As of this publishing, the Oklahoma teachers are in their fifth day of a statewide strike. The starting salary for a teacher there is $31,600, third lowest in the country.
The teachers began their walkout after rejecting a 6 percent pay raise over three years, and $50 million in education funding. Why? Because the last time teachers in the state received any raise was in 2008. Several school districts in the state are only open four days a week because they don’t have the money to literally keep the lights on. Their demands: a $10,000 raise over three years and $200 million in funding.
It’s not just about more money in teachers’ pockets, but more textbooks in students’ hands.
Last month teachers from West Virginia went on strike for nine days to earn a 5 percent pay raise. Last week there was a sickout in Kentucky to protest cuts in their pensions. Now Arizona teachers are pondering action as well.
Whether inspired by the #MeToo movement or the student-led March for Our Lives, teachers now feel emboldened to speak out on the national stage about their working conditions, charging en masse to state capitals.
While I have reservations about teachers going out on strike, such action is rattling the status quo.
Upon hearing what the teachers want, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin told a reporter that teachers wanting more money was “kind of like having a teenage kid that wants a better car.” Such a condescending comment underscores how teachers are perceived by some.
Taxpayers who have no sympathy for higher salaries base it primarily on the amount of time teachers are at a school.
While hours from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. may not seem overwhelming, the teacher is working nearly every minute of that timeframe, hosting club meetings at lunch, tutoring students after school.
Yes, teachers have many holidays and summers off. It is the off the job hours, however, that justifies a higher teacher’s salary.
When do teachers develop lesson plans, create assignments, and grade work? They do it at home, at their children’s practices, in doctors’ waiting rooms, stealing away minutes whenever they can.
Then there is the mental toll on teachers, always thinking about the next lesson, even while celebrating Thanksgiving, or lugging a bag of student papers while vacationing over Spring Break. Rarely is a teacher’s mind not thinking about how to spark students’ curiosity.
Some teachers are paid decently, no question. California teachers do enjoy the second highest average salary in the nation at $78,711, but the state has the second highest cost of living as well. The majority of teachers who work in Glendale can’t afford to live in Glendale.
The rent for a one bedroom apartment goes for $2,284 based on Rent Jungle averages; the median home is priced at $816,500 according to Zillow.
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia told the New York Times that recent teacher uprisings is an “education spring.”
Time will tell if these events are the beginnings of a sustained movement or just a passing phase. Still, it is refreshing to see educators get out of their soft shells and show how much they care about their work with America’s youth, and how much Americans should care about it as well.