As a Chula Vista, Calif., charter high school teacher, I wake up every morning and kiss my wife goodbye for the day. She is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient and is in the process of getting her teaching credentials. Even though we are married, we don’t know if she’ll be able to stay in the only country she’s ever known.
I drive to the school, two miles from the border with Mexico, many of my students wake up at 4 or 5 a.m. to wait in the border line to come to school in the USA. I walk into my classroom where students are always already there waiting, eating their school breakfast. These are the ones for whom the border crossing was quicker than usual that day, so they arrive at the school well before the day is set to begin.
We are a public charter that takes in the high school students from across the vast Sweetwater Union school district that are not on track to graduate. Most of our students are English Language Learners (ELL) who have grown up on both sides of the border. They are American citizens, children of families too poor to afford to live in California’s skyrocketing housing market, or whose families don’t have the documentation necessary to live and work in the U.S.
We also take in many homeless students, and students who are transitioning out of juvenile detention supervision. It is hard work serving as teacher, mentor, coach, therapist, and college counselor all in one day. But, it is important, necessary work that sustains me and gives me purpose.
For this work however, I am paid $55,000 per year, though I would make $68,000 if I taught at any of the traditional public schools in our same district.
Our students are Sweetwater Union High School District students, but we are not paid like Sweetwater Union High School District teachers.
In October of 2015, my colleagues unionized our charter school with the California Teachers’ Association (CTA), and have been working with organizers from the union to sign our first contract ever since. We have faced numerous delay tactics. We no longer have a General Ed English teacher or an English Language Development (ELD) teacher. We have gone semesters with no science or math teachers, and years with no Spanish teacher. All in a school that is 95 percent ELL and nearly 100 percent of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
We are getting to the point where walking out is becoming a real point of discussion. After two and a half years of delays, my colleagues and I wonder if that is the only way.
Charter schools should exist to provide additional paths to success for students, not to punish the teachers who sign up to serve the most vulnerable. We are inspired by our union brothers and sisters walking out of their classrooms all across the country, and we are proud of the difficult fights they have made winnable. Charter schools MUST be unionized, or our teachers will be underpaid and under-supported, and our students, those with the most need of stable and quality educators, will be the ones that continue to suffer.
Con union se vive mejor!