In February and March of 2018, West Virginia teachers went on strike to demand better wages. NBC News reported that West Virginia teachers’ salaries were some of the lowest in the country, and the strike won them a five percent raise. This action inspired teachers unions in other states – on April 2, Oklahoma teachers went on a walkout. They’re right to.
Why are Oklahoma teachers going on strike? According to an Oklahoma reporter interviewed by PBS, Ben Feldner, this is for a number of reasons. Feldner stated that due to lack of funding, not only are Oklahoma teachers underpaid when compared to other teachers, but schools also cannot afford resources like textbooks and rural schools have had to turn to four-day school weeks. Protesting teachers provided photos of textbooks from the 1990s on social media. NBC News also stated that, while the number of teachers in Oklahoma has declined by 2000 since 2008, the number of students in the system has increased by 50,000.
People may argue that teachers are being greedy and that going on strike damages student’s educational prospects, but if teachers are teaching with ancient, out-of-date textbooks, they cannot teach students to the best of their ability. A four-day school week will obviously not allow students to do as much as a five-day school week. We also live in a society where, like everyone else who works and whether we like it or not, teachers have to make a living.
And, if the state government won’t listen – which they clearly are not – then improvements can only be managed by protest.
ABC News reported that, in addition to calling for increased funds for educational program budgets that have been slashed, the teachers are asking for school support staff to be paid more.
Although Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin (R) passed a teacher pay raise before the walkout started, the teachers’ union does not believe that this is enough to alleviate the conditions they are teaching in. In addition, ABC News reported that Oklahoma teachers are among the worst paid in the nation, even with the raise.
Unlike some Fairfield University students, I was educated in public schools my entire life so public schools are deeply important to me. A good public school education gives students the resources they need to have a successful life – and the vast majority of students in the United States are educated in public schools. We should give our teachers the resources they need, not underpay and malign them simply for teaching.
The worst saying in the world is ‘those that can’t do, teach.’ Teachers do the most important work there is – they teach our children, who will go on to become the country’s doctors, engineers, politicians, journalists and other teachers. They need the very best resources we can provide, because when our teachers have good conditions, so do our kids. When legislators won’t listen – when other people won’t listen – of course teachers should protest. That’s what protest is for, no matter how ‘disruptive’ it is.
The success of the West Virginia strike has also resulted in protests in Kentucky, according to NBC News. Arizona and Colorado teachers are also considering protest. When they strike, we should stand with them.