February 6, 2012

An Open Letter to Superintendent Kowba and the SDUSD School Board

Today has been another hallmark day in my teaching career. After four and a half years at my campus and district, I have been told today that I will be excessed, as many of the teachers in my district will be. It has been a long road toward this destination and I can't help but say something about it. I can't just ignore it and pretend that everything is alright. So, I am writing an open letter to my superintendent and to my school board members to let them know the impact that I believe their actions will have on the future of our district.

February 6, 2012

Superintendent Kowba and SDUSD Board of Education Members,

Today is another day, which would have passed like any other. But, instead, I was told by my principal, who I respect, trust, and even consider a friend, that at this point, with our current budget, I will not be able to continue my work at Thurgood Marshall Middle School. I am a teacher. I work hard to help my students find their education, to learn to be people, to learn how to live their lives as best they can. But, at the same time, I am a person, and one that needs purpose.

When I was 17 years old I was lucky enough to find my purpose in life. I learned, from hours upon hours of helping other students in our school's theatre department, that I wanted to be a teacher. The road toward teaching has been a difficult one, which I would assume is true for most. It was filled with obstacles like a college degree, a bad master teacher, a master teacher who left me, being diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, and a lot of reflection, only to realize that what I had been taught about teaching and motivation was mostly wrong. I've worked through all of these things in order to be the best educator, leader, and guide that I can be for my students. However, we are now at an em pass. A place where I will either be stopped in my tracks, fall to oblivion, or move to some new place that I cannot predict.

I was a student in our school district, back when we seemed to have money to burn. It was exciting to see how the world was changing, what it had to offer. But, now I'm a teacher in the district, seeing that in many ways we still seem like we have money to burn, but not when it comes to our teaching staff. Teaching must be a first choice for all of those involved in it. I am honored to have been able to spend as much time with my students as I have, doing the best work I could. It has been an honor to share their successes and their failures, to teach them how to approach and then overcome obstacles; to teach them how to be complete people.

As a teacher at my school, I have been a full time English teacher, taught drama, with many productions, created lunch clubs, and been a mentor, guide, and even sometimes a friend to the students who needed it. The people that I serve are not the administration of my school, not the tax payers who make the school possible, the politicians, or you, the school board and superintendent. The people I serve are my students. They are my purpose. My way of life. My love.

Where do I go from here?

Being removed from my school, in excess, can only be the first step. Pink slips must be on their way. If pink slipped, I can almost guarantee that I will not be able to return to education. This is not a threat, it is a fact of life. Without stable work in education, which last year and this year have proven to be without, I cannot guarantee an income for my family. I cannot guarantee that I will be able to be the best person that I can be for my wife and the children that we keep putting off because I can't keep a job where I am hard working, innovative, focused, and purposeful. If those things cannot keep me working in your district, then something needs to change.

The fault is, of course, not all yours. When backed into a corner, by many forces, you have reacted the only way you see fit. You know that you have to prepare everyone for a worst case scenario. That being that taxes will be ended, the union will demand more, the state will change their minds about something, or any number of locally uncontrollable variables. 

But, I do know that I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of not communicating. I'm tired of seeing my school district MY DISTRICT as an adversary. So many secrets, so many discrepancies, so many words that just lead us into the next circle, the next argument, the next debate, the next problem. And, if it makes you feel any better, I'm tired of seeing my union, the San Diego Education Association, as an adversary as well.

Excessing and then eventually pink slipping teachers cannot be the ONLY solution. It is a solution; I completely understand that. But, it is not the ONLY solution. I know that it has been a hard few years and I have always hoped that, regardless of everything happening, you were always doing your best to make the right decisions. THIS IS NOT ONE OF THEM.

Think about the future and think about the purpose of our school district's existence. Its purpose is not to pass budgets and to lay off teachers en mass. Its purpose is to educate and to educate to the best level that we can. Teachers should always be our first and best choice for education.

-Jeffrey Russell
Theatre and English Teacher
Thurgood Marshall Middle School
San Diego, CA


Jessie said...

Well said, Jeff. It's the students who suffer when good teachers are let go.

Jeff Russell said...

So true...

You can say it as many times as you like, but you bever know the true effects until you see the students' reactions first hand.