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I have watched this movement and in doing so wondered how to frame this post. For those of you who do not know, teachers in Los Angeles are on strike today. They are protesting a need for smaller classroom sizes, more accountability for charter schools, more school nurses and librarians, and an increase in pay among other concerns. While these do not sound like exorbitant demands they haven’t been met and as a direct result, teachers have walked off of the job. I think that the reason this movement is one that we should pay attention to is because in my opinion it is the canary in the mine. LAUSD is one of the largest in the country. I would make a safe bet that teachers there are a great representation of teachers across the nation. Using that lens, teachers are fed up and that is why we need to listen.
If you have ever given your heart to another person then you can understand teacher frustration. Classroom teachers are in a relationship with their profession. They draw meaning and value from the work that they do. Teachers love the kids in their classrooms and the camaraderie in the hallways at work or after school. They show up each day believing that they can in some small way make a difference and even spend their free time developing themselves so that they can do more with less in their classrooms. Despite that level of devotion time and again public school teachers are overlooked, disrespected, and unappreciated. We inundate public school teachers with demands and provide little support. We compare public school students to charter and private school students with no consideration for the difference in working environment, resources, or expectations. We want public school teachers to do more, be more, care more but demand less and that is unacceptable.
I have told you before that I have spent my entire career as a classroom teacher in under resourced communities. I know what it is to be tasked with meeting all needs, putting out all fires, and still be expected to bring my best self to work each day with little to no positive feedback or direction. I mean it when I say We are all LA. It boggles my mind that each time teachers ask for the respect and resources they deserve they are considered selfish. The profession itself doesn’t lend itself to a person with that nature. Classroom teachers are caretakers. We are willing to take the hits and willing to find a way to reach the unreachable and do the impossible because we feel called to our profession. There is no other work that grows every other profession yet it goes unappreciated and unnoticed until teachers take a stand. Education should be one of the most natural professions in the world. Essentially classroom teachers want to share knowledge and have students take that knowledge and use it to do great things in the world. Sounds simple but I have found this profession to be highly (and in many cases unnecessarily) complex. The issues are deeper than a growing population of students in poverty, growing population of students with SEL needs, growing population of students in need of ESL services, a growing population of students with academic support needs, and shrinking resources. Teachers are working in environments where they can’t even make a suggestion to change the curriculum they are tasked with teaching each day. They aren’t always seen as highly educated professionals capable of making the instructional decisions needed to grow kids. Some teachers are denied professional development opportunities because there is no room in the budget to help them get better and administration has no time to coach them. I personally know teachers who have been waiting for years for an opportunity to advance because they love the work and want to share on a bigger scale.
It isn’t just the students in need of additional support here, teachers have needs too and that is what the #RedforEd movement is about. Teachers are experiencing compassion fatigue and tired of remaining silent. They have real concerns and the broader education establishment would do well to meet them. We cannot have an education system if we do not have teachers. I know that there has been a shift in public perception about the quality of public schools and a preference in some places for charter schools. To that I would say numbers don’t lie. I have run into very few charter schools that are actually outperforming their public school counterparts with the same population. I would also add that charter schools (in my experience) work teachers for longer hours in high pressure environments which doesn’t work well at preventing compassion fatigue despite the extra resources. The bottom line is this. Our nation is founded on the idea that an education and hard work are the keys to success for all. If that is the case, we have to revere the facilitators of that education…our nation’s teachers and give them the tools they need to do the job well because despite the rhetoric it takes a lot to show up each day and do this job.