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.
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.
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:
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.