Guest Commentary: All Teachers Want for Christmas

by Cory Wiegel

Imagine that you’re a teacher or service provider for some of the neediest and most at-risk students in Yolo County. There’s a pandemic going on and no one knows when the needs of your students and their families will be fully addressed. You’re overworked, your program is underfunded, and you can’t find the support you need in a reasonable amount of time. You go to sleep at night worrying about your students’ mental health and their academic deterioration. You shop on the weekends for foods and materials to help your students succeed and pay for it out of your own pocket. You spend your lunch breaks searching the internet for do it yourself repairs in your classroom. You beg, borrow, and steal from other professionals to meet ends meet. You solicit families and the community for essential supplies like Kleenex, sanitizing wipes, paper, and pencils. You cry on your spouse’s shoulder, wondering if you can do this heart-breaking job for another year.

Ask yourself… What do you want for Christmas?

What if I told you it was just to have a student’s puke on the carpet in the corner of your classroom, which has been drying for months on end, to finally be cleaned up? What if I told you it was to just finally have the therapeutic equipment you need to reduce a student’s sensory dysregulation delivered to you after sitting in maintenance storage for months? How about if it was just to have your air conditioner fixed or the holes in your wall covered? Maybe to get a new chair for your desk because the twenty-year-old one you’ve been sitting in keeps breaking on you? What if it was to have a proper restroom for your medically fragile student to use instead of the bucket in a closet that was provided to you? Can you imagine just wanting to have the carpets vacuumed once in a while?

These simple wishes and more go unfilled every year for teachers throughout Yolo County. Our superintendents and their deputies, our directors, and our principals, and the administrative support teams are instrumental in ensuring that these wishes – which in reality should be essential tasks – are granted. We submit requests and they seemingly disappear or simply aren’t addressed for months on end, sometimes years. We follow-up multiple times and are told to be patient. We talk to our supervisors and they tell us it’s our responsibility to hold them accountable despite repeated inquiries. We talk to their supervisors and they tell us these problems don’t exist, and that everyone’s doing a fantastic job. We sit in board meetings where superintendents and their deputies suggest students are doing well, all of the teachers’ needs are being met, and families are being cared for during the biggest crisis we’ve seen in decades. We involve the union, we prove that they are not telling us the truth and they promise to do better, and then to add insult to injury they grant an “employee of the month” award to the very people we challenged to do better for our students. They celebrate the people who fail us. They embrace toxic positivity while we agonize over the reality of teaching in Yolo County.

One thing has become clear to many teachers throughout this county. We can no longer expect our current elected officials and educational leaders to collaborate with us in a respectful and meaningful manner. We can no longer expect them to just tell the truth, which should be the bare minimum public service requirement. In this public health crisis, they are more concerned about their reputations, their images, and their long-term career prospects than serving us. Teachers can, however, ask that the public take action. Ask questions. Make public information requests. Demand answers and accountability. Challenge superintendents and board members for their jobs. Our students and families, and the people who care for them with all of their heart and grit, need the public to step in and make their expectations clear. Help give it to them.

Maybe this is how all of our wishes are granted this year.

Cory Wiegel is a Special Education teacher with the Yolo County Office of Education and Organizing Chair and Shop Steward, Yolo Education Association


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13 Comments

  1. Ron Glick

    The compilation of complaints expressed here are horrific in totality but even when taken individually are disturbingly reminiscent of things that happened over the course of my career.

    The best antidotes to inaction is to go to the school board directly or the press. Trustees are almost never made aware of poor conditions teacher deal with by administrators. Going to them directly can often get them to focus the attention of administrators where it belongs, supporting learning conditions in the classroom.

    Another way to get the attention of decision makers is to go to the press. Nothing focuses the mind of public servants like a front page story in the local newspaper calling out situations that challenge the perception of the community as to the reality of what is going on in classrooms.

    1. corywiegel

      I agree. Teachers spend a lot of time trying to be discrete, professional, and maintain positive relationships with people who, unfortunately, are all too willing to take advantage of them. That has to change if these injustices are to be addressed and if our students and their families are to get what they need in order to succeed.

      1. Ron Glick

        One Winter the heat was out for weeks in my classroom. I called the Fairfield Daily Republic and complained about it. The reporter asked if he could use my name and I agreed to let him. The problem was addressed the day after the story hit.

        I think teachers are mostly people who live their lives playing by the rules and that has worked for  them throughout their careers. When the system fails them they are often flummoxed on how to proceed. There are times when being the squeaky wheel is the only way to get things done.

