and you can feel it on the campus. It’s low morale. The arbitrary nature — at first they laid off 63 of us, and then a month later, after much nail biting, they reinstated about 40 of them. A lot of them are single parents. And then they interact with however many thousands of students a day — Ramona High School is large — and that reflects back on the kids. And the rest of us, you know, you try to carry on and do your job, but at the same time, you’re thinking, ‘Should I pack now?’ The kids can feel it.”
Do the kids involved in drama feel unsupported? “Oh, yeah. Last year, I had brain surgery. I had a tumor all of a sudden — everything is fine, it was benign — and I was really worried about my tenure, because I didn’t want to lose my job. But while I was out, kids were on their own. The substitutes didn’t do anything, the administration didn’t even come in my classroom to help out with anything. The kids were pretty much on their own, with the parents in my program helping, thank goodness. So they know what it’s like if they don’t have someone to kind of lead them, and I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but I did a lot. So the kids right now are really upset, because they know that the various competitions I’ve taken them to — we do a Shakespeare competition, the one at USD, and we go up to La Verne college and do a competition there that we’ve won in — they know that’s going to go because I’m not going to be there to do it. The improv team probably won’t happen next year, because who’s going to do it? The kids aren’t happy at all. They don’t know what the future’s going to bring for them. They figure the program’s going to fall because there’s not going to be anyone who really wants to do it. They’re upset. That’s about 85 kids. They’re really feeling shaky. And the parents are upset about it.”
If they offered to rehire you, would you take the position? “I’d have to. You know, I’d just have to. Got to pay my mortgage, put food on the table. Plus, you know, I really like the kids, I just love the kids there. We’ve built up a great drama family, and we’re all real close, and the parents are fantastic. So I am really going to miss them. I won’t miss the administration, though. I just don’t like how they’ve done it.”
If you were the superintendent, or even the principal, what would you do to improve schools? “On a general level, the district handed out the placards we’re supposed to put in our classroom. One says ‘Respect’; another one says ‘Courage’; another one says ‘Honesty.’ And we’re supposed to put those up in our classroom, you know, and promote those, which is fantastic. But I feel like taking mine down and giving them back, because it seems a bit hypocritical. It seems like, from the top down, if you got respect and you got honesty, it would make everyone’s morale go up. And I would think that’s the first thing I would do. I would be more visible to the kids. The kids say they never see the principal or the superintendent walking on the campus. I would be visible, and I would be respectful, and I would be involved and not distance myself. So then you would make the teachers feel better, and then in turn the kids would feel better. It would just topple down. That’s what I would do, and I certainly wouldn’t get rid of class-size minimums. And I certainly wouldn’t lay off teachers. Ramona’s growing! It’s a growing area. I would just be more human.”
Casey Hickenbottom teaches fourth grade at Angier Elementary in Serra Mesa. He moved here from Maryland after vacationing in Coronado and admiring the women on the beach.
What were you going to do if you lost your job? “Sell my ass on the street. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I figured the students were going to be here, so I figured if worse comes to worse, I would have to substitute or try to find a different job.”
Would you go back to Maryland? “Oh, I wasn’t going to go back. You know, actually, Maryland was very good. I mean, I was relatively successful as an educator there, was a big part of the community. I had a lot of friends, family. I moved for a change. When everything’s great, you’re not forced to grow as a person. So I moved for something different. I like it here. So I wasn’t going back. If I go anywhere, I’m going to keep going west. I can’t handle the cold anymore. I couldn’t handle it in Maryland. Winter was miserable for me. I’d put the long underwear on, big parka. People here have been very nice to me. People have bent over backwards to help me. Made some great friends. So I’m very happy here. But I think you can be happy anywhere.”
What’s your favorite thing about teaching? “Interacting with the kids. It’s the rapport you have with them. I try to be as positive as possible. I treat them with respect, and that’s all I expect in return. And to see them get along so well. I don’t put up with any of that name calling, negativity kind of stuff in my room, because it’s not productive, not kind. We spend a lot of time at the beginning of the year talking about treating each other the way you want to be treated. Just being friendly. Being happy and being nice. You know, school doesn’t have to be hard. It can be easy. If you come to school, and you listen, and you’re positive, and you work hard, before you know it, the school year’s going to be over. You can make it hard. I still don’t understand why some students choose to make it hard.
“Another thing I worry about — this school district. I get out here, and we get one hour planning time. One hour a week. We get a half day Wednesdays, which gives you some time, but two of those half days are for meetings. There’s no art, unless I do it. There’s no music, unless I do it. I can’t sing or dance. I can’t draw particularly well. And that troubles me, because there are kids at school who aren’t particularly successful, and the only things they could excel at could be art, music. You can’t be in the band unless you’re in the fifth grade. And they share instruments. They’re trying to cut the media program out. They’re trying to squeeze the media specialists out. That troubles me, because we’re not raising well-rounded kids. Sure, they can read. But do they like school? Do they like reading? The majority of them — I hate to say it — they weren’t very happy. I mean, where are the plays? When I was in school, we did plays, we went on field trips, we did art. This was just in Maryland. You had an hour of art, you had PE, you had media, you had music every day. Which enabled the teachers to have an hour a day for planning. To give us an hour planning time a week is ridiculous. You’re trying to get people to do the best possible job, right? Then you’re going to give them the time they need, you would think, to plan it.
“I think to squeeze out the art people and the media people, you’re limiting these kids’ experiences. Some of these kids have very few experiences outside the neighborhood. They don’t get to go to the museums and that kind of thing. That’s what we’re supposed to be providing for them, a liberal arts kind of thing.”
This is a direct result of the budget cuts? “Of the Blueprint.” So what do you think of Alan Bersin? “I think he’s running this school district like it’s a business. I think he’s spending money like he’s going to make money. And we don’t do that, we don’t make any money.
