There have been some teacher strikes in the news of late. I don’t think people realize just why teachers are striking, regardless if it’s legal or illegal in their states. What the uninitiated don’t realize is that striking is the absolute last resort for teachers. There is not one teacher who wants to deprive any student of her education, however there are factors that are out of the hands of educators that leave no other option.
I don’t know one teacher who is in this profession in order to get summers off. If anyone tells you that they are teaching for that reason, they are not long for the classroom. Teaching is not a 10 month job, it’s a 12 month job. There are levels of professional development that are required to keep your license, and most districts won’t pay for PD during the summer, so it’s an out of pocket expense. Most teachers I know work over the summer, either teaching summer school or some other part time job, in addition to doing any work for the district regarding planning, curriculum development, etc. I’ve taught summer school before, and it’s certainly not something I recommend. For example, for one exam, English 11, I sat 240 tests, but only 43 students decided to turn up to take it. That’s 197 students who chose not to succeed, and 6 weeks of teaching down the toilet.
Another factor which leads to teachers striking is funding. Most people aren’t aware of how districts get their funding. Some monies, a small fraction, come from local taxes. The vast majority comes from the state. In New York, that means school budgets can’t be set in stone until the state allocation money is budgeted. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that I can’t request materials because we didn’t have it in the budget funding. That means teachers spend even more of their own money to fill their classroom with the basics. Add to that the fact that schools in areas of high poverty get much less funding than those in affluent areas, and you have a recipe for disaster with regard to education. If the materials aren’t up to speed, if the technology isn’t available, then our students fall way behind their counterparts in more well-to-do districts. Schools get punished when they underperform, but the irony is that the same people who impose sanctions (designations of need, such as SINI - Schools In Need of Improvement) are the ones who don’t provide adequate funding to these very schools which desperately need the funds. This creates a truly vicious circle where the students suffer because the state is punishing for not achieving while not providing the proper funding required to achieve.
For years, New York State had what they called the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). The GEA was created in 2010 to close the budget gap in New York. This meant that full funding was withheld from districts until the year 2015 in order to attempt to close a massive economic gap in the state. That’s billions of dollars that schools didn’t receive because of years of fiscal mismanagement by the state; mismanagement that the schools neither caused nor contributed to. New York schools lost over eight billion dollars in funds, which directly impacts students on a daily basis. Thankfully the GEA was cancelled in 2015, but not before irreparable damage was done.
The numerous teaching colleges in New York State have seen a drastic reduction in enrollment as well. Because of the recession, schools started slashing both teaching position and programs in 2007. The general public, ignorant what education entails, began to demonize the profession, claiming teachers were no better than glorified babysitters and that they are overpaid and the districts tax at too great a rate. Teaching, once a noble profession, began to suffer almost immediately. Nobody in their right mind wanted to enter a career which was suddenly belittled and devalued. It has also become more bureaucratically difficult to become a certified teacher. After graduation, teachers are required to take certification exams, which cost thousands of dollars out of pocket. If they pass these tests (three separate ones in New York State alone), they then have five years to obtain a Master’s degree or they will lose their provisional certification. Districts don’t help to fund teachers who are getting a Master’s, so that’s more out of pocket money. So let’s add this up - within five years of graduating with a teaching degree ($$$ for your undergrad), teachers have to take certification exams, provide process fees for background checks ($$$ out of pocket), and then obtain a Master’s degree ($$$ out of pocket). With the exception of the field of medicine, I can’t really think of many other career choices which so inadequately balance requirement and cost. If you’re a teacher, you are already in debt before you even teach your first class of your career. The path to become an administrator is even worse. After paying for courses to receive a School Administration certificate, the candidate must spend over $1200 per test to become a certified administrator. That’s more out of pocket money on top of out of pocket money. There are so very few administrative candidates now that some districts must look to poach from either other in-state districts or send feelers out to outlying states.
This article could go on forever, but the bottom line is that school districts have been hilariously underfunded, and as a result are losing teachers. All school districts, regardless of how affluent or needy, require funding to provide the best possible chances for the success of our students. Teaching is, I believe, the noblest profession. Teachers have chosen this career because they want to make a difference in the lives of students. It is a yearlong tiring, frustrating, wonderful, and rewarding career. No two days are ever the same. So when the time comes for your local district to have a budget vote, go out and vote yes to everything in it. Make sure that students are getting the best of the best, and if they are not, then it’s your job to vote out the people who are holding the students back.