By Bill Guy
CTA President Dean Vogel participates in the Organizing4Power training with Riverside County Office TA President Mike Bochicchio and members Lionel Castro and Sheryl Eugene.
“I’ll get out of politics when you take politics out of my classroom.”
Mary Hatwood Futrell, NEA President, 1983-89
This often-echoed statement clarifies the dilemma many teachers face — wanting to focus their energies on their students and classrooms while knowing that political decisions made by school boards, legislators and government officials directly impact everything that takes place there.
“After being RIF’d [pink-slipped] in my first year of teaching, I realized that everything in school is politically driven, from the number of pencils in my classroom to my grade level assignment,” says United Teachers of Pasadena second-grade teacher Yolanda Munoz. “Teachers come into the profession to make a difference, but how can we when our rights and the rights of our students get mired in political bureaucracy? In order to effect change, we have to be involved in the political process.”
Munoz joined 100 of her CTA colleagues to do just that — gain knowledge and hone their political advocacy skills by participating in the Region IV Political Academy in April.
“Either we can sit back and accept what happens to us, or we can take an active role in advocating, lobbying and educating the politicians who represent us and the citizens in our communities,” says Jolene E. Tripp, Redlands Education Support Professionals Association president and school bus driver. She cites a nasty passive-aggressive manager as her impetus for political action. “I often find the first challenge is to help politicians understand who ESPs are in the first place. I can guarantee that if we do not engage them about our issues and concerns, the result will ultimately harm our students.”
Fontana Teachers Association member Trent Stillman draws upon a diving metaphor to characterize his involvement in political advocacy. “Once I dipped my toes into the water, it was easy just to dive in completely. Not everyone is initially comfortable gathering signatures, organizing precinct walks or managing phone banks, but CTA does such an outstanding job providing resources, training and support that I’m very confident in those roles.”
Deb McKenzie, Rialto Education Association, recalls despicable behavior by a difficult school superintendent that reminded her of her former marriage to an abusive husband. “I was stressed, frustrated, bullied and disrespected. I had told myself that I would never let myself be treated that way again, so I started going to school board meetings and got involved in the next election cycle. We helped elect three new board members, the superintendent resigned the day after the election, and I’ve been politically active ever since. If we don’t push for informed, supportive education legislation, schools will continue to be underfunded and overregulated.”
“My greatest joy is when I see my students engaged in learning and enjoying themselves,” says Santa Ana Educators Association member Karen Bluel. “I love it when they have a chance to be creative or when something we do in class together motivates them to learn on a deeper level. As I began to realize more fully that our profession and our ability to meaningfully engage our students is threatened, I knew something had to be done. So I jumped in!”
So what can CTA and local chapters do to help members become better informed about and engaged in political action? McKenzie advocates for continued networking and learning opportunities for CTA members from different chapters like the Political Academy. Tripp says everything should begin and end with the local chapters, “since that’s where our members are.”
“Too often, people get focused on their own situations and not the bigger picture,” says Bluel. “I’d like to see us make more effective use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.” Stillman and Munoz offer similar solutions — sending teams to sites for assistance with 10-minute meetings and one-on-ones.
“My personal goal dovetails with our local chapter’s goal,” says Munoz. “We’re getting the word out about the Corporate Power Grab Initiative and doing everything we can to get the needed votes to defeat it. We are in a fight to preserve our rights and our students’ educations.”
Next article: Budget update: New state shortfalls increase importance of CTA-backed tax initiative
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