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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