Territorial teachers also got the spitball
Arizona Daily Star
Sept. 23, 2007


Opinion by Ernesto Portillo Jr.

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/202617

 I'm laughing a lot these days, courtesy of the many public-school-teacher bashers. Teachers are getting their usual pummeling from stingy critics who believe teachers should shut up, quit complaining about their pay and be grateful they have jobs.

The anti-teacher rabble, who also enjoy denigrating public education, act as if teachers' complaints about low pay are exclusive to the current generation of teachers.

It ain't so. (Full apologies to my Cholla High School English teachers who read my columns and would certainly object to my colloquialism.)

The current salary dispute at Tucson Unified School District is as old as the district itself, which was formed in 1867.

Tucson's first public-school teachers, Augustus Brichta and John Spring, who were also the state's first public educators, quit when the Tucson school trustees refused to increase their salaries. Moreover, they complained about large class sizes.

Sound familiar? Of course it does.

Public-school teachers have long argued that as a professional group they are underpaid and unappreciated, contrary to the overabundance of lip service about the supposed importance of public education.

"It is an indication of what we're facing now is a systemic problem," said educator Salvador "Sal" Gabaldon. Monday night, Gabaldon gave a public lecture on the history of Tucson Unified School District at Downtown's Presidio San Agustín del Tucson, sponsored by the University of Arizona's Mexican-American Studies and Research Center.

Brichta and Spring, two pioneers in Tucson's history, foreshadowed today's public debate over salaries and conditions.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors created Tucson School District 1 on Nov. 18, 1867, according to "The First 100 Years: The History of Tucson School District 1, Tucson Arizona, 1867-1967," by James F. Cooper, who died in 1992.

Brichta, a veteran of the Mexican War who had studied at Jesuit colleges in Havana and St. Louis, became the territory's first teacher. He began teaching several months later because of the lack of a schoolhouse and supplies for 55 Mexican boys, according to Cooper.

Financial limitations persisted for six months when Brichta quit.

In 1871, the Legislature, under the prodding of pro-education Territorial Gov. Anson P.K. Safford, levied taxes for public schools — a progressive step for its time.

By April 1872, John Spring, a Swiss-born veteran of the Union Army, began teaching in a rented adobe building. While there was some money, class size was still an issue. Spring taught about 100 males, from ages 6 to 21, many of whom spent part of their school days working.

Like Brichta before him, Spring taught in Spanish as a method to transition to English. They were Tucson's first public bilingual-education teachers.

By 1873, Spring requested a raise and an aide. The trustees said no and indicated two women teachers could be hired for the price of a man. Spring quit and the trustees hired two female teachers.

This, too, served as another issue to come — underpaying women for the same job done by men.

Today the demand for public-school teachers remains high but the number of teachers is falling because of increased harsh public criticism and low pay, said Ron Marx, dean of the UA College of Education.

Compared to other professions with similar education and certification requirements, public teachers, the vast majority of them women, are underpaid, Marx said.

Teacher salaries vary across the country, but what doesn't vary is the general indifference.

History shows it.

Opinion by Ernesto Portillo jr.

● Contact Ernesto Portillo Jr. at eportillo@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. His blog is at www.azstarnet.com/blogs.