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J.P. Claussen: A teacher's voice at the table

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J.P. Claussen, guest columnist

Having grown up in a small town in rural western Iowa, with limited diversity and a declining economy (and school enrollment), it feels like a blessing to live, work and raise my children in a growing, diverse school district full of excellent educators. It is also true that we are facing a very frustrating leadership crisis that undermines our ability as a community to focus on the task at hand; to provide safe and supportive learning environments that help prepare our students for life in a world that is rapidly changing.

In my 10 years teaching special education at West High School there were important experiences that will inform my ability to serve our students and families:

Feeling the excitement in August for the start of school as well as the bone tired month of May, when everyone is ready for summer, is something unique to educators, students and parents.

Teaching in an unairconditioned room, moving then into air conditioning for a team teaching assignment and back into the sweltering heat for the next period’s class give me firsthand knowledge of one of our important equity concerns.

Helping struggling students learn to read, modify their behavior, and develop critical skills for life and the classroom are all things I am proud to have taken part in and had much success with.

The experiences of managing some of the most difficult classrooms, dealing with pervasive cellphone use in school, de-escalating student aggression, dealing with bullying and harassment, and helping calm student anxiety are some limited examples of ways in which I served as a teacher in this district.

While, as a special educator, there were a few good professional development experiences that helped me grow in my field, primarily the district provided “professional development” that was ill-conceived, poorly carried out and a monumental waste of valuable time.

None of this is only an intellectual piece for me. These are not understandings that the central administration can easily convey to the school board. Having lived it, I understand how district policies affect students and teachers in the classroom. That experience is missing from the current board.

In addition to my classroom experiences, I was an active member of the local teacher’s union, serving as a building rep, on the executive committee, the Labor Management Team, as chief negotiator for eight years, and as a long-standing member of the health insurance committee. I also completed two terms as ICEA president. I understand the importance of the relationship between ICEA and the central administration. I also know how critical the efforts of our state teacher’s union, the ISEA, are in Des Moines, lobbying for funding and common sense laws for our kids (or against detrimental laws that would damage public education). I frequently took an active role in that process.

I am asking for your consideration and your vote to help put a teacher’s voice back on the board table. I offer not just my experience, but a growth mind-set and a servant’s mentality, and I will place those same expectations on our central administration, to help move us away from our current retaliatory culture where too often the central administration hinders educators’ sincere efforts to serve children and adolescents.

• More information: jpforschoolboard.com

The Iowa City school board special election will be Tuesday, July 19.

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