What one member wasn’t allowed to say on ‘Oprah’
Annie Delgado, a history and economics teacher at Buhach Colony High School in Atwater, was so infuriated after she saw an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” about the documentary Waiting for Superman that she posted a comment on Oprah.com advocating for teachers and unions.
“I was outraged by the manner in which Ms. Winfrey characterized the decline of public education as being the result of poor teaching and unions,” says Delgado, a Merced Union High School District Teachers Association member. “I was offended that Ms. Winfrey could present such a biased view of education, which sought to devalue the professionalism of my colleagues, the efforts of my students and also the purpose of teachers unions.”
Delgado was contacted by the show’s producers and asked if she would be willing to appear on a live show. She said yes and was on a flight to Chicago the next day. She felt excited about being a voice for teachers and education reform.
The jet-lagged Delgado was asked if she could be interviewed immediately upon arrival, and she was filmed from midnight to 1:30 a.m. in Harpo Studios. She was told the producers needed “background footage” to make key points that might not be conveyed in live conversation on the show.
“I wholeheartedly agreed to the late night interview, because I believed so strongly in what needed to be said,” relates Delgado, a former lawyer who has been teaching for a decade.
But that footage ended up on the cutting room floor, with the exception of one sentence, “I believe the teachers unions got a bad rap.” Instead of sitting onstage, she sat in the audience. Instead of focusing on teachers, the show was centered on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who donated $100 million to Newark schools.
Delgado had hoped to be the voice of teachers, but she was silenced.
At one point Oprah opened up the conversation to members of the audience. Delgado raised her hand. Oprah looked at her, and then selected someone else to speak. The discussion about education reform continued, once again, without a teacher’s point of view.
“I am still trying to wrap my head around what happened on the show,” says Delgado. “Having been set up with a microphone and placed in the front row, I expected to answer questions that would lend insight into the perspective of teachers. My isolated statement did not convey what I intended. I cannot even begin to state how disappointed I was by the experience.”
Delgado may not have been allowed to have her say on “Oprah,” but she made an effort to stand up for 3.2 million educators and their students. For that, she is a hero. For those who are “Waiting for Annie Delgado,” please continue reading. She will be heard in this story because her opinion matters.
Here are some of the things she would have told Oprah had she been allowed to have her say.
“I think it is clear that parents are frustrated with the limited resources many children have in public education,” she says. “What has not been conveyed in Waiting for Superman and the media is that teachers experience the same frustration. We want our students to have incredible learning opportunities. When the school system does not provide us with the resources we need, we turn to our own bank accounts to fill the void. Just like my colleagues, I spend many mornings, lunch hours and prep periods to help my students. While we may not all be in our classrooms until 11 p.m. each night, that does not mean we aren’t at home grading papers or working a second job so we can continue doing the job we love.”
“Unions are often blamed for keeping bad teachers in the classroom,” she continues. “Do unions hire teachers? Clearly the answer is no. And do unions evaluate teachers? Once again, the answer is no. Until you can state that the unions play these two critical roles, the fault cannot be assigned to them. I acknowledge that there are weak teachers in the profession, but the same can be said of every profession.”
She also would have told Oprah that forcing schools to compete against each other via merit pay based on test scores or Race to the Top is not the solution.
“I am adamantly opposed to merit pay. In addition to research showing it is not an effective tool, it pits teachers against each other and lends credence to the falsehood that teachers are in education for the money. Until the government can assure every single teacher in the United States that the makeup of our classrooms will be identical to every other classroom, there is no competition. The playing field cannot be leveled, because in public schools, we take every student. There is no application process to enter our schools, unlike charter schools and private schools.”
Lastly, says Delgado, she would have told Oprah that unions can improve teaching and learning conditions. “My participation in the union has allowed me to advocate on behalf of my students and have concerns relating to health, safety and class size addressed without fear of reprisal. We, as teachers, are the best line of defense for our students to make sure the education they deserve is delivered.”