The people we feature in the Educator are all memorable, of course. But we like to think that some, because of their storylines, had readers wondering what became of them and their situations a few years later.
That’s likely the case with Allison Leshefsky, the teacher who was “priced out” of San Francisco. Or Steve Dillon, who bravely attacked the clutter threatening to take over his classroom. Or others whose compelling stories not only captured our interest but stayed in our thoughts.
We revisited several CTA members who shared their stories with us, to get updates on how they are faring.
The educator who lost 128 pounds
Tiffany Moore made our cover in November 2013 for the story “Losing Pounds, Gaining Health,” after shedding 128 pounds. The Lawndale Teachers Association member, then 43, gained 70 pounds in a single year during her early 20s when she was going through a stressful time and became an emotional eater. When diagnosed with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, her heart specialist wanted to put her on medication. She begged him not to. He told her, “You’re never going to lose weight. You’ve been fat for years.”
But she proved him wrong, shedding weight and her need for medication. The 5-foot-6-inch teacher at William Green Elementary School shocked everyone, dropping from a size 24 to a size 6 through diet and exercise.
Over the past four years, however, she has struggled with health challenges and maintaining her weight. Shortly after our article appeared, she underwent surgery to remove excess skin from her weight loss. There is an increased chance of developing a blood clot after surgery, and Moore developed a pulmonary embolism, or blockage in the lung. She ended up back in the hospital and was put on blood thinners for seven months. She was unable to exercise for a while.
“Originally, I thought everything was fine,” says Moore. “But 10 months later, I got another two blood clots.” They were not considered life-threatening, but she is now on blood thinners permanently.
She was dismayed to learn that leafy green vegetables, like spinach and kale, diminish the effect of a blood thinner. This created a diet dilemma for Moore, who had to avoid vegetables.
Some of the weight crept back — 50 pounds — but she recently lost 14 of them. At her heaviest she weighed 284, and she is now 195.
“At first, it was just about losing the weight, and I didn’t think about maintaining the weight. That’s much harder. It’s easy to say, ‘I lost the weight, and now I can indulge more frequently,’ but I learned that no, you can’t. The good news is that you can have a happy life without junk food.”
She works out one hour a day. She has a personal trainer and a strong support system.
“I have a big following on Instagram due to being on the cover of the California Educator,” she says. “I have 22,000 followers. I get a lot of feedback and sometimes advice and questions. Even though it’s been hard for some people to watch my weight roller coaster, people thank me and tell me I’m the ‘real deal.’ They appreciate my honesty in sharing my story.”
The teacher ‘priced out’ of San Francisco
Allison Leshefsky, the PE teacher from Paul Revere K-8 School featured on the cover of our November 2015 issue, feared at that time she would be unable to find affordable housing in San Francisco after being evicted from her rent-controlled apartment. She turned to her union, United Educators of San Francisco, for help. Members rallied outside the home of her landlord, who was accused of unlawful intimidation of tenants and wrongful evictions to raise rent.
However, despite strong support, she could not find affordable housing in the city and moved to Portland, Oregon, where she taught public school last year. She became one of many educators pushed out of the housing market in cities and metropolitan areas throughout the state, resulting in many communities being unable to attract and retain quality teachers.
“I very much missed my home in San Francisco, and I very much missed San Francisco Unified School District, which always treated me very well,” she says. “Portland is a great city, but like that song, my heart is in San Francisco. I recently returned to California — woot woot! — and am looking for work.”
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera recently won a $2.4 million judgment against Leshefsky’s former landlord, Anne Kihagi, for illegally forcing tenants from their homes. That ruling is under appeal, and Leshefsky says she will not receive any of the money even if the ruling is upheld.
She says she feels “empowered” by the adversity she has faced, and she is still in touch with those who advocate for affordable housing. “I’m still very much a part of that fight for the working-class people. In no manner do I want what happened to me to be a sob story. I am trying to turn my grief into something productive so I can build a strong foundation once again.”
The ‘cluttered’ teacher and the ‘declutter’ expert
Back in September 2013, the Educator featured Steve Dillon, who needed help desperately. Piles of paper and binders formed a barricade on his desk. He had run out of surface space, so he crammed lots of stuff into storage boxes under his desk. “I have no room for anything. I don’t know where anything is,” admitted the Maywood Middle School science teacher and president of the Corning Elementary Teachers Association. So, one summer day, we brought in Tammy Duggan, a second-grade teacher at Sierra Avenue Elementary School in Thermalito who had just published a book, The Uncluttered Teacher. Duggan spent an entire day helping Dillon sort, scale down and systemize his classroom. Among items buried in the mess were floppy disks, candy that had melted, calendars from 2007, and a booklet about staying organized.
So, the big question: Has Dillon stayed organized?
“Well, yes and no,” he relates good-naturedly. “Part of me has stayed organized. I managed to maintain the organization of my supplies. But I keep getting inundated with paper, letters and correspondence. It’s still my downfall. I fall behind on dealing with my memos. I am overwhelmed with emails. I still have piles of things I need to do something with. I guess I need advanced training.”
For Duggan, who’s still teaching second grade, the article proved life-changing. It led to an array of opportunities, such as being a keynote speaker at CTA Good Teaching Conferences and presenting at the California PK1 Conference. The article increased her book sales and inspired her to write a second book, How the Common Core Can Make You Clutter Free, available on her website theunclutteredteacher.com. The public speaking engagements boosted her confidence; she ran for president of the Thermalito Teachers Association and served from 2014 to 2016.
Being organized, she explains, is an ongoing process and requires constant upkeep. “Clutter can be a hard habit to break, but you need to stay on top of it. Do not assume that because you went through this process once, no paper will ever be out of place again. Life goes on.”
Declutter Like Duggan
Tammy Duggan’s advice in 2013 still holds true today:
- Sort. Separate items into categories such as office supplies, teaching materials, student supplies, personal items, CTA materials, professional development, etc. Throw out or give away what you don’t need.
- Scale down. You don’t need a thousand pencils in your drawer, so put most in storage or share with colleagues and students.
- Systemize. Clean up and organize so you can easily access and find what you need. Pack superfluous items in marked bins and store them.
- Stay uncluttered. (The hardest part, according to Steve Dillon.) You must stay on top of clutter and schedule a regular time to put things away, dispose of unneeded items, and organize.
The school with the high rate of illness
As reflected in “Is Your School Making You Sick?” in March 2015, many at Elsinore High School were concerned that a toxic environment had caused 21 certificated employees, as well as some students, to develop cancer, autoimmune issues, fibromyalgia, thyroid problems and other health issues. Members of the Lake Elsinore Teachers Association (LETA) urged administrators to hire a private environmental firm to investigate.
A lengthy investigation finished in August 2017 and concluded that environmental toxins were not to blame for the spike in cancer and other illnesses. This determination was made after investigators surveyed staff confidentially to see if any individuals diagnosed with illnesses could be linked to a specific building or area of the campus. No correlation was found. Because affected staff members were scattered throughout the campus, investigators concluded the cancer cluster simply reflected the unfortunate statistic that one in three Americans will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime.
If the investigation had linked illnesses with specific areas of the campus, the next step would have been analyzing soil and building materials. But that was not considered necessary.
After the investigation, incidents of cancer and other illnesses decreased. This might be related to the fact that many veteran teachers retired, and there’s now an influx of younger employees.
“Most people were relieved to know they weren’t working in a toxic environment, although a few people thought there was a cover-up,” says LETA President Bill Cavanaugh. “I think our district did the right thing. Nobody wants to think they could be damaging their health by walking into a classroom. Teachers have enough to worry about.”