“Tucson Vice”: Letter from Afghanistan

by David Safier
Anyone who follows the comments here at BfA knows Tucson Vice, a sometimes witty, sometimes sarcastic, always passionate supporter of public education whose wife, he's told us a few times, teaches middle school in south Tucson.

What I didn't know until a few days ago is that he's stationed in Afghanistan as a linguist/translator with the Air Force. Or that his wife was one of the many teachers pink-slipped in TUSD.

When I found out, I contacted him by email and asked if he would tell us more about his story. A young man serving in one of the world's danger zones, a young woman who is a dedicated teacher in danger of losing her job — those are two stories we all benefit from hearing first hand.

Both Tucson Vice and his wife are intelligent people and good writers, so I'm putting the rest of this post in their hands, with an occasional comment from me so you know who's saying what. I was asked to keep their identities private, so whenever Tucson Vice refers to his wife by name, I put in [my wife] or something similar in brackets. Other than that, this is their story in their words.

Let's begin.

My location in Afghanistan will have to remain undisclosed. I am a linguist/translator in the US Air Force. I have been here since before Christmas, and thankfully, I expect to be home within the next two months. I can't say for sure because we don't always know exactly when we will get to leave. Prior to this deployment, I also deployed to Kuwait/Iraq. My location gets attacked with fair regularity, and these attacks pick up as the weather warms up. I balance this war with my home life as best I can, but it is difficult sometimes, and it helps to have a wife like [mine].
 
I will soon be out of the Air Force. After four honorable years, I will separate from the military to finish the last year and a half of my undergrad at U of A, beginning this fall. In the meantime, [my wife] and I will travel this summer to Africa to teach English at a university in The Democratic Republic of the Congo (she has already been once, during my last deployment but it will be my first time in Africa). As soon as I finish my undergrad degree (Near Eastern Studies with a minor in Arabic), I hope to go straight into law school, and then back into public service.
 
I bring up my UA stuff because this is one more way that we are being hit by the war on education. As a teacher, [my wife] may lose her job. As a grad student at ASU, her tuition will increase. As an undergrad at UA, my tuition will also increase, lessening the worth of my GI bill benefits. Talk about a perfect storm, right?

Here in Afghanistan, I am taking a full class load through the University of Maryland (they send Professors to us) in an effort to minimize the amount of money that comes out of my GI bill before law school. In addition to my wife getting pink slipped, enemy attacks and every other dang thing going on out here, the lege has put me in a position in which I have to be a full time student in a warzone just to make this all even out.

Tucson Vice's wife wrote a bit about herself and her current situation.

I graduated Cum Laude in 2 years from NAU with a GPA of 3.68 at the age of 19 [she is now 21]. I am currently enrolled in my Master's program at ASU. I am also taking the Arizona state mandated Structured English Immersion course on top of working full time as a teacher.
 
Throughout my teaching career, I have always been given exemplary remarks on all of my evaluations. I attend Professional Development classes once a week. I attend before and after school parent-teacher conferences, IEP meetings (for Special Education students) and other kinds of meetings, which I do not get paid for.
 
I work incredibly hard. My contract day is from 8:15 am to 4 pm. I drive 26 miles to work everyday and, on a typical day, spend 2 hours driving. I leave my home at 7 am everyday and usually do not get home until about 5 pm. I usually work at my home at least two or three hours a night, whether it is grading papers, creating lesson plans or working on my Master's degree. [Tucson Vice adds, "She has an affinity for underprivileged kids which is why she drives to south Tucson."]
 
On Friday, April 3rd, I was given a notice from my Principal and two Assistant Principals that stated my name was being submitted to a Governing Board meeting to be included in the RIF [Reduction in Force]. The letter states that the order of the RIF is determined by the district seniority date in the bargaining unit, the program or level in which I am currently working and my highly qualified/certified status. It also states that if the Govering Board authorizes the RIF, the district expects to be able to recall at least some of the positions. I have recall rights to my teaching position for three years from the date of the lay-off.

It's important to remember that the RIF notice doesn't mean TUSD is letting her go. It means she's one of the people who could be released, depending on how much is cut from the education budget.

More comments from Tucson Vice:

We weren't entirely shocked by this…we could see the writing on the wall as the 2008 election unfolded and again as the Republicans rolled out their state budget. I must admit though, that despite having mentally prepared for it, it still bothers the hell out of me. [My wife] is a trooper. She knows she will not have a problem finding a new job if it comes to that, and she is generally a very optimistic person. Together, though, both as a young married couple and as two people in service to our nation, we see this unfold and we have real concerns.
 
What worries us most, I think, is how many other young, vibrant, enthusiastic and well qualified teachers just like [my wife] might be getting the chop. We are struggling to find real teaching talent in the first place…struggling to find young professionals willing to take the plunge into education. Not only do the cuts in education funding discourage the children in today's classrooms (fire their favorite teachers, increase their class sizes, etc), but it is bound to discourage the children in tomorrow's classrooms as well by demonstrating in as profound a way as possible that we didn't care about them then, and we don't care about them now.

