“We want to continue to show our love for our kids, even when we can’t be there because we are fighting for our rights.”
Wow. If there was ever a story that embodies what it means to be a teacher, it’s this one. This quote, from Kevin Green, who teaches social studies at Riverview High School in West Virginia, reflects the conflict teachers often face — caring for their students while also caring for themselves.
All public schools across West Virginia’s 55 counties have been closed for four days due to a teacher work stoppage, as educators fight for higher wages and better benefits. However, one in four children in West Virginia lives under the poverty line, many of whom rely on free and reduced meals at school to sustain them. For many of these kids, if they aren’t in school, they don’t eat.
So before lining up on the picket line, their teachers made sure their students’ meals were lined up first. CNN reports that “families are being directed toward makeshift distribution points” and “some families are finding striking teachers on their doorstep with boxes of food.”
These are America’s teachers. Hand delivering food to their students before going out there and fighting for themselves. But thankfully, their communities are rallying around them and these kids to make sure teachers are supported on the picket line and West Virginia’s children have full bellies.
Local banks, churches, nonprofit organizations, and various other members of the community have also come together to donate food and pack bags to be distributed. This is what happens when people at the ground level work together for the greater good. When Americans say, “My fight is not more important than your fight” but instead stand side-by-side in solidarity.
These teachers are fighting for better wages so they can support their own families, and for better benefits that provide adequate medical care, so they can better save for retirement.
“[West Virginia] teachers are ranked 48th in the United States with an average salary of $45,220; other surrounding states offer anywhere from $5,000-$20,000 more,” said Horace Mann Middle School band director and music teacher John Leonard to Babble. “The second focus of the work stoppage has been on PEIA, our state health insurance. We have seen premiums increase and benefits decrease almost every year and it’s getting out of hand. PEIA affects more than the teachers, it affects all state employees. We are fighting this fight for state police and other state workers.”
Yet, throughout this battle for their own rights, these teachers are also taking money out of their own pockets to ensure their student don’t starve.
“We WANT to be back in those classrooms!” said Leonard. “We WANT to be teaching! Several people have said we are teaching students by standing up for ourselves and demonstrating!”
Krista Farmer, 4th-grade teacher at Beckley Elementary School in Beckley, West Virginia, echoed this sentiment, telling Babble, “We love our students! We are trying to ensure their future. We would much rather be in the classroom.”
Farmer also said that the community support has been tremendous.
“The parents and children are very grateful for what we have been doing,” she shared. “Some parents have even been in tears when we were handing out food. Parents, students, and other community members have even joined us for informational honk and waves. It almost seems as if the community is more supportive than most of our legislatures.”
And stories like this — of teachers feeding their own students, clothing their own students, buying their school supplies, and going to their homes to make sure they are okay — aren’t new. This is how America’s teachers have always been, despite pay cut after pay cut. Despite having budgets slashed and having to do without necessary materials in the classroom. Despite having overcrowded classrooms of kids with little to no parent involvement at home, making the teachers the only adult truly raising them.
So yeah, many of us who’ve been in the profession aren’t surprised to hear that before going out there and demanding better for themselves, educators like those at Horace Mann Middle School or at Beckley Elementary School are thinking of their students first.
But hopefully once the kids are fed, then their teachers’ voices will be heard on the picket line, so they can have a chance to receive the pay and benefits they very much deserve.