December 18, 2018

Teachers Making Their Voices Heard

In the largest demonstration of teacher power in decades, teachers went on strike in several states in 2018. They protested chronically underfunded education systems and advocated for increases to wages and benefits. Over the past year, teachers from across the country have been making their voices on education heard. These teachers have been making their voices heard by running for elected office, staging public protests and even engaging in strike actions.

Amid the local and national education debates, Educators for Excellence keeps hearing the same question from non-teachers: Of course, I stand with teachers, but what do they really need and want? As an organization focused on elevating teacher voice, Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles is asking our members to share their voice on the issues they care about most, the issues they are willing to fight and even strike for.

Voting to go on strike is not an easy decision--and has immediate and long-term impact on students, families and teachers. Many teachers want nothing more than to be working directly with students and many students cannot afford to have lost days of instruction. So given the stakes and the heated emotions on this issue, we wanted to elevate teacher voice on why this moment matters for them and their students. Although 98% of UTLA members who did vote voted in favor of the action, the reasons for each teacher are unique.

Why are teachers striking for students: We have been speaking with teachers who have been advocating for their students around a variety of issues--from improving instruction to improving school leadership, tenure systems, evaluation approaches and school climate. We have been asking these teachers about their decision to strike and their commitment to students. Here’s what some of these teachers are saying:

“When I take my place on the picket line, I do so for my students, for all the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and in the state of California. 84% of the students in the LAUSD suffer in poverty every single day. Poverty should end when a child enters the school gate. It is shameful that a state like California, that has the 5th largest economy in the world, spends so little to educate their children.” - Phylis Hoffman, Harry Bridges Span School

“Educating the whole child is a collaborative process, and we need full-time nurses, librarians, academic and intervention counselors, and psychiatric social workers to help us meet the various needs of our students.” - Lovelyn Marquez-Prueher, Dodson Middle School

Why are teachers striking for equity: We have been speaking with equity champions who teach. These E4E teachers are fired up about addressing gaps in access, resources and achievement among students of color. We have been asking these teachers about their decision to strike and their commitment to racial equity in education. Here’s what some of these teachers are saying:  

“I am ready to strike because I care deeply about access and equity for LAUSD students. As a high school teacher-librarian, I witness this firsthand when I hear from students that they never went to the library in middle school because their library wasn’t staffed. Every year, schools have to make choices about whether to fund their teacher-librarian, nurse, or psychologist, when roles like these should each be considered as essential to a school’s success as the principal is.” - Lisa Blackwell, Francis Polytechnic Senior High

“For many of us, this strike is about so much more than salary. It’s about equity for our students. It’s about reducing class sizes so that our students can get the attention and support they need. As a foreign language teacher, I remember a time when 40 students in a class was unheard of. Now it’s the standard. It’s about the inequitable distribution of resources throughout schools in the district. Kennedy [Senior High] is fortunate enough to have a full-time nurse every day, but that’s not the case with every elementary and middle school in the district. Every school should have a nurse on a daily basis. Every school should be able to provide wrap-around services for their students. Schools should not be forced to choose between resources like this; they are necessities, not luxuries.” - Elizabeth Ortiz, John F. Kennedy Senior High

Why are teachers striking for their profession: We have also been speaking with teachers who deeply love their profession--they love serving students, coaching teachers and ushering in a new generation of teachers into the profession. We asked these teachers how this strike connects to their commitment to advocating for the future of the teaching profession. Here’s what some of these teachers are saying:

"As a 25 year veteran teacher at LAUSD, I do everything I can to learn and keep abreast of improving my teaching pedagogy, based on data and my students' personal needs. LAUSD needs to step up like their teachers do and give more money per pupil for schools. There is too much disparity in schools in the same district. Everyone should feel proud to go to their neighborhood school." - Kelly Vallianos, Dominguez Elementary

“To me, this strike isn't about the pay raise; it's about the lack of respect for educators. No other career has such high expectations and such little resources. What if doctors had to bring their own scalpels? Or if lawyers had to ask for donations online to get legal pads? People think it's "bad for the kids" to have a strike, but it's even more detrimental to have an entire educational system that is held together by the sacrifice and sheer willpower of a mostly female workforce. We should have what we need to do our job, and enough pay to live on, and a manageable number of students, so we can give our students the attention they need and deserve.” - Erin Sopapunta, Francis Polytechnic Senior High

So, what does E4E think about the strike?
E4E-Los Angeles respects and values the collective bargaining process between the district and labor groups and hopes to see them come together to ratify a contract that is equitable for students, fair for teachers, and financially feasible for the district. E4E-Los Angeles respects the rights of teachers to organize and engage in direct action, including strike actions.

Having seen our teachers and students endure deep, painful cuts to much-needed staffing and programs, we want to encourage our district, union, and community leaders to unite and collaborate around strategies to reduce costs, increase enrollment and revenue for our district. Our role during this moment is to continue sharing relevant education policy, research and news, to ask our members critical questions and to lift up their voices and ideas.

Based on the thoughts and opinions of our members, this moment appears to be bigger than a strike, bigger than one moment. This moment is about what teachers want for their students, their classrooms, their careers and the future of public education. Given the need to truly understand all perspectives --including our teachers who are working directly with students-- E4E-LA will continue uplifting the voices of our members. We will continue to ensure that teachers have a leading voice in the policies that impact their students and profession.

We invite all E4E teachers to please add your voice and share your perspective on this critical moment.  Click here.

For students and teachers,
E4E-Los Angeles Team