This morning, Tuesday, September 15, parents and students across Seattle woke up to the news that there would be no school again today. The teachers in the city are on strike, with huge consequences for families and kids, and for the teachers themselves. But, this strike isn’t just about Seattle – it’s about the state of the educational system in America, and it’s about the way teachers are valued and treated. Here’s what you need to know.
(Photo Credit: BradPerkins/Flickr)
1. The teachers didn’t want to do this.
The strike has lasted for five school days so far, and until a proper contract is negotiated, it is expected to continue.
But, educators in Seattle regret that it’s come to this.
The Seattle Times spoke about the strike with Corey Louviere and Kris McBride, educators in Seattle, outside Seattle Public School’s headquarters yesterday where they were protesting, picket signs in hand. They told the reporters that they hadn’t come to the decision easily, realizing that it would have a profound impact on students and parents. But, they said that during the recession, teacher pay and school funding was forced to take a back seat to other priorities, and things couldn’t continue this way any longer.
“We sacrificed, as we always do,” said Louviere, “and now we are saying ‘these things are what we need.'”
Educators are anxious to sign their contracts and head back to the classroom for another school year. But, negotiations must progress before that’s possible.
2. The teachers really aren’t asking for much, but they are asking together.
First of all, it’s important to note that organizing something as broad and wide as a teacher strike is no easy feat. Jen Graves, who writes for The Stranger, put it beautifully in her article yesterday:
“In a district that is deeply divided along economic and racial lines, where one school’s conditions would be unrecognizable to the students at another school, these wildly divergent people had decided to disregard differences and simply agree.”
So, what caused such fierce unity to erupt in such a dramatic fashion? Contract negotiations are still underway, and teachers will not sign until the district offers more – better pay, more reasonable caseloads for specialists, and they’re also looking for an adjustment to the length of the school day. Testing is also on the table. However, the district says it can’t afford to meet the union’s requests. Although negotiations continued late into the night, a resolution is yet to surface.
3. This isn’t just about Seattle.
Seattle educators are striking based on a range of issues, although the main sticking points seem to be pay and working hours. And, these issues are not unique to Seattle’s schools. Teachers’ pay, across the board, is remarkably low when contrasted with other professions requiring similar education and training. And, the work hours required in teaching are often misunderstood by the general public.
The Seattle teachers strike isn’t just about that district; it should alert all of us to some of the widespread problems in the educational system across the country. Until students and their teachers are valued more consistently (and until that support is demonstrated through a better financial commitment), these strikes will continue to spring up in city after city, causing huge consequences for all of our kids.
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