“I was pulled out this year — this is another thing that troubles me — 20 times at the very least, district-mandated, out of my room. Which means a substitute in my room 20 times this year. That’s a month of school time! If you figure there’s 70 elementary schools, right? And that’s 7 teachers at the least from grades three to five. That’s 490 teachers out for a total of 120 hours of in-service this year. This is conservative. That comes to being something like $980,000 just for substitutes they spent this year. And they’re paying for me at the same time. And then they brought in consultants from New Zealand. They flew two ladies over from New Zealand, put them in the Coronado hotel for weeks at a time, gave them a cab to and from school. That’s incredibly wasteful. I mean, don’t people in the United States want to teach reading? They’ve got 223 people on the payroll who are administrators — okay? — who don’t have a school site. What do they do? How much money do they make? They used to have principals’ meetings at places that cost money. Why couldn’t you do it at a high school? I mean, Alvarado used to have a chauffeur. That’s just incredibly wasteful. Instead of in-servicing us on school time, right? — which doesn’t make any sense, because they pull me out of my classroom and how can the kids succeed if I’m not here? — they could do this stuff before school starts. We come back to school four days before the students do, right? You could easily take every third-grade teacher, fourth-grade teacher, whatever, put them in one high school and in-service them for, like, two straight days. Give them everything they need.”
You worked in another school district? “Yes, 11 years. Howard County, Maryland.” How different was that? “Like night and day. Common-sense stuff. How can I help the kids if I’m not here?” So what did you do in Maryland? “We had enhancement before school, like I told you, or we maybe had a day when kids weren’t there and we went through enhancement then.” Was the superintendent there an educator? “I believe he was. He was excellent, as a matter of fact. It was just a well-run school district. Things have happened here, at this site, that would never happen in Maryland. For example, because of numbers they switched whole classes of kids — you’re talking 20 kids moving to another teacher — after a month of school! Apparently that happens on a regular basis. If that happened in Maryland, that would have been on the news. People would have lost their jobs. Until people start standing up and saying some of these things are wrong, they’re not going to change. One of the best things that came out with this cutting-of-the-teachers thing was that people got angry. People started asking questions. I’m concerned, honestly, about how this school district’s being run and where it’s headed.”
If you could change one thing in San Diego Unified School District, what would it be? “I suggested to Bersin, ‘You know, you’ve enhanced us all a lot. Some people have been enhanced to death, right? You should have said, “I stand behind the Blueprint. But it’s very costly to implement. But with the budget now, we’re going to suspend the Blueprint. I trust you guys, right? I’m going to give you the ball to run with it.” ’ That’s not the way it’s been done. He doesn’t trust us enough to do the right thing.” So you don’t feel respected by him? “No, I do not. I think you’d be hard pressed to find anybody who does. I think they took a survey a couple of years ago about whether the Blueprint was effective, and 80 to 90 percent said it wasn’t. So why would you go on with it if the people who you’re supposed to be representing don’t think it works? I would keep some of the parts of the Blueprint, which I think are pretty good, and I would change it drastically. I would get teachers involved and say, ‘What do you think?’
“He came in, and there were some who have been teaching school for years and years and years, and he came in and said to them, basically, ‘What you’re doing is wrong. I want you to do this.’ That’s treating people like they’re not professionals. Like I said, I think he believes in the message more than the people who deliver it.” And his message is the Blueprint? “It certainly is. And some parts are pretty good. If I could do some of the things I did in Maryland and use some of the things I’ve gotten from the Blueprint here, it would be dynamite. My reading program would be dynamite. But I’m only allowed to do so many things.”
How do your students in Maryland compare with the students here? “You could see the test scores. My third graders in Maryland were at the same place as my fourth graders here. The weird thing is, it’s almost the identical class.” What do you think is the primary reason for this? “I think it’s the Blueprint. The emphasis should be shifting from teaching kids to read to having them do something with that knowledge. Show me you’ve got something out of it.”
What has been your biggest disappointment in teaching? “Here or in general?” Both. “At this moment I think it’s that society doesn’t treat us as professionals. People have no idea what we do.” So you don’t feel valued? “When you read about movie stars who make $20 million a film and baseball players who get $200 million contracts, where are our priorities? Who’s going to be leading our society in the future? We live in a capitalistic society. That’s what it is: it’s all money-driven. And we don’t make anybody money. It’s always been a women’s profession, first of all, and women have never gotten paid what they’re worth. And it’s going to continue to be so.
“I love the job. I wouldn’t do anything else. I didn’t get into this profession to make a whole lot of money.”
Nicole McMurray teaches seventh-grade algebra at Montgomery Middle School in Linda Vista. She grew up “around the world,” having a father who worked for Hewlett-Packard. She went to UC Santa Barbara, earning a double major in art and religious studies. After several jobs, she grew disillusioned. There had to be something more than making a quick buck. At one point she went to work for the YMCA, and she discovered she really liked kids. She received a teaching credential from National University, as well as an M.A.
Teaching algebra to seventh graders sounds like a serious challenge. “I would have to agree with you.” What drew you to education? What were your hopes for teaching? “It had a lot to do with integrity. It had a lot to do with being a very honest person, a role model of sorts. To give some students hope that society doesn’t have to make you into a not-nice person. It had a lot to do with being honest with them and them being honest with me and being able to develop a rapport.” So you would have an influence by being a role model? “Yeah.” Has that happened? “Yeah, I think it has. And I still think that comes from, I’m a very honest person. And I’m very sensitive to different needs. I’ve been teaching second-language students for the last three years, as well as students who’ve been in the United States their whole lives, and I’m very aware of the fact that kids who come from other countries are really coming from something completely different. So I’m very sensitive to that. That’s another reason I wanted to get into teaching — the exposure to all the different cultures.”
