Much debate has surrounded the recent teacher walkout that began yesterday. I would like to respond to some of the comments submitted to you recently by readers.
Teachers participating in the walkout have been accused of being selfish and unprofessional. However, this walkout is not exclusively about teacher pay.
The main reason that many educators rejected Governor Ducey’s proposal to increase teacher pay by 20 percent is because it does not fully address our true concern, which is our students. We need smaller class sizes, better materials and infrastructure, and fair pay for our non-certified colleagues as well.
Personally, I would happily maintain my somewhat dismal salary in exchange for a class size under 30. But I, like many I work with, have a spouse who brings in much higher income than me, so I can afford take that position. Many teachers cannot.
Two recent letters to the editor, published April 26th, seem to imply that teachers should simply expect low pay because that’s always how it has been.
Mr. Westlund from Clarkdale states, “I agree that K-12 teachers are not paid nearly as much as they should...It’s a labor of passion, not profit.” Ms. Parker from Bridgeport says, “Teaching is a calling. It has never been a profession for great wealth.”
Why, exactly, are we relying on people to do the crucial work of educating our youth for low pay? And expecting them to do a good job on top of it? Would you say to your doctor, or plumber, or nanny, “Isn’t this job your passion? I’m not going to pay you much because you chose this job and you like it anyway.” Or, “Well, I can’t afford the equipment you need to do your job, but you still need to cure my disease, fix my pipes, feed my kids.” Ridiculous. Teachers are not asking to be wealthy. They are asking for a living wage to support their families. Expecting people to do work out of the kindness of their hearts is just a way of externalizing costs -- i.e., passing the true cost of a service on to people who care enough to do it. Yet after years expecting school staff to internalize these costs, everyone acts surprised when they say, “We are tired.”
Mr. Westlund goes on to compare us to Eloi, which I assume is a reference to characters in the H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine. How completely offensive to equate hard working teachers with beings who laze about on silk pillows and demonstrate little curiosity, spirit, or intellect. He adds: “Yes, teaching is not 9-to-5. In some ways, it’s closer to 24/7.” Finally, we agree! I spend an average of 50+ hours every school week on classroom related work -- time teaching my students, plus time spent planning, grading, reporting/conferencing, attending school events, and communicating with parents. As for having a “profession that affords a 2+ month “break” every year”: if you were to span the hours I work over the 52 weeks of the calendar year, the conservative estimate comes to nearly 38 hours a week, which by most standards is full-time. I have worked in many different professions in my life, and teaching has been hands down the most demanding of my time, effort, and intellect.
Finally, Ms. Parker slings mud in yet another direction: “Teachers striking will certainly not solve the root problem, which is the parents.” I agree that more parental involvement could really help turn things around in our schools. But let’s remember the whole purpose of public education: to provide students with opportunities and resources that would otherwise NOT be available to them precisely because their parents, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to provide the support their kids need.
My job as an educator is not to place blame on parents (most of whom I feel are doing the best within their means), but rather to work with what I have and provide the best for my students in hopes of leading them to a better future.
A well-educated public is the cornerstone of a democracy. The bottom line is that schools need resources to deliver quality instruction--materials, space, people--which all cost money.
Rural schools like those in the Verde Valley have been hit hard by cuts to education funding. I hope our legislature takes this into account while also helping school districts get the most out of taxpayer funds.
Please be careful when you shame and belittle teachers for asking for more. The majority of teachers are working their hardest to make things better. However, we can only do so much at the classroom level. For many, this walkout is the culmination of years of the state turning a blind eye to the needs of our schools, especially our rural schools. Not all teachers agree with the tactics of a walkout, and the decision to participate has been extremely difficult. I certainly do not speak for all teachers and school staff. However, the colleagues I have all agree that our students deserve the best we can offer, because they are the future.