The nation’s underpaid teachers are rising up
You’d think that some state lawmakers never learned the lessons they heard in elementary school. Especially the ones about respect.
Teachers in reliably red states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona are rising up — and starting to win — over matters of teachers’ pay. They’re posting photos of dilapidated textbooks and equipment, telling stories about working multiple jobs, and sharing tales of providing meals for students out of their own pockets. And they’re not teachers in unions. They’re just teachers who are sick and tired of living hand to mouth.
In West Virginia, teachers statewide went on strike for nine days. The strike affected all levels of education, K-12. After crying poor and at first reneging on a deal cut by the state’s governor, the West Virginia Legislature finally passed a five percent raise for the state’s teachers and other government workers.
Now the same situation is playing out in Oklahoma, where teachers were paid even less than in West Virginia and staged walkouts. According to a report by the National Education Association, teachers’ annual salaries in Oklahoma rank among the lowest in the country.
Due to their low pay, public school teachers are about five times more likely than the average full-time U.S. worker to have extra part-time jobs — 17.9 percent are forced to moonlight just to feed their families. From a report in Vox:
Before the first class bell rings, many teachers deliver newspapers, drive buses, or do custodial work. After class and on weekends, they might work as supermarket cashiers, Lyft drivers, or restaurant servers. It’s exhausting.
“I didn’t know it was going to be this hard to make a living,” said Victor González, a high school ESL teacher in Oklahoma who works two part-time jobs during the week — one as a custodian and another as a digital video operator. “We’re still figuring out how to make ends meet.”
Here’s how The Washington Post described the lot of teachers in Oklahoma:
Adjusted for inflation, Oklahoma schools have lost about 30 percent of their funding over the past decade. The state’s teachers are among the worst paid in the nation and about 20 percent of the Oklahoma’s school districts have moved to four-day school weeks because they can no longer afford to keep the lights on for five. Schools have been unable to purchase textbooks or make repairs — many students have to share tattered textbooks that are missing pages.
Oklahoma teachers got a raise, but now 100 teachers are on a 110-mile march from Tulsa to the state capital in their quest for increased funding for students. And what answer did they get from their state’s officials?
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin compared striking teachers to “a teenage kid that wants a better car.” She is now trying to backtrack those remarks. She signed legislation raising teacher salaries, but the state’s teachers want more money for students, who still will be forced to use those crumbling textbooks. She further infuriated teachers when she said, “I hope they can come up here and say ‘thank you’ on Monday and go back to the classrooms.”
Oklahoma State Rep. Kevin McDugle posted on Facebook that he would not vote “for another stinking (education) measure when they’re acting the way they’re acting.” He later apologized has since deleted that post.
McDugle may face more than bad publicity, however. After those vitriolic words, Cyndi Ralston, who has taught in Oklahoma schools for 30 years in McDugle’s district, decided to run against him for his house seat. As a Democrat.
“If Kevin McDugle won’t fight for teachers and students, then I will,” Ralston wrote in her own Facebook post. “If Kevin McDugle won’t back parents over oil companies, I will. If Kevin McDugle won’t treat his constituents with respect and dignity, I will.”
Teachers in Kentucky and Arizona are next. According to a story from NBC News:
Kentucky has also had teacher walkouts: On Monday, every public school in Kentucky closed when teachers gathered at the state Capitol to protest a pension overhaul bill that Republican lawmakers passed last week. About two dozen schools in two Kentucky counties were still closed Tuesday.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, where the average teacher pay is 43rd in the nation at about $47,000 a year, according to the National Education Association, educators are also mobilizing.
Last week, about 2,500 teachers rallied at the Arizona state Capitol demanding a 20 percent raise. On Wednesday, Arizona teachers, wearing red, held a “walk-in” where they held up protest signs and walked into their schools alongside those in the community who support their demands, reported NBC affiliate 12 News in Phoenix.
One teacher in Oklahoma summed up the attitude of many others.
“We’re not interested in a better car,” said Jami Beshear, a middle school special education teacher in Oklahoma City. “We’re interested in our students having a better future.”