How did someone who majored in art and religious studies end up teaching math? “When I first started I was the ‘excess teacher.’ Anyone who had extra kids and needed an extra teacher, I was the teacher. So I taught math, science, social studies, and English — which is not typical in a middle school situation. In San Diego Unified School District, the push for literacy was so extreme that I just hated it and felt really sick every single morning about how to teach English. The place I felt anything was concrete was in math. I went to so many self-developments, and at every single self-development in English, they would change their mind about how we were supposed to approach the kids. Constantly I was being told I was doing it wrong. So the only place I felt I knew what I was doing was math. It felt more solid to say, ‘There’s a final answer.’ There’s still processes there that were going to be there regardless of what the district was putting in place.”
Have you enjoyed teaching? “Yes, I think so. It’s still been a bit of a roller coaster, so I had to spend a lot of time getting a math supplement, taking a lot of extra classes, pushing myself to learn how to teach math. I’ve found a passion about learning how to teach math and trying to make it less horrible.” I thought it was totally horrible. “Yes, I don’t want the students coming out of my class saying, ‘I hate math.’ ”
What gives you the greatest fulfillment? “The greatest fulfillment is when the door is closed and the kids are into the subject. Just interacting with them, hearing them have that light bulb click on. That amazement in their eyes when they go, ‘Wow! I understand what we’re doing!’ For me, that’s the biggest fulfillment.”
What’s the biggest frustration for you? “The administration.” By that do you mean the district administration or the local school administration, or both? “I think both. I think that communications is a huge problem districtwide and within school sites. And the humanitarian side of being in any job has been really affected in San Diego city schools. The morale ever since I joined has been extremely low.” Why is that, do you think? “I think it would be different if people were asked for their input. At all these trainings, they’re telling us what we have to do and what they expect when they come into our room. You know, simple things, like when they come into my room, if they would knock on the door so we can invite them in, instead of just using their master key to come in. It’s just a lot of little simple things that could be in place that I don’t see happening. It’s been kind of scary, because the teachers that have been teaching for 22 years say, ‘Well, teaching used to be really fun.’ ” They don’t think that now? “No. Everyone’s scared to try an art project.” Why? “Because it’s not looked at as a powerful tool.” The arts are devalued? “I would say that, yes.” If it’s not reading or math, forget it? “Pretty much. Yeah. That’s frustrating for me, being an art student.”
What do you think of Alan Bersin’s leadership? “It’s very…it seems like a lot is going on between Alan Bersin and Tony Alvarado, but there’s a lot of separation…it’s kind of a ‘them and us.’ It’s hard to identify with somebody that’s never been in a classroom. He couldn’t help that, I guess, but it’s hard to respect that.” Do you feel he’s using a corporate model that’s not appropriate? “It feels more like a military model. Again, just the dehumanizing of everything. Recently we’ve been asked to take anything electrical out of our rooms, including aquariums, coffee pots, microwaves, or radios. They want to reduce the cost of electricity. One way they’re seeing to reduce the budget. And it’s hard to feel like a professional when you’re being asked to get rid of a radio, when you’re putting in so many extra hours every day. So it feels a lot more military.”
What do you think about the Blueprint? “I think the core idea of it was excellent. I think it could have been an extremely powerful thing. I think the implementation fell apart. As a new teacher, I respect these people who’ve been in the classroom longer than me. I bow down to them. I want to learn half the things they know. I don’t see that kind of respect; I don’t see the respect for people who have been there the longest time.”
What about your school principal? “Well, I don’t want to comment on my relationship directly with my principal. What I can say is that we have a lot of administrators at our site. Actually, I have a coach that’s supposed to be kind of somebody I go to; I’ve got a math administrator that I’m supposed to go to; and I have a principal that I’m supposed to go to. And if it’s a discipline problem, I have some vice principal to go to.” So you have a whole team of administrators. “We really do. The constant thing I hear is that we feel a lot of micromanaging. I honestly think I wouldn’t want to be one of them, because there was no job description for them. So it feels a lot of the time that they’re making up what they do.” Like they’re trying to find something to do? “Right. And it’s not made clear to us what they do. It’s tough to characterize all our relationships, because again, it’s just a lot of lack of communication.”
What about the English learners in your classroom? Are their needs being met? “I’ve always had issues with the Blueprint when it comes to somebody that comes from a different country on their first day. I don’t think it accommodates them in any manner. I don’t think the Blueprint was designed for those students. I feel like in some respects I’ve failed to reach their needs. Because I haven’t had the resources to just do basics with them.”
How many days last year were you taken out of your class for professional development? “Last year, it was about once a month. The year before that it was at least two to three days a month. Because my first year I was teaching so many subjects, I was being pulled out for every subject. That’s why I’m happier in math, because I’m just getting pulled out for math. But it’s been a lot of days out.”
How large are your classes now? “My average class size is about 28 right now.” And what do you expect next year, given the budget cuts? “I’m expecting my class-size average to be 35 to 40. I’m not sure of that yet, but I want to be prepared for/ that.” What will that do to learning? “It’s going to be even more difficult. I think the best thing that they ever did was to reduce the class sizes.”
When you were given a notice that you would be laid off, what did you think you would do? “A part of me was thinking, I guess I’ll go back to school. Real estate was one interest.” Did you feel betrayed by the school district? “Extremely frustrated. Really, really frustrated. It’s very much a sink-or-swim kind of condition. And I felt like I swam and — that’s what you get for swimming.” So you’re saying, in the end it really didn’t matter how well you did, how much you actually taught? “Right.”
Has this experience changed your view of teaching as a profession? “I would have to say yes. I used to feel like teaching was one of the most secure jobs ever, just in the respect that there’s always going to be people having children. And now I think, well, it’s great that I have my job next year, but they still have another $75 million they have to cut. So what do we need to do to make sure we stay? I don’t think that has been thrown out to us yet.”