        1. corywiegel

          I think your example is a good one of how it takes rather extreme action to shock the conscience of your supervisors when you work in education. Sometimes teachers feel as if they are being unprofessional by discussing challenges within their field publicly. Well, would an engineer, accountant, attorney, nurse, or any other professional be expected to have to go to the local newspaper because their essential needs (like adequate space, heating and air, adequate restrooms) were not being met? Better yet, would a social worker, therapist, or physician be expected NOT to report the health and safety issues of their clients, or to demand action?

          Sadly, these are systemic issues that are need to be addressed by reform.

  2. Sharon Holstege

    I feel compelled to weigh in on this commentary due to misleading and inaccurate information.  Having worked for 35 plus years supporting students who were the most fragile, needy, and vulnerable in multiple counties including four years for the Yolo County Office of Education (2015-2019), I feel uniquely qualified to provide counterpoint to some of the information presented here.

    It is such a challenging and unparalleled time for students, teachers, parents, school staff, school administrators, and so many others in our communities.  Teachers and administrators have been tasked with doing the herculean task of re-inventing education and making it accessible for all students including students who have disabilities that make distance learning even more challenging.

    During my tenure with Yolo County Office of Education, I had many opportunities to interact with the six school superintendents, the Chief Business Officers, Directors, and many principals.  The focus of decision making was ALWAYS on the consideration for students first.  There was not a single person that I encountered in any of these roles that put themselves above doing what was right for students in order to “advance careers” or make themselves look better.

    The “underfunded” and “under-resourced” class that is referred to here averages seven to eight students and is staffed with one teacher and two para-professionals.  The classroom was renovated three years ago to include a kitchen.   The class has its own van in order to provide community access for students.  Funding provides for a variety of daily community activities including out of town overnight trips. Does this sound like an underfunded class to anyone??

    These are unprecedented times and it will take everyone to work together to address student needs now and as students return to school.  I applaud and revere teachers and administrators who are going above and beyond to try to meet our students’ needs.  It is unfortunate that during these difficult times, some individuals have chosen to attack instead of supporting the difficult task at hand-to educate our students.

    1. corywiegel

      Thanks for chiming in, Sharon. For those who are curious, Sharon is my former supervisor and did an excellent job as director of the Special Education program at YCOE. With that said, I think it’s important to point out that I’m not talking specifically about my classroom, but about the concerns and needs of all teachers throughout Yolo County (not just YCOE, but at district levels as well), which I have become aware of as a union officer and educator. By no means, should you feel like I’ve attacked you for the job you’ve done with my classroom in my program.

      However, your predecessor was notorious for harassing teachers based on their age, gender, disability, appearance, and for expressing dissenting views or even pointing out inappropriate conduct — myself included. Positions went unfilled, programs collapsed, student services weren’t adequately delivered, turn over was at an all time high, morale hit an all time low, and systemic waste became the norm. Great teachers and genuinely fine people were threatened, verbally abused, reprimanded, and non-reelected (the nice way of saying fired). Students suffered. This happened for several years under the superintendent in charge at the time and you would be hard pressed to find someone who disagrees with my take on this. She was only dismissed from her position when the union made their voices heard and a new superintendent took charge. Do you think this person put themselves above doing what was right for students? Do you think this person cared about anyone else’s livelihood? Their behaviors were monstrous and many people suffered for a long time because systemic barriers kept her from being held accountable. One teacher even killed themselves.

      There are some great ones like you, Sharon, but there are plenty of other ones who aren’t great at all. You don’t need to spend 35 years in education to know that. I can understand the need for you to defend yourself and your profession, but it’s unfair to dismiss the experiences of thousands of teachers across the country who haven’t been as fortunate as to have worked with you their entire career.

      P.S. — SOS still hasn’t delivered that van antenna my class requested years ago. ^_^

      1. Bill Marshall

        However, your predecessor was notorious for harassing teachers based on their age, gender, disability, appearance, and for expressing dissenting views or even pointing out inappropriate conduct — myself included.

        Hope you’re not in the last category… “inappropriate behavior”… as I understand that term, the person should be discharged and never work in the school system again… anywhere… if you were pointing it out in another, good job… met expectations…

        [edited]

  3. Sharon Holstege

    Thanks for your clarification, Corey.   The commentary was misleading since anyone reading it would think that you were referring to your classroom and I was concerned about how your comments would affect your students’, their families’ and the community’s beliefs and trust in current administrators within Yolo County schools.  I was not commenting in order to defend myself or to get any “kudos” , but simply to correct the record.

  4. corywiegel

    Hi Sharon,

    While I can appreciate that you may have misunderstood the intent of the article, I need to point out that in no way was it misleading or intended to tell my personal story. It was written specifically to provide a voice to all teachers throughout the county, regardless of district or classroom, who have felt frustrated and heartbroken by the state of education. These teachers have spoken to me and not you, so with respect, you can’t correct a record that you were not provided or that you have no knowledge of. The examples provided were intentionally vague in order to protect confidentiality.

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