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Rest Peacefully, Mr. Ruelas. (Or, #NBCFail, Part II)

September 26, 2010

I could talk here about my frustration with being subjected to yet another hour of conversation dominated by the same people who hog the normal conversation about ed reform– Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada (in whom I’m sincerely disappointed as of late), and Randi Weingarten.

I could talk about my frustration over the irresponsible “journalism” NBC is practicing by creating a public forum just participatory enough to include rapid-fire snippets of a useful conversation, but not participatory enough to ensure proportionate representation of those whose futures depend on the outcome of this conversation.

I could talk about my frustration at watching a network of greedy, ratings-hungry idiots (yes, I SAID IT!) wonder aloud about “why shouldn’t we use money to inspire teachers?”. (ETA: Apologies for language, I’m just so angry about this…)

Rigoberto Ruelas, 39

But I’ll stop there for now, because a Los Angeles teacher was found dead this morning, of an apparent suicide.

SOUTH GATE, Calif. (KABC) — An elementary school teacher from South Gate who mysteriously disappeared last week was found dead about 9 a.m. Sunday in the Angeles National Forest, authorities have confirmed.

The Coroner confirmed the body found by a search and rescue team is that of Rigoberto Ruelas, 39, a fifth grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School.

Authorities said it is a suicide, but did not say how he killed himself. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.

Ruelas’ family became concerned when he failed to show up to work last week.

A teacher ratings report by the Los Angeles Times did not score Ruelas well. Family members said the poor teacher evaluation scores may have caused him to go missing.

Ruelas, who has been teaching for 14 years, has had nearly perfect attendance.

According to his brother, Ruelas saw their sister Sunday and spoke with their father Monday night.

Family and friends said Ruelas was under a lot of pressure at work.

“He kept saying that there’s stress at work,” said Ruelas’ brother, Alejandro.

Alejandro Ruelas said his brother was a teacher who went above and beyond.

I just learned about this a little while ago, and obviously I don’t know all of the circumstances of this man’s life. But it bothers me profoundly that when this man went missing, the first thing his family thought of were his complaints about his stress at work.

To the spectators and grand-standers in this conversation, especially those who make six- and seven figures a year while teachers toil in some of the toughest places in our country for a mere fraction of that; who send their kids to tony private schools while poor, hungry children sit 35 to a room in public schools that are falling down; who have the leisure time and disposable income to show their children the world, or hire others to help them when they’re unavailable; who can’t imagine why more money couldn’t inspire someone to work harder; who can find a sympathetic ear when they complain of their troubles at work and  beyond, and don’t know what it’s like to be accused of not caring when you give your ALL at a job for which you receive little to no appreciation; who casually reduce children and teachers to test scores, and blame poor parents for not making more hours in the day to read to their children after coming home from scrubbing their floors; who can’t imagine the kind of desperation regular people feel when facing the prospect of losing their life’s work– in any field:

Is this just a game to you, or what? For those of us in the trenches, it most certainly isn’t. Enough is enough. Deal with the real issues, approach us from a place of humility and respect, and offer genuine support. Put up, or SHUT UP.

My heart goes out to Mr. Ruelas and his family. I hope he finds some peace, wherever he is, and that he’s no longer suffering the kind of pain and turmoil that would drive someone to such a desperate act. May you be the last to suffer so.

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristina permalink
    September 26, 2010 10:03 pm

    Thank you Sabrina for your powerful post.
    So sad….

    I would like to share this on FB but I can’t find a link to it.

  2. Kristina permalink
    September 26, 2010 10:14 pm

    Sabrina– I figured it out. For those who don’t know, copy the Tweet into your FB status and the link should pop right up.

    I can’t believe that you even had to write such an entry. No one should ever have to go through what he did.

    Thank you for your beautiful prose.

  3. September 26, 2010 10:23 pm

    You are a great teller of truth. Beautiful.