If you were the superintendent of schools, what would you do? What’s the most important thing that should happen to improve things for teachers and students? “My first initial gut feeling is parents. Parents really need to be more interacted with. There needs to be more of an outreach.” Is this the school’s problem or the parent’s problem? Is there something the schools can do to facilitate this? “I think the schools could be more open. It’s very intimidating for parents to make the stretch to come and reach out and grab the hand — if the school is putting it out there. So I think it’s kind of a two-way street, but if I was in a position of power, the one place where I would really start investing a lot of energy would be with parents and just communication with parents and making times more available for parents. You know, with the board meeting at the district starting at 3:00, that cuts out half our schools even from getting there. Definitely parents could be one of the strong points for us. Just getting information to them in their own language would be extremely beneficial.” For the parents who don’t speak English? “Right. Which is most of our population in Linda Vista.
“The morale is still kind of shaky. I have a few friends that are leaving teaching altogether. Just because they don’t feel like having their boat rocked anymore. So it’s a hard decision. I’m still battling with whether I’m going to stay in this for the rest of my life. You know, it feels like I’m definitely losing years from the end of my life, from the amount of stress all the time. And so I think there are other professions out there where you don’t come home frazzled every night.”
Joy Harris is a site-based resource teacher at Wilson Academy (middle school) in North Park. She was raised and educated in the Midwest. She was drawn to special education because of her brother, who had special education needs that were not adequately addressed.
“My position here in San Diego city schools as a special education teacher is extraordinary. On one hand, I was promoted, so that was an honor. My position is not working with students. My position is as a mentor teacher, somebody of knowledge, so I would hope other teachers would come to me.” Do you train teachers at other schools as well? “No, just this one. The San Diego city schools are very fortunate that they have this position that was allocated. It was due to a federal mandate. Not only a federal mandate, but Roxie Jackson is in charge of the special education department. She is the executive director of special education. And Mary Sue Glynn — she’s another director. They work very hard at getting legislation passed so that they could have all of this funding to bring in people just like me to every school, where we wouldn’t work with students, but we’d work with teachers in order to bind the gap. There’s a huge turnover of special education teachers here in San Diego because of the workload. And they brought us in to make the workload a little easier on the teachers so they could keep them. Because consistency, as you know, when turnover is very high, is null and void. So what’s happening is that our special education students weren’t getting what they needed because the teachers were coming in unprepared and just kind of cold turkey. So my role is to be a role model, and an advocate, and somebody who listens in order to keep them.”
How many special education teachers are there at your school? “Twelve.” Do they have other assignments, or do they only teach special education? “Just special education.
“I myself did not get a layoff notice. As a first-year teacher, I should have gotten one. But the role that I’m in is kind of safe. It was funded outside of the money that they took. Fortunately, for my sake, I was safe in all this. But I am the union rep, so I know everything that’s going on and how it affected all the teachers, so I’m a good person for you to call regarding that. There’s 38 teachers here at Wilson who got one.” Chosen by seniority? “Years in the district. If you do not have tenure, you automatically get one. If you started in ’97 or later, you get one. If you’re a special education teacher, most likely you did not get one because there’s a shortage of special education teachers. But if you’re an intern in special education, which means that if you do not have a degree in special education or education at all, but you say to the district, ‘I promise that I will get a degree if you hire me’ — that’s what we call an intern. So it’s kind of somebody that’s probationary till they get their degree. If you’re an intern, it’s just an automatic assumption, because they only have one-year contracts, that they will not come back next year.”
I’m sure you’ve heard many stories the last few weeks. “Oh, yes, when they’re crying or upset they come to me, because I’m their rep.” Did this dampen the morale of other teachers as well? “Of course it did. There was about two months, maybe a month and a half, where teachers were very upset, crying, searching out for other jobs, panicking. And they felt betrayed. They felt like the only piece of information they were getting, which wasn’t much, was from me, as a union rep. The district office was not being clear with their expectations as to what the teachers needed. The district was being very evasive.” Why, do you think? “I think, honestly, that the structure and organization of the central office is so unclear to the people who work there that it would be impossible to give structure when you don’t understand the structure. Um, they didn’t know the numbers, they didn’t know what was going on. They should have done their research beforehand. They should have figured out who was retiring before they laid off so many people.” The March 15 deadline was approaching, and because of a lack of planning they needed to cover the district’s backside, so they sent out notices and would make decisions later. “Yes, that’s what they did. And for contractual reasons, they needed to do that. We understand that. But what they should have done is identify those who were retiring first, because a lot of these retirees were given this golden handshake. They said that they would be given a 7 percent retirement increase, which is huge. And so if you are eligible and retire right now, you get this huge stipend, this huge bonus.” Who was eligible for this golden handshake? “I may be wrong, so you can check the information somewhere else, but I think it’s 30 years in the district.”
Was any social pressure put on teachers to retire because, after all, if they did, they would save the job of a younger person? “I can’t answer this for sure, but in memos I read both from the union and from the district office, they addressed that concern, and how they addressed it was, ‘Yes, you will be helping someone else, but when you make the decision, that decision needs to be made for yourself, number one, and then for other people, number two.’ So I don’t think they really made an issue of it, per se. But these people retiring gave the district office almost… They can hire somebody at $29,000 or $30,000, and then this person retires for double the price, so they can hire two people for that one person who left. So it gave them a whole lot of money to hire back the people that they had laid off. So if they knew who was going to retire, they didn’t have to lay off all these teachers. It’s really, really decreased morale. I hear a lot of teachers talking about wanting to leave the profession entirely now. I mean, that scare really set them on a different playing field.” Because they feel vulnerable now? “Yeah. They feel like they could have their job taken from them. When you get a pink slip in your box and it says you’re not going to be working here anymore, and you’ve been a teacher for five years, and you know nothing else, because your passion is children, and your passion is other people’s children, and they say you won’t have a job next year, it’s frustrating, especially for the really good teachers. So they don’t want to live in fear. Especially since we get paid such little money.”
