Saturday, November 4, 2017

BAT/AFT Survey:  Significance, Resolve, Hope
By:  Wilma de Soto, BATs QWL Team Member

Rigoberto Ruelas. Not exactly a household name, is it?  Still this name resounds in my memory and the reason it does will not easily leave my sphere of consciousness.

In September of 2010 the LA Times revived an old, despised practice and put a 21st century twist on it.  The Times printed for the first time Teacher Effectiveness Ratings according to Student Performance.  For teachers, it was reminiscent of the old stocks of yore, where wrongdoers were placed in a village square, while passersby threw rotten food and excrement at them, while jeering.  It was bullying and intimidation by the administrators of LA Unified School District.

Members of the BATs QWL and AFT EQWL Team.
For Rigoberto, it was devastating.  A teacher who taught in his community, taking on the toughest students both day and night.  A teacher who had perfect attendance for years.  Devoted, sensitive, powerful in his influence of his students, he was rated an “Ineffective Teacher” nonetheless by this new evaluation system.

Soon thereafter he leapt to his death into a 100 foot ravine in the area of Big Tujunga Canyon in the Angeles National Forest.  I was frightened, saddened, and deeply affected by this.  Knowing the impetus behind this tragic suicide, a voice went through my mind that spoke, “Under the same circumstances, there but for the Grace of God go I.” 

People I discussed this with said Rigoberto was weak. WEAK?! In the depths of despair, yes.  Leaping 100 feet to his death into a canyon ravine? Weak? No. I felt that he believed he would rather die than to be thought not good enough, or harmful to the students to which he devoted his life.

A few years later I became one of the early members of the Badass Teachers’ Association. 

Then a teacher at my school, MY school, a colleague of mine for 25 years, reported to work, left and never came back.  A suicide.  For whatever reason this person may have committed this act, it affected me that they chose to report to work, and before the start of the work day, responding to whatever external or internal negative stimuli, decided they could not go on with either their workday or their life.  Poor Rigoberto never even came to school the day he died.  Today, am still in a bit of disbelief that it ever happened while I was holding down the fort in their classroom waiting for them to return.  It’s a permanent stamp on my soul.

Commiserating with other BATs about what was happening in education under the new corporate regime, we inadvertently discovered that we all of us had teacher colleagues who had recently committed suicide within a short time frame.  A shining star of a person decided to contact the AFT, and they responded to her pleas for help. (How could they not have?)

From these inauspicious circumstances, the BATs Quality of Work Life Team was born. We cared for and comforted one another; we decided to fight in whatever manner we could to save teachers’ lives, working and learning conditions in schools, and bring to the forefront the crisis in public education that had been relegated by voices more powerful than ours.

We had plenty of anecdotes.  What we needed was concrete and empirical data and evidence.  So we set out to survey and compile teacher stories into a scientific study which unequivocally showed the detriment to teachers’ physical and emotional health in response to this negative, punitive, work environment.

All of us had battle scars and wounds to heal, but we pressed on. 

Today I am proud to have played a part in this significant study on the working and learning conditions of teachers and students.  No matter how scientific the data might appear, this was a labor of love and dedication: to teachers, students, to public education, to our profession.

As people read the survey I hope they will picture the faces of teachers and students behind the answers.  They are real and important enough for that moment of reflection and consideration.

Lastly, a heartfelt salute to one of the best groups of teachers with whom I’ve had the pleasure to know and collaborate and a huge debt of gratitude to the researchers at the AFT for listening and taking on this work with us.  Hope for a better school day and work life for all concerned is the legacy our team wishes to leave our hardworking and dedicated colleagues.

Wilma de Soto is a recently retired ESOL Teacher.


  1. Thank you so much for this. For very different reasons, I too was rated as ineffective after 25 years in education (and 23 years of positive evaluations.) It is indeed devastating and, while I wasn't suicidal, I can understand why these teachers became so. One can only take so much abuse before exploding. The only solace we can take in the loss of our fellow teachers is that it spurred this study. Now all we can do is hope that someone listens.

    1. Thank you for reading this post. It is indeed disheartening to see one's life be hurled into a rubbish heap because of some arbitrary evaluation standard heaved by someone who has no idea what teaching is about.

      We also mourn for the kids we teach and enjoy teaching and who never wanted us to leave in the first place.

      If you are interested, please read another post I wrote in October entitled, "The Garage Sale." Let me know what you think.


      Wilma de Soto


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