  4. janet permalink
    September 27, 2010 12:13 am

    omq r.i.p mr.ruelas
    he was da best teacher ever

  5. Mark Friedman permalink
    September 27, 2010 6:26 am

    I have been the teacher, like many others here I’m sure, that has felt completely overwhelmed and consummed by the level of stress and pressure in an incredibly difficult school environment. My heart certainly goes out to Mr. Ruelas and his family because this is a terrible loss.

    Sabrina, in the beginning of your post you express dissapointment with
    Geoffrey Canada. I paid attention to Canada for a long time and had doubts about what agenda he incresingly played into. I’m curious as to your thoughts on what public role he currently plays and how the Harlem Children’s Zone model frequently enters into the education reform debate.

    • September 27, 2010 9:23 am

      Yeah, I’m disappointed in him. My first awareness of him came from reading his book Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun a few years ago, which I found really insightful and interesting. I casually followed his work from then on, and was really excited about the Harlem Children’s Zone because it seemed like someone was *finally* recognizing that improving achievement for low-income students requires more than just tinkering with the elements of the school day. Providing support for parents, health services, nutritional services, etc. is crucial.

      But recently, I’ve seen him becoming just another angry, accusatory figure in the school reform debate. It upsets me to see him position educators as enemies, essentially for “failing” to get the kind of support he’s been able to get from his wealthy backers. It’s sad, and a waste of time.

      • markfriedman1 permalink
        September 27, 2010 12:07 pm

        Thank you, Sabrina, for clarifying Canada’s role in all this. I had a similiar experience as much of my family has taught in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx for 30 years. I first viewed the Harlem Children’s Zone as a great possiblity for innovative, investment in holistic approaches to urban education. In Rochester, NY there was an attempt to take ideas from that model and call it Rochester Surround Care. It fell apart primarily due to lack of political support and ended up being viewed by many as the usual nonsense-based politics. It still was interesting to see the idea at least floated for a minute before it became clear that no one wanted to invest those types of resources and effort.

        I have noticed Canada becoming more of the angry political voice as well blaming the issues on the usual causes. It is still frustrating because many well-meaning people still don’t read into how the Harlem Children’s Zone is possible in terms of investments/private funding that are present for HCZ but not for their supposedly comparable traditional public schools.

  6. September 27, 2010 7:01 am

    My heart breaks and I find myself searching for something of any value to say. Much of me wants to say, “Dear, dear querido Rigoberto Ruelas, Why oh why did you have to do this? A world needed you to raise your voice for yourself, for your family, for your profession, and for all of your children.” This is the tragedy of a noble human spirit that defies my comprehension. ¡Qué en paz descanse!

  7. mariasallee permalink*
    September 27, 2010 7:33 am

    I have had absolutely miserable school years and suppose I can understand a fraction of the desperation Rigoberto Ruelas felt. It is profoundly sad to me that he did not find the support he needed to overcome the stresses that were plaguing him. QEPD.

  8. September 28, 2010 12:17 pm

    Dear Sabrina,

    Thank you for this eloquent and passionate response to this horrid tragedy. The teachers and boards begged the LA Times to take the names off the scores. Keep the scores, judge the schools, but leave the privacy of the teachers. Everyone warned, “We have no idea what the consequences can be!” The journalists at the Times were already convinced that nothing could tilt the uncaring, irresponsible teachers, who are to blame, according to the s0-called school reformers, for every ill in society. Well, now we know people care very deeply. And I particularly like your diatribe against the fat wallet crowd who would like to tell us that our financial collapse and high unemployment is due to the failures of our schools. Have you ever noticed that many of the business leaders who attack the schools also ask for waivers so that they can hire more employees from other countries who make less? No school is perfect, and we can all do better in the classroom, but these professional attackers are after something more, and it smells like money–regardless of the shame or consequences.

  9. Ann permalink
    September 28, 2010 5:10 pm

    This is so incredibly sad. Teaching is a profession that has such incredible stress. However, I am more upset to see this exploited for this political purpose? Are you his family? Do you have their permission to imply any kind of linkage to this agenda? I think simply it is right to send only his family condolences. Their pain is much more significant than ours, I would think.