Does that create bitterness or resentment? You’re in such an important role, and yet you’re compensated so minimally. “I love my job. I don’t come here for the money. No matter how much baseball players get paid, I’d still come here. But I’ll give you a story. I went to buy a condo when I got here, and I was thinking that although it would be difficult, I could probably do it. And granted, San Diego is a little more expensive, so you have to keep that in mind. But I went to them thinking that with my six years’ experience, I’m making decent money, I have great credit, and I’m a first-time buyer, and I’m a teacher so I get these great loans. So even with the 4.5 percent loan, they looked at my pay stub and told me that I should come back in five years. And I said, ‘I don’t believe you. There’s got to be something. You’ve got to be able to do something where I can get even a little studio.’ And they said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t help you.’ So I had to walk out of that office embarrassed and frustrated and sad, because I, with a master’s degree in what’s supposed to be a socially proactive career, I’m unable to even live in just a basic condominium. It’s very frustrating.”
Is this frustration compounded by not feeling valued by the district? “My master’s was in administration and policy, so I understand the political ramifications of hiring a school board. For me, I don’t feel all too bitter with the fact that a majority of these school board members have not been teachers. A lot of people feel that. How could these people be making decisions if they were never in a school? So that’s one side. But the other side is that we need a political agency that controls the chaos. And that’s their role, so I’m glad they’re there. Everybody needs a political structure. Every group, every business needs a political structure that organizes. So we do need that, and I’m fortunate for that. And on the other hand, teachers are frustrated because the decision-making is not being made by teachers. It’s being made by people who are not in the classroom. We are child specialists. Teachers were hired because we’re the professionals, and we are the front lines. I want to be heard more. I need to be heard more. I think that if they’re going to change the face of education, it would be more valuable to the board members to listen more and stop making decisions on their own.”
Do you feel that there’s a lack of respect for your profession and for you as a teacher from the board? “It depends on how I’m answering the question. I think that there is a respect on one hand, where the school board, built upon the premise that they were not in the classroom, are doing the best they can at respecting people they don’t understand. But I don’t know if that’s good enough. I’ve never seen any of them in my classrooms, and I’ve been here six years. I’ve never seen them in any classroom, much less my own. I’ve never spoken to any of them. None of them have ever attended my school. And I think that if they truly, truly wanted to put forth effort at respecting us as professionals they need to get into the classroom more often. And at least, if not in my school, I want to see in the newspapers that they went over to another school.”
What about Alan Bersin? “I’m trying right now to be politically correct because I have a job to think about. So can I refrain from answering anything?” Yes. Do you feel free to talk about the Blueprint? “Sure, sure. The Blueprint, although the intent was to improve education, the intent also was a political move, to make ourselves look better. The Blueprint does not support what I believe in and what other teachers believe in.” Which is what? “Well, because I’m a special education teacher, we can all assume — the board and the district office is going to assume — that I’m biased. So I may very well be, because I’m a special education teacher. The Blueprint is made to assess children in order to get them to an academic point, but what they call ‘a standard’ is not what I call ‘a standard.’ Our children are not meant to follow the same path, and as teachers, we facilitate growth and we facilitate learning. When you tell me to teach one way and only one way, that’s not facilitating learning. My students who are in special education — from fundamentally retarded up to the learning disabled — the Blueprint tells me to put a square pin into a round hole. My students have their own paths, and that’s up to me to find. It’s not up to a Blueprint to find. They will not achieve, some of them, the goals that the Blueprint sets out. And to minimize me as a teacher to teach according to one way, I think, is a very, very unfortunate path that our district has taken. It doesn’t allow me to teach what the kids need.”
Do you think your concerns are shared by most of your colleagues? “By most of my special education colleagues, yes.” And what about the others? “I think the others, on one hand, support the Blueprint, simply because it gives us a goal. On the other hand, the Blueprint is unrealistic in the fact that it asks teachers to teach according to one expectation, and that is to improve test scores. Our children are not test scores. Our children are children.”
If you were superintendent of schools… “I plan on being one…” Well, good for you. What would be the one thing you would do right now to improve not only the lives of the teachers but the learning of the students? “I would take the grassroots approach, and I would take a step back, and I would enter the classroom and I would observe and I would listen. I would evaluate what the kids have to say and what the teachers have to say. And I would make decisions more based upon what the kids need instead of what society thinks it wants to hear.”
Erin Wiley teaches at Bobier Elementary in Vista. She grew up in Manhattan Beach. One of her first jobs was with the YMCA in the summer, and working with kids seemed the natural path she should take. So at Long Beach State she majored in liberal studies, one of the teaching programs. She also received her credential there.
“I felt I could make a difference, and it’s what I love doing.” Has that proven to be the case? “Yes, I believe so.” What gives you the greatest joy in teaching? “My students. That’s what it’s all about. Having that relationship with my students every day. I mean, I have close relationships with my families and the community in which I work. I teach fifth grade. This is my fourth year teaching at Bobier Elementary. Before that I was also a fifth-grade teacher for Anaheim for two and a half years.”
What has been your biggest disappointment in teaching? “Probably the politics that have to go on, you know, at the administration level. You can’t just teach. We’re having to deal with all of the other stuff. Problems with our local level, but also with the state level, you know, with the budget cuts.”
Over 500 of you received layoff notices in Vista. That must be an awful feeling. “Yeah. I guess it’s now going to be 140 of us. What they’re doing is getting rid of class-size reduction in kindergarten, so there’s not going to be 20 to 1 in the kindergarten anymore. They’re going to have 30.”
