Generally, I am a positive, upbeat person. I look for the good in people and generally find it. I am quick to forgive and I enjoy collaborating with people who think differently than I do. It takes a lot for me to get steaming mad, but recently, a national public figure suggested that “loser teachers” were out to indoctrinate students, and I lost it. I can not sit idly by while people who know very little about education lob insults from the sidelines; meanwhile, teachers pour their professional and personal time, and often their own money, into helping students deal with the societal problems politicians are elected (and have thus far failed) to address.
Here’s the truth about our teachers and all of our school employees. Every day, they do their best to care for, lift up and educate students who don’t have stable places to live, who face devastating medical problems, who are abused in every imaginable way, and who get every single meal from their school’s free and reduced meal program because their families cannot afford to feed them.
Almost 80 percent of Ukiah Unified School District students fall into at least one of the following categories: they qualify for free or reduced-cost meals, are not fluent in English, and/or they are foster children. The problems these children face are not education problems, but they have deep and far-reaching impacts on education.
The problems our students face are not of their own making, yet the children are trapped, powerless to change their circumstances. Our teachers, counselors, administrators, school secretaries, bus drivers, food service workers, and others know this, and they do what they can to be the anchor in the storm for these kids. UUSD employees recognize that just one caring, compassionate, dependable adult can make a profound difference in a child’s life—and many strive to be that adult.
Education can be the key to a bright future, but when students can’t get to school, they cannot take advantage of all the resources available there. Attendance is a huge problem and, once again, it’s not a problem caused by the education system, but it wreaks havoc on it. Decades ago, it was up to schools to teach reading writing and arithmetic to those who showed up. Now it is up to us to try to get students to school so we can teach academic skills, social skills, and life skills, and help students build resilience in the face of trauma.
Once we get kids to school, we do our best to teach them these skills, as well as how to have productive disagreements, not polarizing exchanges. Yet, when they get home and see politicians on TV spouting vitriol and demeaning their opponents with personal insults, students certainly don’t see adults modeling compromise and team building for the greater good.
So to those who suggest our schools push a specific political agenda, I say this: come and see for yourselves. We employ people all over the political spectrum. What unites UUSD employees aren’t politics; it’s the dedication to our students. Rather than creating a bunch of student clones, teachers teach students to think for themselves.
If we are to have a better education system, we need to recognize that UUSD’s test scores and other metrics reflect more than the efforts of our schools; they reflect the efforts of our whole community. At UUSD, we continually strive to improve so we can provide our students with the skills and resources they need to succeed. We appreciate the work of wonderful organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Ukiah, youth sports, SPACE, and other organizations that provide low-cost services and/or scholarships for children who need them.
We encourage parents and guardians to get your children to school on time every day and to read to your young children every night. And we ask that you work with us if your child has a discipline problem, so we can get to the root of the problem together.
Please, help us build resilience in our youth. Help us cultivate their skills and talents so they can have bright futures.