Teachers Shut Down the Florida State Capitol
Teachers Taking to the Streets…Again!
In a sane society, teachers wouldn’t have to protest. They would have everything they needed to do their jobs. They would have a curriculum designed to maximize their students’ potential. They would be respected as professionals…and paid as such.
Yes. That’s right. I said it. We would be paid!
Too often I see teachers and teacher advocates qualify their complaints by emphasizing that they are not protesting for the pay. This is for the kids. And it is for the kids. It’s also about the pay. As Jesse Sharkey, the President of the mighty Chicago Teachers Union, so aptly reminded us, it’s okay to respect yourself enough to demand a raise.
Dammit. I understood when I entered the field that teachers was not going to be a road to riches. At the time, however, it was a reasonable road to a secure middle class life. Today, too often, a teacher’s second job pays for them to be able to teach. That was my own story until just recently. And my story isn’t so bad. In my case, my wife’s business subsidizes my teaching while I mostly work for the insurance. My peers, however, have it much harder. Fellow teachers are waiting tables, delivering pizza, driving for Uber. I had a colleague a few months ago beside himself with a combination of rage and sadness because he can’t qualify for a mortgage.
Teachers need raises. Florida has a trillion dollar economy. If Florida were its own nation, it would be the seventeenth largest economy in the world–larger than The Netherlands. Yet Florida is 47th in the nation in average teacher pay. Consequently, surprise surprise, Florida is experiencing a teacher shortage. This is no surprise to me. For fifteen years I taught as an adjunct professor at a nearby state college (colleges exploiting adjuncts is a related story). When I started, as many as a quarter of my students were education majors. By the time I left, I rarely saw an education major in my class. When I did, every single one of them was clear that they did not plan on remaining in Florida when they start their careers.
Teachers need a raise, and it’s okay to say so.
However, teachers are not being disingenuous when they say it’s not just about the pay. It is about the kids. Florida is ground zero for school privatization experiment. Since Jeb Bush sat behind his desk in Tallahassee in 1999, every effort has been made to dismantle and demoralize public schools and public school teachers. It began with bogus “accountability” measures and high stakes testing. It continued with the loss of teacher tenure. Funds were diverted from public schools and sent to private schools in the form of vouchers (er…um…no. They’re not vouchers. They’re “scholarships.” Vouchers are illegal) and charter schools. Despite voters’ overwhelming supporting class-size amendments to the Florida constitution, class sizes continue to grow.
The goal is, and always has been, to privatize the school system. The strategy is simple. Set schools up to fail, the offer privatized alternatives. Want proof? Ask any parent why they prefer private schools over public? They will often explain that they hate the endless testing and large class sizes. In Florida, private and charter schools are exempt from state mandates for “accountability” despite receiving public funds. Ask any voucher/charter supporting politician how they justify this clear double standard and they’ll stammer and spew nonsense. The truth is there are a lot of Betsy DeVoses wringing their hands waiting for the whole system to be theirs. When that happens, we’ll have education for the wealthy, training for everyone else.
In Florida, it’s illegal for teachers to strike. Of course, in a sane society it would be unnecessary to make it illegal for teachers to be able to stand up for their self interests. But threatening teachers is the Florida MO. Polk County teachers attending the Rally in Tally were threatened with their jobs and fines if they used their personal days to attend. They showed up anyway. In Brevard County a local paper made it a point to publish a list of teachers who were attending the rally, insinuating that such teachers were derelict in their duty for abandoning their students. Of course, our state and local politicians have been abandoning Florida students for decades to bassackward education policies.
Just how long can the state and local officials continue to threaten teachers? Frankly, there’s not many of us left. Those of us who remain have had enough. We converged on the state Capitol on the first day of the legislative session and we shut it down. It was an amazing show of unity and a great call to action.
But this is only the beginning. A rally only matters if there’s follow through. Teachers are a powerful voting bloc. If we voted as a block we could force political change. We need to put the pressure on our politicians to represent teachers and support public schools as is called for in the State Constitution. Then we need to be able to communicate who among our elected leaders is acting in our interests and who is not–and vote accordingly.