By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Dean Vogel, CTA President.
Dean Vogel’s oldest daughter had a serious expression on her face when, on her 18th birthday, she said, “Dad, I have something important to tell you.” Like any father, he gulped and prepared for the worst. “I registered to vote,” she told him. “And I registered Republican.”
“I’m so proud you registered to vote!” he said, hugging her. “That’s wonderful!”
Now the mother of seven, she is still a Republican, and so is her husband. After years of avoiding political discussions, his son-in-law looked Vogel in the eye one day and said, “I can’t stand it anymore; I have to talk politics to you. You are the kind of man I want to be. How in the world could you be a Democrat?”
Laughing, Vogel says the story illustrates what he brings to the table as the new president of CTA — the ability to accept differing points of view and not make politics personal. When members disagree with him at CTA conferences, he thanks them for having the courage to stand up for their convictions and look him in the eye while doing so. “I guess you could say that this is what makes me tick.”
As CTA members, educators learn to focus more on the issues in a debate than on the political persuasion of the debaters, says Vogel. “When there are troubles, it’s easy to play the blame game. Right now we are in a very harsh environment with one side pitted against the other. But there is hope.”
The battle for equitable school funding will continue, he adds, because additional revenues and a fair tax structure are needed to create a better future for students and California. As the son of a farmhand and a waitress, Vogel observes that he might not have had access to higher education if he were growing up in California today. His father quit school in the eighth grade to work on the farm and help take care of his family. His mother, a high school graduate, worked two jobs and took care of three children. “Like lots of poor folks, we didn’t really feel poor. My parents did a good job of providing for us.”
His father, a promising baseball player before a tractor accident injured his hand, taught his son how to play ball. Vogel learned the dynamics of being a team player and developed a “cannon arm” as a catcher. He played baseball at Mount San Antonio Junior College and worked in a semipro league before transferring to California Polytechnic State University. He fully expected to be drafted into the big leagues. But then, like his father, he broke his left hand and ended a promising career.
Once he couldn’t play, he threw himself into academics, immersing himself in the social sciences, opening his eyes to social injustice in the world and the struggles of ethnic minorities. Cal Poly political science professors took him under their wing and engaged him in political discussions. Their encouragement was a big influence in his life. They helped him learn the primary ingredient in helping students succeed: “It’s all about relationships.”
Volunteering in his first wife’s elementary school classroom convinced him he was meant to be a teacher. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly, he went to UC Davis for an elementary teaching credential and ended up teaching kindergarten in the Vacaville Unified School District in Solano County. Parents would often share parenting concerns and personal problems with him. “They were always asking me for advice, and I was just a kindergarten teacher without an advanced degree. Everyone kept telling me I should be a counselor, so I went back to school.”
After earning his pupil personnel services credential and a master’s degree in education/group dynamics at CSU Sacramento, he returned to Vacaville as a school counselor and helped to develop a community counseling center on an elementary school campus. During the day, it helped students with conflict resolution, grief and loss issues, and drug prevention. In the evening, it helped parents with their problems and provided family conflict resolution.
His colleagues’ need for elementary release prep time sparked his involvement in the teachers union. Realizing the organization’s potential as a vehicle for addressing the need for change at the district level, Vogel became active in his local chapter and went on to serve three years as Vacaville Teachers Association president. In 1996, he was elected to the CTA Board of Directors.
As a teacher and counselor, Vogel looked for ways to engage students and help them achieve their potential. As a union leader, he looks at ways to engage members and reveal their leadership potential. “If we are going to be a team, we have to come together. Some of our leaders don’t even know they are leaders yet — they haven’t met each other yet. In this organization we must help leaders find each other so they work together.”
“Engaging our members means reaching out to them on many levels,” adds Vogel. “It means meeting with them one-on-one. It means connecting with them in new ways, like social media. It means telling them who we are, what we do, and how their involvement is absolutely essential.”