Has this experience changed your view of the profession at all? “Well, I mean, you know, I just feel unlucky. If I could have been hired down here a year earlier, I would have been safe. It’s all based on seniority.” Is that discouraging? “It feels discouraging because when I was hired — I was hired in 1999 — there were 200 applicants for my one position, and from there they interviewed 16 out of the 200, and then they picked 6 out of the 16 to come back and do, like, a sample lesson in front of a class of students and a panel of teachers, and we were videotaped. And then from there they chose, and so I felt extremely lucky because of the competition in San Diego County, just even to get my job. So I stayed in this district and got my tenure — this is my second year being tenured — and I felt like I was secure and I felt I was safe and this couldn’t happen. So, yeah, I guess I do feel discouraged.”
Do you feel betrayed? “Yeah. It’s hard not to feel that way. I know they’re telling us we’re not being laid off due to competency, but it’s hard not to feel like I’ve done something wrong.” Is that in itself discouraging? I mean, does it make you think it doesn’t matter what you do in the classroom? “Kind of. That’s what I feel like. What’s the point of having this tenure?”
How has this affected the morale of other teachers and students at your school? “Well, for the students… I know for myself, I try not to tell them much. I’m not telling them I’m being laid off completely, because I don’t want it to be a bummer for them. But overall, with the teachers, I know at my school there have been teachers who have been here way longer than four years and they’re having to leave our school. I mean, they’re not being laid off, but they’re having to, you know, be bounced in and out of the school. So there’s just a lot of sadness.”
What are you going to do? “I’m going to apply everywhere.” For teaching positions? “I don’t know where to go.” Are you married? “Yes, I just got married six months ago. But you need two incomes in San Diego. We have our savings that we were going to use to buy a house. I’m going to wait to buy a house right now. I’m going to try to apply. I think there’s a spending freeze. They’re not really hiring right now. Do you know of anything?”
I wish I knew of someplace to recommend. If you were on the school board, or you could wave a magical wand, how would you make things better for teachers and students? “I would probably cut the spending on the top, you know what I mean? Less administrative pay. Offer retirement packages that are worthy of the teachers that have been in the district for over 30 years. And not make our tenured teachers feel worthless and do that to them.” Do you feel unsupported by the administration? “Yeah, I feel unsupported all the way around, even with the union. I mean, like we pay so much money a month — we pay $60 to $70 a month. That’s like $1000 a year, for the last four years of what I’ve been doing. I think there needed to be more of a fight for teachers’ jobs. You know, more bargaining. You know, what does the $4000 do? I still don’t have my job. I’m a tenured teacher. And I was actually a union site representative all four years and did a lot of work for the union.” And it didn’t seem to help. “No. I feel betrayed by both.
“I love my students. Teaching is what I love to do. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. But it’s just a hard time.”
Darci Foster teaches sixth grade at MacDowell Elementary in Clairemont. She grew up in the Imperial Valley and went to school in Sacramento. During college, she worked as a counselor in a facility for abused children and then at a school for emotionally disturbed children. After a variety of jobs she moved down here and got her credential from USD. This is her first year as a contracted teacher.
Do you enjoy teaching? “I love teaching. I don’t always enjoy being a teacher, but I enjoy being in the classroom. I want to say that I love my job, but I don’t like a lot that goes along with my job. Outside of the kids, I don’t like my job; with the kids, I like my job a lot.”
Let’s stay with the positive for a minute. What do you like best about being with the kids? “You know, I like that I get a chance to introduce them to a lot of neat things that are out there, a lot of opportunities they don’t see on their own. I like being able to give them a safe place where they can relax and have a good time. I like being able to laugh. It keeps me young! And I learn a lot all the time. That’s a bonus too.”
Would you say your dreams of teaching have been fulfilled? “As a teacher in the classroom, they have been fulfilled. As a teacher not in the classroom, I have been totally disappointed.” Tell me about those disappointments. “Um… It feels as though we’re not appreciated, and the people we’re not appreciated by are telling us what to do. This is what my disappointments are. We get these evaluations, and we’re evaluated by somebody’s standards from another country. We’ve got all these representatives that come to San Diego school district, and we have to go to all of their training. And we’re evaluated the next day and criticized without having had help to implement them. There’s no money to help us, and there’s no support or teachers’ aides in the classrooms, so they keep adding more things for us to do while they’re taking away what we do have right now.
“At our school, all of our children are bused in, and the parents were promised that their kids would be supervised for the half an hour commute to school and the half an hour commute from school. People also helped us in the classrooms, as aides, and they helped with supervision, and we don’t have that anymore. Our school is all second-language learners, and we don’t have translators. I don’t like to talk about what’s disappointing. I don’t know how to start it. Ask me questions, I’ll tell you the truth.”
Okay. When you speak about disappointments, are you thinking about your local school administration, the district administration, or both? “As far as the district goes, I think it is being run into the ground, basically. I don’t understand why we’re paying $700,000 for a website but we can’t keep instructional assistants in the classroom. And that’s a district decision. Seven hundred thousand dollars for a website! I mean, I talked to a computer friend of mine who does websites — and he does them for large businesses — he said the most he charges for something similar is $25,000 to $50,000.
“We’ve got a superintendent who — I know there’s a lot of disagreements about the plan for success, the Blueprint for Success — hires, like, 23 people to protect his reputation, when school districts in Los Angeles that have to deal with violence and all of these other things have, like, two people to represent their superintendent and defend his side.” What do you mean “23 people to protect his reputation”? “I’m not sure what their title is exactly. Like PR people. And they’re making upwards of 40 grand each. And that’s more than your teachers are making. I know he’s got quite a job, and I know that he’s got good intentions with this Blueprint for Success, and it’s been hard to implement, but he’s been spending a lot of money covering his own butt instead of encouraging and uplifting the teachers.” You don’t feel respected by him? “I don’t feel valued by him at all. There’s very little time that I feel valued as a teacher. I spend my afternoons…like, after I get off the phone with you I’m going home to grab a bite to eat and then I’m making home visits until 8:00 at night. I have to go speak to kids’ parents, because that’s due to the population of our school. But there’s no support or encouragement for that. No, we’re not valued at all.
