Stop Playing Chess Without A Queen

Political Presence and Perception


This past week I had the opportunity to have some candid conversations with some influential people outside of the education realm regarding #REDFORED. I have come to the conclusion that we as educators are fighting two battles; we have two BIG problems we must address to bring about significant change. The first is a perception that has plagued us for decades, and the second is a problem of political presence.

Perception: I had a conversation with my coworker about our Red for ED movement, and she had an important point to ponder, “Our profession is mostly women.” An interesting point, as a male teacher I know I have always been outnumbered by my female counterparts, so this did not strike me as something new. But it was what she said next that really stuck with me, “In other words, people perceive our profession as a side job, not as the bread winner. The secondary income. A nice job for a spouse who isn’t the bread winner. The mom who has kids in school perhaps?” These facts are startling. Really? Excuse me?  A side jobs? Sadly, you know she is right, and it is this perception that is crushing teachers. I was reminded of the quote, “Perception = Projection. The way you view/filter people is the way you will treat them.” Heck, a significant number of educators believe this fallacy themselves. Teaching has been viewed as a “side job” for far too long, and it is time we actively work to change this false narrative.

Presence: My next conversation was with some firefighters. My question to them was, “Why is it that your union of 6,000 members statewide wields more power than the almighty himself at the state capitol, whereas our teacher union of 40,000 can’t get a door open for us? What is the firefighters magic, and how is it that they are such a force to be reckoned with– so much so– that candidates seek out firefighter’s endorsements? What are we missing here? Why are we losing at the political game?”

After a long ponder, I will tell you. It is because we do not have the presence. Firefighters key to success is their physical “Presence”, thus enabling their ability to make or break candidates in elections. Firefighters spend time campaigning, canvasing, and giving political endorsements. They touch base with lawmakers regularly developing sustainable relationships.

I have spent some time downtown myself. Last year I gave up nearly every one of my sick days to go down to the state capitol and speak with lawmakers about the need to save high school physics. And let me tell you, it was an eye-opening experience: public schools lack presence. In all the committee hearings I suffered through, maybe only a handful of public school folks were ever present. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but the rooms were always packed with people from private schools, charter schools, online schools, and businesses.

Without public school presence, advocating for public school funding is quite literally like trying to play a chess match without a Queen. We need to figure out ways to get down to the Capitol, build relationships with lawmakers, and play the game.

As a coach, I hate being last. I hate it so much that it gives me nightmares. But one thing I have learned in my years as the underdog is that sometimes you have to think outside of the box. Under the current climate it will take years to build a public-school presence to change perceptions. Right now, unfortunately, these are years that quite frankly we do not have while our system is on life support. In one of my favorite movies “War Games” (1984) with Mathew Broderick the catchphrase of the movie is: “The only winning move is not to play”. In other words, lets change the equation by venturing outside the current parameters. Let’s change our offensive set to offset our opponents. Let’s look at something from different metrics.

Here is my two cents and you can take it for what you will:  We make sure there is a plan B. As teachers we always have a back plan am I right? We run with the good vibes we still have from our community support for #redfored, and we take our issue to the voters. Historically, we already know lawmakers are not going to make the hard decisions that need to be made. I.E. a 1.6% tax increase. Instead we take our 57,000-person teachers union and take our plight to the people of Arizona.  If every teacher in this state went out and made it their personal mission to get 10 registered voters to sign a petition, we could have a referendum.  Maybe even sweeten the deal with some kickbacks for corporate America. Maybe some feel good tax break incentives for sponsors of education in the state. Something with some feel-good PR moves……Someone hire an attorney and let’s do this…. I am sure we could find something that would make some great headlines….

I think it could be totally possible to get us out of this nightmare. We just need to think outside of the box and change the equation.  So, could we get 250K signatures by July? I’d like to believe anything is possible, moreover that our presence can change perception.




Mike Vargas

My name is Mike Vargas. I am a proud recipient of the 2014 ASTA Arizona HS Science Teacher of the Year award and I am a 2016 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year Ambassador for Excellence. I earned my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University where I was Vice – President of the Associated Students, a recipient of the Gold Axe, and President’s Prize awards. I am an advocate for physics first instruction and I am leading a movement to double the current number of physics teachers in Arizona in the next 5 years. I teach high school physics at Pinnacle High School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

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