[My wife] has decided to draft a letter and send it to every member of our state lege as well as the guv, Senators Kyl and McCain and our entire congressional delegation. She wants our elected officials to know that we are not satisfied with the quality of K-12 education in Arizona, that it should be last on the chopping block, not first, and express her dissatisfaction with this most recent wave of teacher firings
 
This Republican war on education will continue claiming casualties through generations of Arizonans if it continues on this course. [My wife] and I feel it is our obligation to shed light on it and share her story. Unfortunately, it isn't unique. Far too many young teachers experience the same thing year after year–an uphill battle against the Arizona lege that doesn't end until they are forced to quit teaching all together.

If this last paragraph from Tucson Vice sounds a little self congratulatory (on my part, not his), so be it. I was intensely gratified to know I — and other writers and commenters on BfA — are contributing to his connection to home.

Thank you for your work on BFA. I am a daily reader, even from here in Afghanistan. Reading through BFA every evening is one of the many ways that I find to stay connected to my home and my state. I comment on the progressive blogs fairly often under the name "Tucson Vice," and your blog in particular is a real booster for me. It keeps me informed, keeps me sharp (after 20,000 rounds with your detractors) and I always know that, even on my worst day, I can log on, click over to BFA and feel better.

0 responses to ““Tucson Vice”: Letter from Afghanistan

  1. Amen, Tucson Vice! What an excellent posting all around.

    The number of teacher RIF notices might have been averted – or at least negated – if our legislature had been responsible enough to get the budget proposal to our school districts before the mandatory April 15th RIF date. They didn’t choose to do that, and the House & Senate leadership negotiations have been mainly behind closed doors.

    Tucson Vice is right about many things, but his message that WE need to take control of this situation is the most resounding of all. Our legislators need to be held accountable for their actions…we elected them to be our voice in our government.

    If you don’t know who your legislators are, please check out http://www.votesmart.org. All you need to do is type in your zip code and you’ll get a list of your representatives with links to their contact info.

    Governor Brewer, by the way, needs to hear from all of us. She would like to get re-elected and has the power to veto further education cuts that emerge from the depths of our legislature:
    The Honorable Jan Brewer
    Governor of Arizona
    1700 West Washington Ave
    Phoenix, AZ 85007

    Best of luck to you and your wife Tucson Vice. Thanks for all that you guys are doing on behalf of our community.

  2. Tucson Vice

    Thank you all for your comments and support.

    What we must remember in all of this is that we are in control, not the lege or anybody else. We hired them. If those in Phoenix choose not to represent us or our interests, we can just as easily fire and replace them. They work for us.

    We must also know that, just as they have obligatiions to us, we have obligations to them. It is our right and our responsibility to voice our discontent. Not doing so makes us derilict in our responsibilities as citizens and voters.

    The firing of 563 TUSD teachers was unanimously approved by the TUSD governing board today. It was a decision that will eventually effect us all but worse than that, it was a decision that dooms many thousands of Tucson’s kids to larger class sizes, less individual attention in the classroom and the knowledge that once again, they are not the priority or our right wing republican legislature.

    By excercising out rights as citizens and good democrats, we can turn back the tide and prevail in the republican war against education.

    Write your legislators and tell them that you are not satisfied with these firings. Demand another solution to our budgetary problems; one that doesn’t place the burden squarely on the backs of our children and teachers.

  3. I’m suspicious of people who call public schools “government schools” and teachers “government school teachers.” Yes, school districts are governmental entities, but each school district has its own unique flavor. Teaching in Cat Foothills is a whole lot different from teaching in Sunnyside.
    I’ve never seen a time in my life, when teachers have been given such low respect in our national dialogue.
    Tucson Vice,
    I am sorry about your wife getting a pink slip. Our right wing AZ legislators may not value public education, but there are many of us who do. Keep the faith, I think your wife will get her job back. The kids aren’t going anywhere.

    And you, Tucson Vice, be safe and thank you for your service.

  4. Nobody wants to be laid off. When the tech bubble of 2001 popped I was laid off and had to find employment at half my prior wages.

    Welcome to the popping of the state government employment bubble. Some government school teachers will have to find other employment, perhaps at a lower rate than they are paid now.

    Just like tech workers in 2001 had to persevere, so shall the government workers of 2009 have to persevere.

  5. Wasn’t Tuscon Vice one of the people that the wingers were claiming hated America because he didn’t think they should own machine guns? I’m too lazy to look back and see if that is the case, but it probably is.
    You rock.

  6. We, all of us, should be ashamed of ourselves.
    Thank you TucsonVice and [wife] for your service.
    David, thank you for bringing this up.