“We’ve been promised an increase in pay that hasn’t happened in the last few years — I think it’s going on three years now. There’s been an increase of, like, 1.2 percent or something, and that’s never actually been paid, and that’s disappointing. It’s disappointing that almost every other district in San Diego, their pay scales are going up but ours aren’t. Thankfully, the CTA did some great things in bargaining, and we get to keep our insurance and all, but even our insurance was being threatened. I don’t know how we’re valued at all. I’m trying to think of a way that we are valued. I mean, you have school administration that will value your time and provide small incentives, but as far as the district itself, teachers are not important.
“I don’t even know that the students are important most of the time. Like our kids at our school, they’re all second-language learners, and they’ve been in the San Diego school district for four years, but they’re still reading at a second-grade level — there’s something wrong there! And I think that if teachers had more encouragement or better incentive, then it might be a lot better for the students.”
Have these disappointments changed your view of teaching as a profession? “Oh, absolutely, especially with this fake layoff thing — ‘you might lose your job, I’m just kidding’ — this definitely hurt the morale everywhere. I’m looking into different careers as we speak. I’m looking into politics and education because no one but no one is valuing our children. Our governor is taking away money from our kids because he messed up in an energy crisis. And it’s okay, we voted for him again. Yes, this has definitely affected my thoughts about teaching. You know one in five teachers quit within the first five years?” And you’re contemplating that yourself? “Yes. And I don’t want to. I would rather be around children and have a truly positive effect on someone than work in a business and make lots of money. That’s not it at all. But I don’t like feeling that no one cares about that or not. I feel like an overpriced baby-sitter.” So you’re thinking of possibly going into politics to redress the situation? “Yes. Absolutely. I don’t know how I would do that, but that’s what I’ve been thinking. Someone needs to have a bigger voice than just our union. That’s actually just an association.
“I would like to get into a different school district before I changed careers, though, because I like being a teacher. But whoever is in charge of our fiscal responsibilities — they stink! They would be fired if they were running a business. I’m not kidding! If you ran a business like this, you’d be bankrupt.
“You don’t hear people willing to pay an extra percent in tax for education, but they’re all upset that their kids aren’t learning how to read and that we’re a first world country, yet our education is comparable to a third world country. But no one’s willing to give much for what they feel passionately about except the teachers.”
Do you feel that our culture does not value what you do? “I feel that our culture and our society does not value education. Period. I feel like a lot of what’s happening is that either families are too busy, out there making money all the time, and school is a good place for their kids to be baby-sat.” Isn’t it ironic that no politician could get elected without promising to improve education, yet at the same time we don’t fund education, teachers are poorly paid…? “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Governor Davis promised computers in every classroom, but when he runs into a financial problem, who does he steal from? Children! It is very ironic. In Japan, teachers are paid like doctors and lawyers. They’re valued. Education is important, and everybody knows it.
“I want to tell people, you don’t get to complain about your kids’ not reading if you’re not willing to pay for it. And you can’t complain about teachers being upset when they’re treated so poorly, when they’re promised things they don’t get — like an increase in pay, like class-size reduction. They almost took away class-size reduction, the most beneficial vote that we’ve had in a long time. They almost took that away from us, just because they were scared.
“The first things to go in this budget crisis were the after-school programs for the kids who need the most help, the night-school programs for the kids or adults that can’t finish high school. The very necessary things they’ve taken away first. But this Catherine Casey consultant gets $700,000 for a website. And you know she’s paid, like — this is public knowledge, you can probably find it on the web — she’s paid, like, $40,000 for either three days’ or seven days’ work.” That sounds like nice work if you can get it. “Yes, please! I’ll take it! I’ll take Alan Bersin’s salary any day! I’ll take the heat for 200 grand and a $20,000 car expense! Jeez Louise!
“Teachers will be teachers because they have the compassion, even though they’re treated like dirt and not valued, because it’s their calling. They want to do good things for children.”
Chip Settle teaches English language development at Martin Luther King Middle School in Oceanside. He himself is a product of Oceanside schools. After graduating from Azusa Pacific University with a double major in physical education and communication and a minor in Spanish, he went to National University for a bilingual credential in physical education with a supplement in Spanish.
When you thought about going into teaching, what were your dreams and hopes? What drew you to the profession? “I guess the hook was coaching and being involved with sports. I’ve always kind of had a passion for that. I’ve never excelled at one particular sport, at least one mainstream sport. I’ve been a competitive power lifter since high school, and I’ve done well. I played college football and I did okay, but I never did great. But just the game, playing the game, being involved, was incredible. In college, taking the classes where you learn about other sports, like soccer and basketball and things like that… I really was captivated by the idea of teaching kids about other sports. And so I got involved with some coaching and stuff while I was at school, working with the rec department. And then when I student-taught, teaching PE, I loved it. And then the following semester, after I student-taught, I had the contract to teach PE and it was incredible. I wasn’t a perfect PE teacher, because it was only my first year. But it felt natural. I was outdoors. I was teaching kids to play games and have fun, just teaching kids to have fun and what it takes to have a healthy lifestyle. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the star basketball player or you just like throwing a Frisbee around. It’s all about being active. I just got caught up with that.”
But now at Martin Luther King, you’re not teaching PE, are you? “No, I’ve done some coaching — wrestling, and I’ve helped out with football and track. And then during the summer I often teach diving and swimming lessons.” Do you like working with junior high students? “Yeah, I do. They’re fun. One minute they want to be little kids and play around, and the next minute, ‘Oh, we’re too cool for that!’ It bounces back and forth ten times in a period. I like to think I'm pretty youthful at heart, so I have a good time with them. But we stay on task. I've worked with high school for two years, and then this is my second year with middle school, and there's extreme differences between the two, but I like them both."
