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Member & Activist Spotlight

Chaz Garcia: A Natural Progression

Chastity “Chaz” Garcia is a bilingual Spanish teacher, Peer Assistance & Review coach, and the second Vice President of the Oakland Education Association
Chaz Garcia
Published: October 11, 2021

I’ve been an educator for 27 years. My original intention was to attend law school. I took a year off to study for the LSAT after graduating from UC Berkeley, and one of my classmates was doing the same thing. His mom was a teacher in Oakland and he suggested I work as a substitute teacher while I was studying.

I planned to sub for a bit and then move on, but I got to know the teachers, the students, and the community. So when the principal offered me a kindergarten Spanish bilingual position, I found myself contemplating my original plan to pursue law. I was torn because I felt this was a diversion from my goals.

There was this amazing and diverse community of educators at the school that reflected the diversity of our students, but I was teaching under difficult circumstances. Because enrollment was up, I was put into the hallway in an area they cordoned off with cabinets to create makeshift walls.

It was extremely challenging, and there’s no way I’d still be in education if it weren’t for all the support from folks that I worked with to help me adapt, learn, and grow under those circumstances. I’m grateful for all of those crazy experiences because they showed me the value of relationships and the value of what supporting educators will do.

Being involved in the union was kind of a natural progression. I became a union representative and then won a position on our executive board, and later ran for an officer position in the Oakland Education Association. I helped lead our historic 2019 strike and am currently the OEA’s second vice president.

Last year, I participated in NEA’s Leaders of Color Pathways Project. I wanted to learn how NEA provides support for recruiting and retaining teachers of color. Not only did we focus on growth and examining goals to help us advance in our leadership within the union, but they also brought in folks to address our social-emotional needs amid the pandemic.

It was a powerful experience.

Growing up as a woman of color and not seeing myself reflected in literature, it was important for me to help young people learn about themselves and see themselves in many different ways in the classroom. In order to focus on these issues, I received a Safe and Just Schools Partnership Funding grant from NEA  to develop a literacy framework specifically focused on the literacy rates of our students.

We’ve brought together stakeholders and eight elementary schools to create a program that empowers critical thinking in young people, particularly for Black students and second-language learners. We ultimately hope to institutionalize some of the elements of the framework in our contract language to give teachers in our district more of a voice in what curriculum is used moving forward.

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.