Why This Teacher Needs Jackie Goldberg on the School Board

As I wind up my 24th year of teaching in Los Angeles classrooms , I pause to think of my past lives in different schools and neighborhoods. While presenting to students in Finland I always included a slide of past eras of my life such as  growing up in the Eastside, college and adulthood in the Westside, teaching on the Southside, and married life in the Valley. Apart from being a native Angeleno, significant years of my life have been spent living in many parts of town, and teaching in many communities. I love all of them.

Which is why I have no doubt in my mind that what students all over L.A. need more than anything is an ally on the school board. My South Central students need a warrior who recognizes that our teachers’ strike was more than just a salary dispute, but a movement to reclaim our rightful place as agents of change in the profession we love. One that will help us do our jobs serving students. My West Valley students need a fighter who will challenge our legislators to restore appropriate levels of funding to the L.A. classrooms so class sizes across the board are at a level where one can maintain a meaningful relationship with students.  All students need a leader who  understands them, has taught them, and knows the distinct challenges that present themselves in the classroom, school by school, neighborhood by neighborhood.

Jackie Goldberg spent 16 years teaching students in Compton. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Unlike other education leaders who did the least amount of time possible in the classroom to be able to later claim the title of teacher, Jackie actually did the time. Why is this important? Because for 180 days a year, teachers spend either 6 hours in elementary school or 1 hour in secondary school with each student every single day. That means you will see them at their best and at their worst throughout the year, and you are tied to them in a manner that only their parents can experience.

I remember the first day of school 3 years ago. A former student came to visit me after school in a visibly shaken state of emotion. She proceeded to cry, vent, yell, and destroy. Every single table was flipped. I discreetly called for assistance, and the student was taken to the hospital. But why did this happen? She spent an entire year in my classroom the previous year and knew it was a safe place to unload the horrible feelings she had kept bottled up during the summer. Teachers know what students need.

We know what they must learn academically because we are the trained professionals. We know which policies will work and which ones won’t because we have seen the state in which they arrive to the classroom in August. We know which ones have a bed to sleep in and which ones sleep on the floor, which ones suffer from stress disorders, which ones are fighting health issues, and which ones just need a kind word. And when we get 28 or 35 or 47 kids per class, that work becomes even harder.

Jackie Goldberg understands the challenges schools face today are larger than LAUSD. Decades of underfunding have left a legion of teachers feeling like they are fighting a war for survival. And the students are not arriving to school with less poverty and instability, but with record breaking amounts of it. I’d be angry too if I were living in a motel or in a car every night. But our city government is not providing families with an impactful level of assistance, and in any case the rent is too damn high. Our school system should not be tasked with solving all our society’s ills, but if we are to truly attempt to do so, we need the funding. California is the world’s 5th largest economy. It is the home of billionaires. We can absolutely fund schools better, but we do not. Jackie would be a formidable presence in Sacramento, because she has worked there and knows how it works.

While living in Finland on my Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching fellowship, I often marveled at how the humble Finns accomplished so much with so little. Much of it had to do with survival. It is a tough land to live in, and if people don’t pitch in and cooperate, many will die in the cold, harsh winter. The folks working in utilities need to know their craft. Same for the architects and builders. I know I was grateful for functioning transportation and heating during the -20 degree nights. The country would only progress if their populace was educated, and so education became the priority. We need to have the same priority and that means changing how our schools are funded. 

Eventually that will also mean making the teacher profession more attractive, thereby increasing the pool of talented candidates who currently choose other fields because they can’t afford to pay their college loans off and live in L.A. on a teachers’ salary. It will mean reorganizing our hierarchical system of governance so that teachers, the original education leaders, will have an equitable voice in education policy. And it will mean finally ridding ourselves of the corporate education reform model that pits school against school, teacher against teacher, in a Hunger Games-like dystopia.

Finally, and this could just be me, I would like to see a leader who is truly in it for the kids. This is a rare quality. So many past school board members have implemented policies during their years of service that crippled schools, opening the way for the rise of charter schools, some of which are led by…former school board members. I would like to see a leader who has nothing to gain but to help kids, is not enamored with themselves or bought by billionaires for the sole purpose of privatizing education.


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