Jessica Macias, a Castle Park High School teacher, rallies against the district’s proposal to lay off more than 200 employees and shut down learning centers dedicated to struggling students. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Jessica Macias, a Castle Park High School teacher, rallies against the district’s proposal to lay off more than 200 employees and shut down learning centers dedicated to struggling students. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

My dream of becoming a teacher began when I was a kindergartner walking the long hallways with my Barney backpack full of exciting writing assignments. My love for teaching grew profoundly when I was a student at Castle Park High School, walking the hallways with my polka dot backpack full of International Baccalaureate assignments. The passion and drive my teachers demonstrated inspired me to be that teacher for future generations. They made school feel like a home away from home. After earning my bachelor’s degree at San Diego State University, I went ahead and earned my master’s degree and teaching credential at UC San Diego. I wanted to put the hard work in so that I could provide my future students with the best education possible.

Student teaching and substitute teaching introduced me to the teacher perspective of my alma mater. Little did I know that the next four years would be so fulfilling. I have taught International Baccalaureate English, Theory of Knowledge, English 11 and English 9 in that time. Each batch of students that would walk through my door would inspire me to be the best that I can be. I often find myself lesson planning and grading into the late hours of night, knowing I only have five hours until I need to wake up and do it again, and also knowing I am not paid for this. Their curiosity fuels me to ensure I am giving them the best lessons each day because I know that I am directly affecting the students. The classroom environment, student-teacher relations and content all make up a powerful classroom setting. I know I can relate to them because I am a younger teacher, and I went to the same school as them. I constantly ask them to question themselves. How do you know what you know? How can we make sure something like this event in history never happens again? How can we voice our opinions and make a change?

It is not my effort alone. My colleagues have the same goal of giving the students the tools to be change-makers. These past two weeks exemplify just that. Our students protested against the proposed plan to fix the deficit we are in. They know we are fighting for them, and they have shown us that they are fighting for us as well.

My third official year of teaching took a turn for the worse — not because of the students, parents or my colleagues, but because of the mismanagement of money at the top. I understand things happen, but we need to start being proactive and actually find a solution that works for the students. Our district motto is to put students first, but when will we actually start doing that? I remember standing by my teachers years ago as a sophomore and junior in high school when they were being pink-slipped. We would strike in front of the school because they taught us how to use our voices to make a difference. Now I stand by those same teachers as their colleague and fight the same fight.

I was infuriated when I read an email to a union representative that board president Nick Tarantino wrote, in which he criticized our behavior at the board meeting and said we wouldn’t tolerate the same from our own students.

How can he not see the different perspectives in order to understand our predicament and why we are hurt and angry? Obviously, cutting from the top does not benefit him or anything at the top, so he is trying to villainize us in order to turn the script. This whole situation is similar to the train track analogy: There is a runaway trolley barreling down the tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options: 1) Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track or 2) pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which do you choose?

In other words, do you save the hundreds of teachers, librarians and learning centers or do you save the few people at the top?

We must ask ourselves how certain cuts will affect students. As one person mentioned at that same board meeting, the students would not know the difference if someone at the district office were cut from the equation. In my opinion, cuts need to be made at the top. The superintended has added two assistant superintendent positions and many management positions in these past five years. We were able to work without them before. If the board decides to vote against cutting these positions, these should at least lessen the salaries of those individuals in order to keep teacher and librarian positions. You know which cuts will affect the students? The cuts to our teachers, librarians, and learning centers.

In regard to Tarantino insinuating that the teachers and librarians present that night were not strong examples for the students: We are wonderful examples to our students because we are showing them how to use their voices for the greater good. They are learning, firsthand, why the First Amendment is so important. Due to our passionate display of disagreement with the board, the students took things into their own hands and planned their own displays of disagreement. Did we lead them or push them to do it? No. They did that all on their own. Like someone mentioned at the board meeting, cutting people at the district office does not directly impact students.

Cutting teachers and librarians does. Let’s start living by our motto and “put students first.” The board forgets that they are working for us, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, I received my pink slip today. I have cried multiple times because my heart breaks for my colleagues and the students. Especially the students. For now, the fight is not over. We will stand up against this horrid decision that actually puts students last. If my pink slip is not rescinded on May 15, I will know I tried my best. As I have told my current seniors, I started their high school journey with them and will now be graduating with them. Once a Trojan, always a Trojan.

Jessica Macias is an alumni of Castle Park High School, where she currently teaches. She was born and raised in Chula Vista.

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