You said you teach English language development? You primarily teach students for whom English is a second language? "Yes. Primarily Hispanic. I have a student from Korea, a student from the Philippines, a student from Samoa, and another student from El Salvador. The rest of my students are from Mexico." Do you like teaching this subject? "It has its challenges. I have fun with the kids. I enjoy spending time with the kids. It's really rewarding to see their progress."
What has been your biggest disappointment as a teacher? "I have a couple of things. The first thing is the difficulty in finding PE jobs. That's kind of frustrating, because that's where my passion is. The the second thing has been this year, being let go. I'm teaching here in Oceanside, whish is where I want to be, where I grew up. I can relate to these kids that a lot of other people can't have becase they aren't from the area. Just telling the kids, 'I grew up here' — all of a sudden they have a bond with you that they won't have with some other people. And that's helpful. I want to help the kids in my area, in my community, and so as I'm being let go now, for budget reasons, for whatever, it's really hard, really frustrating."
Has it changed your view of teaching as a profession? "Let me think about how I'm going to answer that... Actually, with everything that's going on — as far as the budget and then stuff up at the district office — with everything that's going on, it's reaffirmed the reason why I teach. I teach for the kids. And I'm here every day because of the kids." How has what happened confirmed that to you? "Well, when all of the stuff from the state comes down and they say, 'We don't need all these teachers,' it's real easy to hear that and all of a sudden have shorttimer's disease and not want to show up. And then, to hear that some are being let go as 'reduction in force' and being put on a list to be rehired, and then other people are being let go as 'non-reelect' employees, which comes down to an evaluation. And they're doing that not because of an actual poor evaluation, in my opinion. The fact is, there's no money, so they have to get rid of people. And people are being gotten rid of, and so to see all this happening, but the kids are still here. At first I started to get upset and frustrated and mad, but then the more I thought about it, the kids — I mean, they're here if I'm not here next year or some other teachers are not here, but the fact is, they need it now while we are here." So you don't have the luxury to check out early. "No, that's not even an option. That would be robbing the kids."
How has your relationship been with the administration at your school? "We have a new principal. She came in and she is incredible. First of all, she is a Spanish speaker. So when we had a meeting for all the parents of the students that are in the ELD program, she could address the parents and students in Spanish, which for them was just an incredible role model. She had to learn English while growing up as well, and she is a successful woman. She is a very intelligent woman. She has raised kids and then continued ·with a career. She is a great role model. Some students don't have the educational role models at home, and so she's been one for some of the kids. The evening that we met, the principal did an incredible job getting the parents all excited about the program, excited about what their kids were going to learn."
So you feel support from her? "She's offered assistance to me, yes. But towards the end of the school year, she's been caught up with a lot of stuff that's going on. So at the beginning of the year I think we had a closer working relationship than we do now. But if I need things, if they're reasonable, I don't see a reason she would say no. For example, I asked to have a teacher that's been teaching what I teach for over 20 years — and he teaches on campus here — I asked her to pay for a substitute for him so he could come in and observe me teaching, to give me feedback, let me know how I'm doing, give me some ideas. And without a pause she said yes. She's been great."
What are you going to do now? "I'm trying to open as many doors as I can. I've applied a lot of places online so far. For instance, I've applied with the FBI. I've applied with U.S. Customs. I've applied with the Border Patrol. I've not done it yet, but I'm looking into the U.S. Air Marshals." No other teaching positions? "Right now, I haven't found anything that I can teach that's available. The job market for teachers in California, because of the budget, is very scarce." Does this make you sad' "It's frustrating, because I've worked hard to try to get where I'm at right now. I've already mentioned that I'm not in my ideal situation. I'm not teaching PE, but I've worked hard to teach in Oceanside. That has been a goal of mine. I'm here now, and all of a sudden they're telling me I'm not going to be here anymore. And the way I've been let go, I'm not a 'reduction in force' employee; I'm a 'nonreelect' employee. According to Ed Heatley, the director of personnel, that means I'll no longer be able to work in the Oceanside United School District." Have they given you reasons for this? "Well, Mr. Heatley equated it to a marriage. He said that the first couple years teaching in a school district are similar to the first few months of a marriage, and if things aren't working out, for whatever reason, you can have it annulled, as opposed to having to go through a painful divorce. And it's much easier than to go through a painful divorce. And it's much easier than to go through and annulment than to go through a divorce apparently. And he said basically I'm being an annulment." It may seem like an annulment to them, but I bet it feels like a divorce to you. "It hurts. I feel like I'm being told that I don't belong, that I don't fit, I don't match what they're looking for. I'm having a hard time swallowing that. I really am." Does this make you wonder if you're called to be a teacher? "Well, I don't doubt that I've been called to be a teacher. I don't doubt that for a second. What I'm questioning is what God has in store for me) because right now I don't know. And what I'm hoping for is, I'm hoping that somehow I will be eligible to teach in Oceanside again. Because if the budget's bad, that's fine, I'll do something else for a while, but I want to come back to teaching."
Is there any way to address the reasons why you were let go? "I believe we're in the process of trying to discover son1e of those reasons." What about your principal? Is she supportive? "She has told me that it's not my fault, because I was trained to be a PE teacher and am being asked to teach something that's different than that. I believe there is a matter of support and that I haven't gotten some of the support I need. And without pointing fingers at anyone, there could have been better support.
"Right now in the state of California, the innocent are suffering because of some decisions that were made that had nothing to do with them — the innocent being the children. And the decisions are political decisions at the state level. And so teh kids in Oceanside, teh kids throughout the whole state, are suffering. And I don't believe that's fair. I don't think that's right. The kids are the future."