Teacher Strikes: Are We Helping or Hurting Our Students?

On December 10th, 2018, a group of teachers in Oakland, California protested the notoriously low wages that teachers are compensated, overcrowded classroom sizes, and lack of medical and mental health supports for students. This one-day strike, which was inspired by the teacher-strike that will take place in Los Angeles on January 10th, 2019, will also potentially spill over to this year if the Oakland Unified School District does not meet the teachers’ demands. Oakland teachers are seeking a 12% salary increase over the next three years and a reduction of class sizes within the next two years. Perhaps what stands out to me as the most important item is Oakland teachers’ demand that students are offered more medical and mental health support on campuses.

There is no doubt that living costs in the Bay Area, and in California in general are skyrocketing as a result of the concentration of wealthy in Silicon Valley. The tech industry has pulled from around the world some of the best equipped minds into the South Bay to continue working on technological innovations that have far-reaching benefits. These well-equipped minds are also getting financially compensated at an economic level that makes rising housing costs in the Bay unreasonable. However, most people in California are not part of the tech industry, and as such do not have high incomes that make it possible to afford the high housing costs in California. This puts most Californians, including teachers, at a financial disadvantage, and therefore those who work in our classrooms need higher pay. Housing costs are so high that teachers who work in the South Bay cannot afford to live where they teach, so they are forced to commute, sometimes for as long as two hours, to teach children in Silicon Valley.

The second demand that teachers are expressing relates to students themselves. It is known that the classes with more students aren’t as effective as those with smaller classrooms. Reduction of class sizes is essential in order to provide our students with a more robust and personalized education experience. Providing students with medical and mental health is also an important factor in providing students with the best education experience available. The demands that Oakland teachers have are not only reasonable, but vital for a true education reform.

Nevertheless, I wonder if strikes, specifically teacher-walkouts, are the best way to support our students. After all, the demands Oakland teachers have are geared towards providing support for students, so the educator should follow in that line and take a stand in a way that does not affect students more than what they are already afflicted with within the education system. When two teachers from Oakland where discussing the December 10th protest, here is the dialogue I heard:

Teacher 1: Did ya’ll protest?

Teacher 2: Yes, several teachers left the classroom in the middle of the day. A student told me that they had to watch “Moana” and other videos in the afternoon because they had no work to do.

Teacher 1: Really? Good.

Good? Really? I cannot agree with an educator who thinks that a strike is more important than students’ immediate educational experience. Teacher 1’s response to the fact that students watched movies because they did not have a teacher for half of the day seemed cold-hearted, to say the least. These are students we are working with, real human beings that we cannot reduce to collateral damage while we take a stand for our demands, so I pose the question once more: are we helping our students when we strike, or are we hurting them? In either case, we must make sure that we do not get lost in the Machiavellian belief that the end justifies the means.

What do you think?

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Robel Espino

Robel Espino

Robel Espino is an education specialist assistant, worked as an after school instructor, and serves as a youth leader in his local church. A first-generation college graduate, Robel attended California State University, East Bay in Hayward, CA, and received a degree in English Literature. Robel is an Oakland native who received k-12 education in the cities of Oakland, San Pablo, and Richmond, CA. He is a husband, and a father of a four-year old.

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