I am a product of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), graduated from James Monroe High School. The college advisor suggested that I learn how to paint cars, so naturally, I rebelled. My first semester in college, while taking a Sociology and Chicano Studies course, I decided to become a high school teacher.
I was 23 when I began teaching Social Studies at my alma mater, James Monroe High School, an LAUSD institution. After almost three years of teaching at James Monroe H.S. I took a three-year break, pursued a Masters Degree in Urban Planning at UCLA and worked as an education consultant for a non-profit. Within a year of completing the masters, I returned to teach at a different LAUSD high school. I was excited to return to the classroom; my enthusiasm, and at times naïveté, spurred my enhancing of the textbook curriculum with material that encouraged critical thinking about current events. I also encouraged students to attend off-campus activities such as town hall meetings and debates on the United States’ Iraqi invasion post September 11th tragedy. Given my interest in social justice, institutional accountability and personal responsibility, I also made a habit of speaking with parents about dropout rates and student tracking. I considered my transparency with students and parents a form of self-accountability, but it was not seen as such by school administrators; over time, tensions between us developed and exponentially grew. Consequently, I was routinely harassed and punished by school administrators for speaking in public, about the schools’ deficiencies, during my off hours.
Despite evidence, my petition to investigate complaints of excessive evaluations and routine harassment were ignored by the local Superintendent. I was told by the teacher’s union representative that, “Administrators have as much right to harass you as you have to continue speaking in public,” and I was left unshielded by a union representative who stood by silently observing the due process. Administrators went as far as to encourage a select few parents, students and teachers to fabricate complaints against me. After enduring years of excessive negative evaluations, verbal admonishments and a formal write up, in 2006, I filed a lawsuit against the school Principal, later including three additional administrators, Gutierrez v. Rodriguez et al. My fight did not come without a personal cost. As a result of my stress-induced elevated blood pressure, my doctor highly recommended that I resign. Within a year of filing the lawsuit, I quit teaching for LAUSD.
Within two years of resigning, I pursued a Ph.D. in Education at UCLA’s Department of Education, Division of Urban Schooling where I had the privilege to critically reflect on my teaching experience as well as analyze my David vs. Goliath legal battle against the second largest school district in the United States; a case which was twice reviewed by the Los Angeles Superior Court and another twice reviewed by the California Court of Appeals. Ultimately the case was dismissed by the California Court of Appeals on the grounds that the school administrators are government employees protected by Qualified Immunity, a federal law commonly used to protect law enforcement in police brutality cases. By dismissing the case, the California Court of Appeals avoided establishing precedence on the question, “Do Teachers have the right to speak on matters of public concern during their off hours?”
I have also taught in the juvenile halls / detention camps, a charter continuation school, 2 community colleges, California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). During academic 2011-12, I co-taught abroad, at five distinct Mexican institutions, the praxis of critical theory critical pedagogy.
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