American Teachers on Strike

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After years of cuts to teachers’ wages and education budgets, teachers across the US are taking to the streets to demand action

 Thousands participate in a protest at the Arizona state capitol for higher teacher pay and school funding. Photograph: Ross D. Franklin/AP

America’s education system has reached a breaking point. After years of cuts to teachers’ wages and education budgets, teachers across the US have taken action – walking out on the job in states including West VirginiaOklahomaand Arizona. More strikes are planned and the teachers have become empowered by material gains in wages and funding as legislators scramble to get them back to work.

But the crisis remains. Public school teachers’ weekly wages were 17% lower than those of comparable workers in 2015 – a gap that has risen from just 1.8% lower in 1994, according to the Economics Policy Institute.

Women, who make up 76% of the teaching profession, have been particularly hard hit.

In 1960 female teachers earned 14.7% more than comparably educated women; by 2000 they were earning 13.2% less, according to a study by Sylvia Allegretto, chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at the University of California, Berkeley.

The strides women have made in the private sector have left female teachers far behind.

Here are some of the women who took to the streets of Arizona this week demanding action. Their strike has now ended with a promise of a 20% pay rise and extra funding for schools. But another day of protest is planned for 16 May.

Amy Vizino

Amy Vizino: ‘I work my butt off.’
 Amy Vizino: ‘I work my butt off.’ Photograph: Mike Elk for the Guardian

Amy Vizino is a 42-year-old special education paraprofessional living in Tucson, Arizona who makes $11 an hour. Her job is tough and often involves physical assaults on her by students with emotional disorders.

“There is a lot of violence. I’ve been spit on, had stuff thrown at you, horrible words, bites, kicked. The teacher we work for has had a concussion twice,” said Vizino. “I probably have to restrain a kid twice a week – it’s horrible.

“It’s a lot of work and a lot of stress that I take home because I love them. I care about them and I feel like I come home to my kids and I’m all sapped because, you know, I work my butt off,” she said.

As a single mother with three kids and making only $11 an hour, Vizino is forced to live with her mother in order to make ends meet. She says that despite the pay she still enjoys the work.

“I love kids and I’m really good at it so I feel passionate, but if nothing changes I am going to have to find something else,” said Vizino.

Vizino said she went out on strike to fight for higher funding for paraprofessionals like herself, who make poverty wages.

“I am willing to hold out and not go back in until something gets done.”

Kristin Beller

Kristin Beller: ‘We are ready to show up on 16 May and make a show of power and strength.’
 Kristin Beller: ‘We are ready to show up on 16 May and make a show of power and strength.’ Photograph: Mike Elk for the Guardian

Kristin Beller is a kindergarten teacher in Wake County, North Carolina. She is helping to organize a massive effort to encourage teachers to use a personal day to take off work on 16 May. Instead of showing up for work, Beller is part of an effort backed by the North Carolina Association of Educators to use that day of missed work to hold a massive rally on the first day of the state general assembly.

Beller said that in the past the union had done lobby days, but never went so far as to encourage members to take off personal days en masse. She said she was inspired to push for more militant action after watching the successful teachers’ strike in West Virginia.

“We saw Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona of course, and that momentum that has been building in these ‘right-to-work states’ is inspiring,” said Beller.

Teachers in North Carolina, who were legally barred from collective bargaining, have had trouble attracting members, who don’t see the union as providing much support.

“For years, people would say you don’t have a real union in North Carolina, but what we have been saying for so long is that a union is a group of people that come together with similar struggles and decide together to choose something better for themselves” said Beller.

Now, though, they are attracting new members because the union is taking more direct action.

“If we want to be a union, we must act like a union,” said Beller. “We may not have collective bargaining rights, but we can act like a union. What we have seen in other states is just because something isn’t legal doesn’t mean we can’t do it.”

“We are done being the frog that is being boiled,” said Beller. “We are ready to show up on 16 May and make a show of power and strength.”

Melissa Espindola

Melissa Espindola: ‘It gave us power and it gave us hope.’
 Melissa Espindola: ‘It gave us power and it gave us hope.’ Photograph: Mike Elk for the Guardian

Melissa Espindola is a 24-year-old chemistry teacher at Pueblo high school, a low-income school in Tucson in her second year of teaching. Espindola said that she was inspired to walk out over the difficulties that she has in getting resources for her classroom.

She says that seeing teachers in West Virginia successfully strike persuaded her that teachers in Arizona could also successfully strike.

“I think it gave us power and it gave us hope that if they can do it, we can do it,” said Espindola.

Last Thursday, Espindola took part in a 50,000 person rally which stormed the Arizona state capitol, a rally that was nearly 10 times as big as the first rallies held during the West Virginia teachers’ strike.

“It was so powerful and I am so happy to be part of history in making,” said Espindola.

Like many young teachers, the difficulties of teaching in under-resourced schools has led her to think about quitting, but she says being involved in the movement to improve education has made her more upbeat about wanting to stay in the teaching profession over the long haul.

“This movement makes me more excited to be doing this for the rest of my life,” said Espindola. “It just feels like we have so much support now. I am so glad that all the teachers got together and decided to start this movement and finally make a change in education.”

(This content was not in any way edited by the India News stuff and is derived from a credible source)

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