Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not represent the views of Babble.
This past Monday, 36,000 teachers strapped on their protest boots and took to the capitol building in Oklahoma City. It takes a lot to get teachers to leave their classrooms in protest (200 out of the state’s 500 school districts had to be shut down as a result of the strike), but these teachers have clearly had enough. They were (and still are) demanding several things, including a raise — something many haven’t seen in more than a decade — as well as better resources and conditions for their students.
By now, we’ve all seen the viral posts and images showing just how pitiful those conditions truly are. And yet, they’re still pretty shocking.
Most notably, there’s the Facebook post by Oklahoma City teacher Laurissa Kovacs, which highlighted just what she and her students are up against each day, along with the photo of a cracked and broken desk chair from her classroom.
Kovacs also shared the abysmally low pay she receives — just $27,732 per year, or $2,311 per month after taxes — which is well below the national average teacher salary of about $58,000.
“Oklahoma is losing qualified teachers every day,” wrote Kovacs. “These kids deserve the opportunity of a great education but we cannot give them that if all our teachers are emergency certified or completely over worked.”
But it’s not just teachers from Oklahoma who are protesting. On Monday, teachers from Kentucky also left their classrooms in protest of a recently passed pension reform bill. And just a few weeks before that, West Virginian teachers walked out for nine whole days until they got the 5% raise they were asking for. Now, The New York Times reports that Arizonian teachers may be next, as they are said to be gearing up for a potential strike over a 20% raise they are demanding.
If all this unrest and push-back from teachers seems a bit sudden, just ask a veteran teacher — in any state. None of this is new; they’ve just finally had enough.
My own mother was a teacher (and single mom) for 25 years, and I remember hearing about these issues from her often. But it seems that with so many grass-root protests happening all over our country in the past year (The Women’s March and the Parkland student protests, to name a few), people are finally feeling more empowered to say something — and say it LOUD — when a glaring inequity is right before their eyes. And it’s about time.
As The New York Times reported, there was a strong feeling of momentum during the Oklahoma City protests this past Monday — of teachers banding together across the nation in solidarity, inspired by each other and also by those who’d led the way just weeks before.
Katrina Ruff, a local Oklahoma City teacher, even held up a sign that read, “Thanks to West Virginia. They gave us the guts to stand up for ourselves.”
Others shared just how beaten down many teachers feel in this current system.
“Our unions have been weakened so much that a lot of teachers don’t have faith,” Noah Karvelis, a music teacher from Arizona, told NYT, explaining that many younger teachers have felt angered by President Trump’s appointment of Betsey DeVos as education secretary. Additionally, he shared that many were inspired by their students’ participation it the national school walk-outs this past March 14, and their involvement encouraged them to voice their own concerns.
At the same time these protests were happening on the ground this week, teachers were taking to social media to express their rage and frustration with how the lack of funding for their schools directly effects their students.
Countless teachers tweeted photos of textbooks with pages so old they were literally crumbling.
There were also images of desk chairs just like Kovac’s that were dirty, chipped, and sharp around the edges.
PBS News reported that one classroom was using textbooks from 2003 (that’s 15 years old, people!), as well as a social studies textbook so old it still reported George W. Bush as the current president.
The reality is, these kinds of issues aren’t limited to Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, or any of the states that have made headlines recently. One New York City high school teacher (who asked to remain anonymous) tells Babble that he’s currently looking to leave his position at a low-income school by the end of the year, and describes horrendous and anxiety-producing conditions he’s up against every day on the job as a constant cycle of: “Running from room to room to find a working printer, to find paper for the copier, having to revamp lesson plans on the spot because you’re supposed to have a class set of laptops and you can’t find a single one that works … ”
“All of these little issues add to the anxiety of a job that already requires nerves of steel,” he shares, in a sentiment that echoes how so many educators all over the country are feeling right now.
Let’s be clear, every teacher I know tells me that they went into this profession with one goal in mind: To better the lives of children, to open their mind and hearts to learning, and offer them whatever opportunities they deserved. The thing is, although many teachers truly are miracle workers, these gifts can only go so far when you literally don’t have enough chairs for your students to sit on, and when you are barely bringing home a living wage.
Of course, there are many schools and teachers out there who do not encounter these kinds of problems. But this is often the case in school districts in wealthier neighborhoods, in part because school budgets are largely determined by the property taxes of their local inhabitants.
“In every state, though, inequity between wealthier and poorer districts continues to exist,” reports The Atlantic in a recent article about budgets and funding. “That’s often because education is paid for with the amount of money available in a district, which doesn’t necessarily equal the amount of money required to adequately teach students.”
All children — wherever they are from — deserve an equal shot at a good education, and all teachers should be adequately supported in order to give that to them. On the one hand, it is heartening to see so many teachers speaking up about these disparities and injustices; after all, they are fighting for the future of our children, and for that, they should be applauded. But it saddens me that they have to fight so hard for such simple things in the first place, and my hope is that one day in the not-so-distant future, they won’t have to.