How Not to Shuffle Teachers, Part Two

What a difference it will make to the students in my district if a U. S. District judge begins to base his orders on matching the problems my district faces with the people best able to solve them.

What a difference it will make to the students in my district if a U. S. District judge begins to base his orders on matching the problems my district faces with the people best able to solve them.


Take One: A teacher applies for an open position at a middle school. He or she has a resume comparable to a colleague already at the school. They will hold similar teaching assignments. This year the teachers would receive the same salary. Next year the newcomer’s color will push the staff’s ethnic profile in the direction of the student body’s ethnic profile and he or she will be paid more.

Take Two: The district prohibits the most highly qualified teacher from applying for an open position in a school because his or her color pushes the staff’s diversity away from the student body’s.

These two scenarios work both ways – in one school a white teacher may be be paid more than a minority teacher. In another, the minority teacher may be paid more than the white teacher. In still another school, a white or minority teacher may be prohibited from seeking positions for which they are the best candidate.

Since it’s too late for April Fools, we better take a U. S. District judge seriously when he orders my district to reduce by half the number of schools whose faculty’s diversity doesn’t match its students. Tucson.com reports that we are to achieve diversity through financial incentives and workload adjustments to encourage voluntary transfers, prohibiting transfers that would create or exacerbate racial disparities, and prioritize transfers that improve racial balance.

Our superintendent, HT Sanchez, embraces the order, citing the fact that the first minority teacher he ever had, a college professor, influenced his choice of majors. Tucson Education Association president, Justin Freed, who is white, says that although he began his career in a school that was 90 percent minority, he connected with students because of his enthusiasm.

My own thinking is influenced by a recent article by Megan Allen in Edweek about Impostor Syndrome – a condition characterized by feelings of being a fake in spite of significant professional achievements. She cites research that minorities tend to experience impostor syndrome at a higher rate than average. I suspect that’s a consequence of lack of diversity in both the work place where an underrepresented minority lands and the schools he or she attended. So, in no way do I reject the goal of staff diversity if it helps relieve students of the feeling that they don’t belong where their achievements may take them.

But the judge’s order reveals once again his, and his special master’s, unseemly reliance on easy to obtain data instead of good judgment to solve problems. For example, I wrote in October about their move to strip schools of their magnet status based on ethnic percentages. And earlier this week I wrote about the order to fill open positions with “highly qualified” teachers, although “highly qualified” status has nothing to do with classroom performance.

Each of those interventions impacted me, but none so personally as their scheme to diversify teaching staffs. So I ask your patience with the parade of first person pronouns that follows. I’m white and married to a Mexican woman who taught me to speak Spanish fluently. I started my career at Safford K-8 Magnet School, in downtown Tucson, in 1987. One night in one of those early years I committed myself to make my time at Safford count. To make good on that commitment, I have worked with colleagues to create our rare middle school engineering program. I sponsored MESA, a university minority outreach program, for 21 years. Six years ago I earned my high school math certificate which qualified me to teach algebra for high school credit to our advanced eighth graders. I also pursued and earned my National Board Certificate in order to become a more effective and reflective teacher. I’ve been honored as MESA’s Teacher of the Year (2004) and as a Raytheon Leader in Education (2016).

In those 29 years, with rare exceptions, every single eighth grader at Safford has taken my required semester engineering class. That means it is likely that no teacher in Safford’s 99 year history has taught more of her students than me.

Of course, none of those achievements would have been possible without the inspiration and support of my family, my students and their families, colleagues, and site administrators. But early this year I learned a quote from Mark Twain that puts my boasting in perspective.

Twain said that, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” You could say that on that night, three decades ago, I found out why. At least professionally.

But in a year or two I might choose to end my commitment to Safford for one I hold more dear. As I wrote in my Teacher Leader Manifesto, I must, “Be human first by caring for my faith, family, and health before all else.” And now my family needs me to earn more money.

This year we have been hit over and over with unexpected expenses. In July, our 13 year old car’s transmission failed, which meant new car payments. Then, my mother-in-law’s home air conditioner had to be replaced, which meant more payments. Next, my son came down with a stomach ailment that medical science failed to alleviate. So we took him to an alternative medicine specialist, who cured him, thanks God, but whose steep charges we pay out of pocket. And now we’ve got termites! If it weren’t for fear of pushing the Lord’s hand, Mary and I would compare ourselves to Job.

So, to put it bluntly, because my commitment to my family is greater to my commitment to Safford, there is a price point at which I would do what the judge wants and sell my white skin to a higher bidder. What that price would be I don’t know – $2000 a year, probably not, $7000 a year, probably so. In between would mean we would have a very serious family discussion.

I hope it doesn’t come to that. I want to finish my career at the school I love. And there is hope. Word has it that the district has a team (which includes some teachers) putting together a plan to help diversify our teaching staffs without putting a price on our pigment. And I could support a plan that included requirements that teachers demonstrate how they would be the best match for the students of the school they seek to teach at. The district will offer the plan to the special master who will recommend to the judge to accept it or reject it.

I wish I had more confidence they would do the right thing.