Seattle Teachers Strike for Smaller Classes, Higher Pay and Special Ed Support

Tymmony Keegan, a Tymmony Keegan activist, stood on a picket-line in front Cleveland STEM High School in Seattle. This was where public school teachers had been on strike since the beginning of the school year.

Her colleagues held signs stating, “Listen to educators! Fund our kids’ dreams! A nurse in every school!” It was her twin boys’ 4th birthday, a milestone they celebrated by temporarily joining the picket line. As they drove past the closed school, trucks and cars honked their support.

“All of us who are out here on the picket line believe in what we’re doing, and we believe that schools have the capacity to be a much better place for students and staff,” said Keegan, an eight-year veteran who teaches Black studies at Cleveland.

The Seattle Education Association’s 6,000 teachers, paraprofessionals and office professionals are part of a wave that has seen teacher strikes in large and small districts across the country this year. This is a revival of a labor activism movement in education that existed before the pandemic. A national teacher shortage has given workers in this women-dominated profession more leverage to demand better wages, benefits, and working conditions.

“One of the factors that go into how much power the union has in the bargaining negotiations is the demand for teachers,” said Bradley D. Marianno, an assistant professor of educational policy and leadership and director of the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Assessment at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “So if districts are finding difficulty attracting and retaining teachers, that allows the union who represent educators to place stronger demands in their bargaining negotiations.”

According to the National Education Association, there are currently 300,000 fewer teachers in the country. Nationwide, teacher morale has dropped amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a political climate that’s led to attacks on public education, but ongoing concerns about salaries and class sizes have also raised tensions, experts and educators say.

Seattle educators are asking their school districts for a two year annual wage increase above the 5.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment funded by the state. They also demand class size caps, workload relief for school nurses, and better support for special education and social-emotional learning. Seattle Public Schools serves more than 50,000 students.

They are not the only teachers in Washington to leave during the crisis. Teachers in the Ridgefield School District, near Portland, started a strike Friday. Teachers in the Kent School DistrictSeattle’s 20-mile radius saw the end of their strike Wednesday, after they had walked out in late August. Seattle is the only big city union to announce strikes in recent weeks. Columbus, Ohio educators briefly struck in August for the first strike in nearly 50-years. Teachers in large districts, such as Minneapolis and Sacramento also went on strike.

Teachers are more likely than ever to consider quitting their profession after a survey revealed that they are suffering from burnout and acute stress. Teachers had been demanding more from their districts before the pandemic. They marched out of schools across the country during the strike movement #RedForEd, which took place during 2018-19 school year.

In 2022, teachers will strike as politicians create divisions about the curriculum while leaving students with no basic resources. Becky Pringle is president of the National Education Association. The 19th. She said that every student deserves a top-quality public school with highly qualified educators who have the resources, time, and support to inspire their fellow students.

“I’m endlessly proud that our educators are taking action on behalf of every student to ensure they have the resources they need to succeed and a school that attracts and retains the highest-quality educators with professional compensation,” Pringle said. “The #RedForEd movement, followed by the COVID-19 pandemic and now a crisis-level national teacher shortage, have made clear that ‘back to normal’ isn’t good enough.”

The last time Seattle teachers went on strike was 2015, when they demanded their salaries, evaluations, work hours, and other demands. Their wages are still a problem seven years later. Paraprofessionals earn a starting salary around $19 an hour. teachers make a starting salary of about $63,000. Keegan, a single mother who completed their second schoolyear for Seattle Public Schools’ spring, found it difficult to balance her salary, student loans, and child care bills. She resides in a house in nearby Renton, Washington, that their late mother purchased before dying of Parkinson’s disease.

“If it was not for that, I am not sure how I would be paying rent given what it costs,” they said. “So that’s been a huge financial burden removed from me, thanks to my mom, but I do have a roommate. That is also something that helps me financially, and I’m grateful that I have some elders in my life that help to care for my kids.”

Laurie Johnson, the registrar at Franklin High School in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood, said that she could not afford to live in the community where she works. “Everybody wants a chance to own their home,” she said. “Everybody should live with a decent wage. And that’s all we want. I’m not asking to get rich. I’m in the wrong field if I want to get rich.”

A statement was posted on the company’s website on Thursday. Seattle Public Schools said that it continues to negotiate Despite not having reached an agreement with the union, the Seattle Education Association is still in contact with it.

“We continue to bargain in good faith and are making every effort to return students to classrooms,” the statement said. “We understand the challenges placed on students and families when schools are closed.”

The district did nothing to respond. The 19th’s request for comment before publication.

Marianno stated that educators are not receiving the real compensation they deserve. Their wages don’t reflect the level of inflation occurring now. A new study from the Economic Policy Institute It was found that teacher salaries have remained flat in the past decade, and that both men and women pay a wage penalty if they choose education as a career. The study revealed that teachers earn 23.5 per cent less than comparable college graduates.

Economist Stephanie Seguino argues that one reason educator salaries are lower than others that require teaching’s level of expertise is because women constitute the majority of people in the field. Almost 80 percent of the National Education Association’s 3 million members are women.

“The fact that it is women is what is holding down salaries,” Seguino told The 19thIn spring. “And that has to do with, really, what we live in is a gender caste system. Amongst economists, I would call it stratification, where there’s a gender hierarchy, just like there is a racial hierarchy.”

Seguino stated that teaching requires more than just a good education. It also requires a lot of socioemotional skills. “In any other occupation, we would reward people for their special skills,” she added. “But for women, we assume it’s natural, and therefore does not need to be rewarded. This is a great tragedy because this work is fundamentally essential for the economy. Education is one of the greatest investments we can make in any country. So what we’re doing essentially is failing to reimburse those people who are pivotal in ensuring the productivity of a country like the United States.”

Seattle educators are striking for pay. Johnson said she’s also concerned that the district isn’t directing the necessary resources to its special education and multilingual programs. Johnson stated that her husband, who was diagnosed in dyslexia, was a special school student but received academic assistance to graduate from Franklin High.

“He beat all the odds because of the funding and the people that supported him,” Johnson said.

Keegan hopes the district will ensure schools have high student-to-staff ratios to ensure youth get the education they need. The district can help students better by giving educators the right workloads and caseloads, she stated. “Control over our work allows us to be able to provide those supports in the ways that are meaningful for students,” they added.

Marianno anticipates that more large urban school districts will walk out as Seattle Public Schools tries to end their teacher strike. He said that teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District are currently negotiating new contracts but have hit snags in negotiations. In January 2019, teachers in Los Angeles went on strike.

Keegan stated that teachers are participating in walkouts across the country because districts ask too much from them for very little in return.

Schools “can’t just keep asking us to do more and more and more and expect that people are going to want to stay in the teaching profession,” she said. “We’ve seen people leaving in droves in the last couple of years in particular. In the eight years that I’ve been in education as a classroom teacher, I have been like, ‘I really am not sure that this is something that I can sustain year after year.’ But I believe in what we’re doing.”