Why Teachers Ignore Politics At Their Perill

One of the questions I hear a lot this time of year is “Why is my union involved in politics?”  That question always surprises me, especially when it comes from members. I understand the sentiment behind it. None of us went into education because we wanted to be involved in politics. We made the choice to get into education to teach our students. As teachers, we tend to believe that we can live in our own little isolated bubble that begins and ends at our classroom door. Most of us like teaching because we believe that once the bell rings, and we close our classroom door we can just teach with little or no interference; however, this is a myth. Perhaps there was some truth to it 25 years ago when I first started teaching, but no longer.

My first year of teaching I was given a World History textbook, the district’s Program Goals and Objectives and I was told, from this chapter to that chapter 1st semester, and up to the Vietnam War 2nd semester. How I navigated each of the 184 days of instruction was largely up to me. It was accepted that I was a professional who knew what I was doing and could instruct my students. And just to makes sure this was the case, the principal popped in two or three times a year. Today, we have DLTs, CCSS, PTs, EOCs, SBACs, and the never-ending walk-throughs. It’s like we need a traffic cop at the classroom door. How did it get like this? Politics.

 There is not one minute of our day that has not been decided by politics. The number of instructional minutes, the curriculum you teach, the textbook you use, the students in your classroom, the iPad you have to integrate into your instruction, the reporting of grades, the number of times your administrator visits your classroom, the instructional materials you can and can’t use, the tests you must prepare students for and the tests you have to proctor. All of this is the result of decisions made in the political arena. Politicians at the national level establish policies like Race to the Top and develop curriculum like Common Core, then state level politicians make decisions on how it will be implemented.

Yet, that’s not the end of it. Elected school board officials come in and make decisions that impact us directly in the classroom: from the tone of contract negotiations, to iPad rollouts, to using funds to buy new buildings, to open enrollment policies, to who is the principal at what site. All of these are decisions that are approved by the school board. Who sits on a school board should matter to all of us because their decisions, and their approval of the superintendent’s policies, affect each and every one of us. A year ago, when Ed Brand decided that he would unilaterally change the district’s contribution to our benefits, the school board could have stopped him. They could have said, “No, we will honor our agreement.” They didn’t. Let me give you a more recent example. Our San Ysidro brothers and sisters were out on strike last week. Their interim superintendent wanted to impose a 6.5% salary cut. Two board members refused to impose. Because there are only four sitting members on that board, the District was forced to come back to the table and settle. The superintendent was unable to impose his will. Who sits on our school board matters. It impacts our ability to teach and our students’ ability to learn.

We are three weeks away from Election Day. In Nicholas Segura, Paula Hall, Frank Tarantino, Adrian Arancibia and Arturo Solis, we have five solid public education advocates. They are invested in their communities, teacher supporters, and three of them have strong union background. Most importantly, they all care for our students. We need your help to get them elected. Imagine if 20% of SEA members decided to participate in precinct walking and phone banking; we could wind up this campaign in two weeks. Yet, we haven’t had the turn out we need for a campaign this large. There is no way that a handful of people can do all of it.

In the coming weeks I need you to step up and come to phone banking and/or precinct walking. I know I’m asking you to give up a couple of hours one evening, or a few hours on a Saturday morning. I know, it’s your family time; it’s your children’s time. Yet, I’m asking you to be proactive and help set the course for how this district will be run over the next few years. Otherwise, I’m sure that later I will be asking you to come out and picket, protest, and work to the rule. We did a great job with our defensive game last year. Now it is time for our offensive line to take charge.