Sometimes as teachers, we get caught up in the individualistic aspects of our career. We get lost in units and lesson plans, in phone calls to parents, in mounds of papers to grade—in the thousand and one cyclical tasks that isolate and exhaust us. We become islands floating at sea. We forget that we are each other’s greatest assets and source of support. And we forget that, together, we can move the immovable.
Our unity in the statewide strike was unprecedented, as we stood #55Strong for thirteen solid days. We were not merely standing for ourselves or each other, but for our students, our service personnel, and ALL public employees. When we chose to walk, we did not do so lightly, and that choice was only made after all other measures had failed. When we chose to walk, we were filled with fear and uncertainty—for the wellbeing of our students, for our own livelihoods, for the very future of education in the state of West Virginia. But we chose to walk because we knew it was the only real choice we had before us; if we did not, our collective voice would have been lost, and with it the power to create change.
Our unification is important not because we “won” the 5% pay raise (which, in reality, will only see an addition of 50-60 dollars on our net income per pay period, still keeping us at a solid 48 in the nation), nor because we “won” a “freeze” of our benefits while a government-appointed taskforce addresses skyrocketing rates; our unification is important for the sake of being united in a fight to change education in this state. You see, the educational giant had lain dormant for decades, but the noise that shook the halls of the capitol building roused it from sleep.
We must not quietly accept this shallow victory and return to our classrooms and shove our heads back in the dirt. We must not return to the isolated islands. We need to harness the energy and momentum we have created and work as a unified force to evolutionize education in the state of West Virginia. We have created a tidal wave of unity across the nation, inspiring others to band together to demand respect as educators and protected, livable, competitive wages. Imagine what other ripples we might send across the nation. Imagine how incredible it would be to see West Virginia leading the change in education.
Our world is evolving, work places are evolving, education must evolve, and teachers must be the catalyst of evolution. So as many walked away happy and satisfied, many more of us walked away somberly, because we knew we had not really “won.” Victory occurs at the close, and many of us knew the war had only just begin. We walked away asking, “What now? What’s next?” And so I leave you with that question: Where do we go from here? What battle should the educational giant arm itself for next? What are our students needs? Where are we failing them? Where do we need to take education over the next decade? And how will we get there?