“Don’t Make Us Go All West Virginia On You”

When I wrote my first blog, I had no intentions of focusing on the strike again, at least not exclusively. And in truth, “Awakening the Educational Giant” was more about harnessing the power and momentum of #55United to push educational change. However, there are events occurring across the nation that prompt me to revisit the topic so quickly. Emboldened by the unprecedented and unshakeable unity of West Virginia educators, teachers across the nation are speaking up and walking out for education.

Pittsburgh teachers warned of an impending walkout Friday, March 2, if an agreement wasn’t reached about their contracts; the walkout was avoided, however, after a fourteen hour negotiation between Pittsburgh Public Schools and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers resulted in a “tentative” three-year contract.

Protesting rising healthcare costs, Jersey City school teachers walked out Friday, March 16, after a new contract fell through late Thursday night. The strike was quickly called off late Sunday night after the Jersey City Education Association and the Jersey City Board of Education reached a tentative agreement, though no details have been released at the time of writing this piece.

Hefting signs that carry messages like, “Don’t Make Us Go All West Virginia On You,” Kentucky teachers are currently fighting cuts to their pension benefits. They’ve held walk-ins at schools statewide and rallies at the capitol in Frankfurt, some school districts closing their doors so teachers can attend the rallies. While the situation has not been entirely resolved as of yet, the Kentucky teachers’ activism has essentially killed the bill in question, which is believed to have little chance of passage now.

Arizona teachers began a “Red for Ed” movement via Facebook last week to get a feel for how many educators would support a possible statewide strike over low pay, large class sizes, and “bad education policy.” The response was astounding. According to Education Week, 866 Arizona teachers had vacated their positions as of December 8, there are 1900 unfilled teacher positions in the state, and 963 of the filled positions are filled by teachers with “emergency credentials.” The next step for Arizona teachers is a planned day of action in Tucson and at the capitol in Phoenix.

Having not received a pay raise in ten years, Oklahoma teachers are also planning a walkout for April 2. Oklahoma actually ranks just below West Virginia in teacher pay at 49. In an interview on NPR, Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister stated that budget cuts have been so extreme 91 of Arizona’s 512 school districts are operating on a four-day school week. In preparing for the impending walkout, most school boards have approved closure plans, protecting teachers from losing pay during the walkout. In addition, educators are hard at work to ensure meals are provided to students in need during the walkout.

While it is both thrilling and refreshing seeing West Virginia leading the way to an educational revolution (and participating in it!), it is also a telling sign of the current state of education in this nation. We are experiencing a crisis in education, and we are at a crossroads.  These pockets of discontent are giving rise to a growing awareness that the system is broken, and from awareness must come the demand for change. It is time for educators to unite not just in districts or states, but nationwide, and take back education. I hope this ripple of activism West Virginia teachers unknowingly and unintentionally sent across the country is merely the beginning of both a nationwide revolution against corruption in politics and government and a nationwide evolution of the education system.

One thing is for certain: it is an interesting and historical time to an educator.

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