Teach, Fight, WIN!

Published by Mrs. AD on

Teachers on the steps of the state capitol during the DCTA strike. (Photo credit: by Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post, February 11, 2019 )

In the spirit of our Twitter experiment, and while staying in the heart of this week’s theme of social media activism, I decided to watch the chat on #DenverTeacherStrike, #DCTAStrong, and #DPSStrike for the day. As you may have gathered for my previous posts, I am not usually one to follow along with politically charged debates… I am also extremely fond of sarcasm. So join me, again, as we go down another rabbit hole with the every multiplying national crisis of teacher strikes.

On Monday, February 11, 2019, Denver Public School district officially went on strike. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) cited fair, transparent salaries that support a living wage and teacher retention as the main issues that lead to the strike. Over 2600 teachers were confirmed to call in ‘sick’ that day and picket lines wrapped around many of the district’s 160 schools. The only schools to completely close were pre-schools, but many others were so understaffed that they had to hold alternative classes to accommodate very large numbers of students. Several videos from East High even made national headlines as the halls swarmed with teens, dancing and playing music in the general absence of adult supervision. Many students walked out in solidarity with your teachers, agreeing that the educators were underpaid for the work they do.

West Virginia teachers celebrate the announcement they won a 5% raise. (Photo credit: Robert Ray, March 6, 2018 )

This was only the latest, and closest to my home, in a year long precession of educator strikes that took place in states across the nation. The first major strike to grab headlines was the statewide strikes in West Virgin. Teachers and staff from all 55 counties went on strike as of February 22, 2018 (Blanchard). The entire public school system was shut down for nine days while negotiations continued to take place. The educators finally won with a 5% pay increase across the board, a freeze on health cost premiums, and restriction on charter school funding (Blanchard). What set this strike apart from others in the past is that West Virginia is a right-to-work state with no central union. The strike was illegal and mostly organized through social media networks. In the fall of 2017, a group of teachers final fed up with the skyrocketing cost of premiums on their health care plan, launched the West Virginia Public Employees United Facebook page. The page facilitated meetings and discussions about the situation that lead to an uprising. The actions started off small with local walk-ins, turning into one day sick ins, which spread from county to county until there were talks of a statewide movement. Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, North Carolina, Colorado, and the city of Los Angeles followed in West Virginias’ footsteps (Blanchard).

“To have West Virginia teachers out there showing us what it was going to look like was important: the morale boosting
that we weren’t alone, that a whole state of teachers could stand together.”

Larry Cagle, Creator of Oklahoma Educators United Facebook page
(

Here in Denver, the DTCA is concerned with many facets of the educational system, but the main issue is still salary. Colorado ranks 46th in the nation for teacher salary, which comes in at 35.1% less than other bachelor’s degree holders in the state and ranks Colorado at 49th in the nation (EPI). The average base pay for teachers in the Denver Public School (DPS) system is $43,255 (Hutchinson). The DPS has long been trying to get the union to accept a salary plan based mainly on bonuses and incentives for teacher “performance” based wages. These are part of the problem with the current system. Teachers never know what they will get on their paychecks. Teacher retention is another main position for the union as starting pay at neighboring Westminster Schools is around $50,000, which makes it hard to keep good teachers year after year.

“We’re looking for a fair and reliable pay
system that actually retains teachers in Denver. We’ve had a 20 percent turnover rate year after year. The district — they’ve been doubling down on these bonuses that are unreliable and they haven’t supported student needs”

Rob Gould, head negotiator for DCTA
Twitter comment from one teacher

Twitter feeds related to the DCTA strike have been aflame, and I have been following them since the beginning of the strike on Monday. One person, in particular, provided regular live updates the #DenverTeacherStrike cataloging the experience and her personal struggle with the negotiations, the cold weather, and exhaustion. I found her tweets both inspirational and heartbreaking. The DCTA and representatives from across the district worked from dawn until the wee hours of the night each day in the negotiations. They hosted a live stream of the open negotiations, which lasted around 30 min each session, and would then retreat to their respective corners to go over what the other side had offered in detail and decide how to respond. That second part took several hours each time before they came back together for discussion.

