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Union-Bashing and Teacher-Bashing In The Wake of the Rigo Ruelas Tragedy

by Tom Louie Saturday, Oct. 02, 2010 at 11:02 PM

We don't know anything about Rigo Ruelas' death, except that we lost an excellent teacher. But some anti-union and anti-teacher bloggers are still defending the Times, pretending they know what kind of teacher Rigo was.

As a friend and colleague of Rigoberto Ruelas, I need to say that it is extremely disturbing, and infuriating, to read the conclusions of so-called journalists and bloggers (like some at the LA Weekly) who did not know Rigo, have not been to Miramonte and have not put any effort into investigating this story. Without getting up from their computers, they claim to know that the L. A. Times was right about Rigo’s teaching ability, and say things about him and about our teachers’ union that simply aren’t true. It is easy to find research questioning the validity of Value-Added Measurement, and yet the bloggers are still acting as if the Times performed a service for the public. Journalism is dead; at least the skeptical, fact-digging variety is.

The only ones politicizing Rigo’s tragedy are anti-union ideologues and the defenders of the Times, who in their reflexive zeal to defend fellow media, are assuming the worst about our union and about teachers, including Rigo himself.

One of the biggest lies is that our union is exploiting Rigo’s memory for its own agenda. On Monday, Vice-President Julie Washington came to our school and pledged that UTLA would not get out in front of the family’s wishes, and that promise has been kept. The family members have been honored guests at every one of our meetings, and they have spoken their minds. The union officers and staffers are listening to us, and they constantly consult the family. Every single UTLA officer who is in town came to the memorial service on Wednesday. Did the LA Weekly come? They could have gotten a lot of interviews.

Go to, and try to find anything that blames Rigo’s death on the Times. If our union leaders have continued to speak out against the Times, as they did before the tragedy, they are only doing what Rigo’s family members have also done. What Rigo’s family wants, is to get to the bottom of whatever precipitating circumstance may have led to Rigo’s death, no matter where that leads: to the Times, to Rigo’s supervisors, to the system itself, or somewhere else. What they want, is for this death to mean something that will go toward something good in the end, whether that means changes at Miramonte, school reform, a more pro-teacher political climate, or a scholarship endowment. We, Rigo’s friends, co-workers, colleagues and fellow union members, are going to help them get what they want.

I have a question for the Times: what else could Rigo have done to raise his ranking in your eyes? Rigo’s car was often seen in the parking lot as early as 6:30 AM, and some have seen him working as late as 7:00 PM. One of those times was the Wednesday before he died. Does the Times think he should have worked more?

Rigo never stopped teaching, even when he left work. He never stopped asking students to do their best. Due to his encouragement, many students went to college or stayed out of gangs or both. Some of those college students came to help memorialize Rigo this week. Rigo visited his students’ families, and even bought a mattress for a student who had only the floor to sleep on. He not only helped his own students, he helped everyone’s; students of all ages got to learn information technology from him, so that even younger children know Rigo Ruelas.

He was such an effective teacher, that our former principal has admitted that, for nine straight years, he put the toughest students in Rigo’s class: the ones with behavioral problems, the ones who knew less English, the ones who scored low on tests. This was a statement of confidence in Rigo’s abilities as a teacher, and a compliment. Rigo cared for them all, and taught them all, and helped them all. (The Times’ VAM model does not factor in the effects of class assignments, by the way.)

So tell me, high and mighty Los Angeles Times, what else could Rigo have done to become “effective”?

At this point, some know-it-all is going to say, “He was working too hard, when he should have just worked smarter.” Well, we teachers are constantly being trained and retrained. I can’t count how many times in the last dozen years that our programs and materials and even teaching philosophies have changed, by order from above. Rigo went to all the same Professional Developments and training seminars as the rest of us, and if anything he applied the new methods even better than the rest of us. But still, for the Times and its partisans, that’s not enough.

I guess teachers are expected to be Superman these days. As Julie Washington said, Rigo was indeed our Superman, or the closest thing possible to one. It will be impossible for us to ever get another Rigo. Our profession has suffered an irreparable blow, from losing a man who still had so much to teach us by his example and his friendship.

Whether or not the Times or work-related stress contributed to Rigoberto Ruelas’ death, the fact that his name is still in the Times database next to the word “ineffective” is a disgrace to his memory and to the truth. Take it down. Or can we truly say that journalism is dead?

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