    • September 28, 2010 5:38 pm

      I’m not exploiting anything, and certainly not for political purposes. For the record, it is his family that made the connection between his stress at work and his value-added scores, and his suicide. Nowhere in my writing have I implied that my pain over this comes anywhere close to what his family must be experiencing.

      I wrote this reflection for three reasons: 1. Because though I’ve never felt so desperate as to commit suicide, as someone who has taught in a “failing school” I can appreciate the impact of the pressures teachers in his situation face. 2. Because I was upset that during a full day of education coverage, that such a significant and relevant event went unmentioned. While NBC was essentially reducing the education reform discussion to a sporting event, this man took his own life. 3. Because I’m outraged that so many people who have such power in the education reform discussion fail to understand just how much our careers mean to us, how hard we work to do our best for some of society’s neediest children, and how heavily the decisions they make weigh on us.

      Many of the “reforms” proposed by people who are completely ignorant of the reality inside these schools end up making those schools worse. They severely impact the quality of teachers’ lives– we lose sleep, lose weight, lose hair, become clinically depressed and/or anxious, etc.– while doing nothing to help us improve instruction or educational outcomes. In this case, the pressure and the shame may have proven too much for someone who was already at his breaking point. I think it is important to remind the people who are making careers out of beating up on schools and teachers that their actions have serious consequences. As someone who regularly shares teachers’ stories for that very reason, I think it is perfectly appropriate for me to share his story as well.

      • Kristina permalink
        September 28, 2010 7:09 pm

        More likely the stress has made us gain weight.

        We will never be able to prove direct A to B cause and effect, but it is clear that the LA Times article was a contributor to this man’s death.

  10. September 28, 2010 6:07 pm

    What a cogent and heartfelt response, people are woefully unaware of how dedicated and how hard teachers work. The other night Dr. Ravitch announced to the gathering of teachers regarding all these would be reformers: “I would invite them to walk in your shoes for a week.” I doubt any of them would make it through a day.

    It seems this “Ann” is really the one with the political “agenda.”

    There are consequences to intentionally vilifying an entire profession for no other reason than to de-professionalize it. There are consequences to using pseudo-sciences and thoroughly discredited statistical models to publicly shame, humiliate, and ruin the careers of good, caring people. There are consequences to deliberately writing a story that is dishonest at its core and further consequences for an editorial board to publish such falsehoods. There are consequences to privatizing the last of the public commons in the guise of reform in order to make a quick buck, and to grind ideological axes.

    Suddenly, when those consequences manifest, the so called ed-reform crowd wants to blame the victim.

    I’ve talked to teachers who knew Rigoberto Ruelas, and they all spoke about how his students loved him.

    • Ann permalink
      September 28, 2010 7:08 pm

      I feel better knowing his family us ok with his post. No agendas should be attached to anyone’s death in any way. Teachers touch so many lives. I would hope that this is what would be remembered here…

  11. carolinesf permalink
    September 29, 2010 12:20 am

    It was the family who brought up the connection, Ann.

  12. cr1sp3r permalink
    September 29, 2010 8:43 pm

    dam thats sad he was my teacher from the 5th grade…im 23 now….

  13. February 23, 2011 2:27 pm

    the best teacher my brother ever had he was the best teacherever

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  17. Nayeli permalink
    November 15, 2017 11:00 pm

    I remember when I was in middle school. My dad calling out my name. I was in my room and he asked me. “Was this man your teacher”. I looked over to the tv and there he was Mr. Ruelas picture it said he had passed, away a miramonte elementary teacher. I was in shock and I yelled. ” oh my gosh he was actually my 4th grade teacher!!!”( I remember that the following year he became a 5th grade teacher). Now I’m 21, I go on Google and search for stuff on Ruelas death. RIP. He was an amazing teacher.


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