Twitter feed from an NPR reporter

On Thursday I joined a few friends for a rally at Civic Center Park and a march to/protest in front of the DPS headquarters. There was a sea of red shirts (#RedforEd) stretching down Colfax and onto Lincoln. The Denver Police were stopping traffic to let the march move through intersection uninhibited. Organizers wore neon vests, communicated on walkie-talkies, and lead chants via megaphones. “What do we want? Fair pay. When do we want it? Yesterday.” “You left us, no choice, we have to use our teacher voice.” “Susana, Cordova, let this strike be ova’.” My friend told me how she was up at and at her school by 6:15am all 3 days of the strike to make sure she was there to represent the picket line. She told me the hardest part was not the cold or getting up early, it was seeing her students arrive and walk into the school knowing she would not be there to teach them. At the same time, this was also the highlight for her, as many of her students gave her big hugs and told her they support what she was doing. She teaches 6th grade science and STEM at Hamilton Elementary.

A shot of the protesters leaving Civic Center Park for their march to DPS. (Photo credit: H. Anderson-Duncan, Feb. 13, 2019)

Today (February 15, 2019) the strike officially ended. The union and teachers fought hard and won a good fight. The DPS finally agreed to the DCTA’s pay schedule with very few adjustments, and the DTCA conceded to leave some of the bonus structure the DPS wanted. Please see this article from the Denver Post with their recap on the best photographs of the strike: https://www.denverpost.com/2019/02/14/denver-teachers-strike-recap-photos/

These ‘grassroot’ social media campaigns helped to spark a growing movement that is likely to turn into a point of contention for the 2020 elections. The mobilization of teachers lead to 180 current teachers running for political office in the 2018 midterm elections, 43 of them now hold seats in their respective communities (Will). Facebook not only helped in mobilizing the educators, it facilitated real life meetings and connected people across county and even state lines. Marches, protests, and strikes don’t happen on social media, but social media is a very powerful tool for sharing ideas and outrage, or to coordinate the next steps that need to be taken in real life to accomplish goals. For states that do not have the collective bargaining power of influential unions, these connections are crucial. Angie Scioli, North Carolina civics teacher and creator of the Red4EdNC Facebook, said “”It might have awakened some of us to the potential [of collective action], but it didn’t build structural systems capable of sustaining that kind of momentum.” (Will) Rebecca Garelli, lead organizer of the Arizona Educators United Facebook page, has high hopes for the group’s ability to “continue to activate and organize people around holding our elected officials accountable.” (Will) It will be important moving forward that laborers maintain these connections and use their “teacher voices” to force political agendas to make education a national priority.

“Whether it’s low teacher pay, a reduction in pensions or health benefits, large class sizes, aging textbooks, few supplies, crumbling buildings, or cuts to programs and services, no state has been immune. “

Stan Knapp & Adam Sanchez

Sources:

Blanchard, D. (Fall 2018). Lessons from the teachers’ strike wave. Issue #110 – Labor. International Socialist Review. Retrieved from https://isreview.org/issue/110/lessons-teachers-strike-wave
Denver Classroom Teachers Association. (February 10, 2019). Denver Educators Strike for their Students Tomorrow. Denver Classroom Teachers Association. Retrieved from https://denverteachers.org/denver-educators-strike-for-their-students-tomorrow/
Economic Policy Institute. Education. Retrieved from https://www.epi.org/research/education/
Guerra, J. (July 16, 2017). Here’s how teacher pay stacks up to other comparable jobs. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.michiganradio.org/post/heres-how-teacher-pay-stacks-other-comparable-jobs
Hutchinson, B. (February 11, 2019). Thousands of Denver public school teachers go on strike in fight for higher pay. ABC News. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/US/thousands-denver-public-school-teachers-strike-fight-higher/story?id=60991291
Knapp, S. and Sanchez, A. (Summer 2018). The 2018 Wave of Teachers Strikes. Volume 32, No. 4. Rethinking Schools. Retrieved from https://www.rethinkingschools.org/articles/the-2018-wave-of-teacher-strikes
Will, M. (December 12, 2018). Teachers Came Together to Strike/ What Will Happen Next? Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/12/12/teachers-came-together-to-strike-what-will.html


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