By Kristin T. Vogel, MA
Kristin T. Vogel is a Resource Specialist in a suburban Northern California school district, and focuses on social justice issues surrounding class, (dis)ability, mental health, and privilege.
Teaching is a career path that requires specialized training and knowledge, yet there are increasingly more people that feel qualified to tell teachers how to do their jobs. If you have any type of presence on social media there are bound to be uncles, friends from high school, or that guy from your gaming group who think they know more about your profession than you do. Going home for the holidays is always an eye opening experience, as peoples’ true colors come out about a variety of topics. Most people have very set views on what they think is wrong with education, and what can be done to fix it.
The truth is, the majority of the amateur doctors writing a prescription to cure the ails of education hardly have any teaching experience at all. Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education? Tutored students in college but never held a classroom position. Students First founder Michelle Rhee was a Teach For America Corps member but left the profession after a few years, and allegedly taped students’ mouths shut. Let me just tell you right off the bat, Bill Gates and David Coleman have never set foot in their own classrooms.
I have been a classroom teacher for eight years, spanning Pre-Kindergarten to 6th grade. All of my teaching experience has been in Special Education. As a teacher in the beginning of my career I do not pretend to know everything about my profession. I’ve been working on mentoring newer teachers, and making sure that students with special and exceptional needs can succeed in the General Education classroom. It would be foolhardy of me to assume I have enough experience to make important decisions about education law, funding, and standards. Why is it that those who have never taught feel they are authorized to lead?
In climate that is becoming more political every day, teachers are putting their careers on the line when they advocate for the rights of their students and their colleagues. Yesterday’s ruling in the Vergara trial in California directly impacts this ability. My union sisters and brothers will go to the bargaining table next year for a new contract. Lack of due process would make it easy for outspoken union members, or “trouble makers” to be let go. As a Special Education teacher I often advocate for my students, ensuring that they get the services and resources that they need in order to progress. If a higher up in my school or district did not like my approach to gaining access to student resources I could simply be removed.
Taking away teacher’s right to due process creates an atmosphere where teachers can be let go for any reason, without cause. It could be as simple as a personality difference, or as blatant as an administrator who may be opposed to having out teachers on their staff. Cause will not need to be given. Teachers will need to shape up, conform, or ship out. This is not an environment where students can thrive, nor is it one where collaboration, creative thinking, or innovation can occur within the teaching staff.
I’m excited for my summer break, and am looking forward to reading, gathering ideas for lessons and projects next year, and resting. I’m also going to continue to speak my mind and educate my colleagues, my family, and friends. Educators need to have the entire community invested in maintaining student and teacher rights. It’s the only way we are going to win.