Certain members of the media think they know why Arizona teachers are striking. It’s a plot to legalize Marijuana. It’s a plot to bring about the socialist revolution. They’ve got it all wrong though because the real reason is not so simple.
Arizona teachers are striking not for one reason, but a thousand. Every single person has their own motivation. They only thing we all agree on is this: Arizona has neglected education funding far too long – or I should say – our legislature has.
The people of Arizona tend to be a generous lot. They approve budget overrides (in most places). They approve higher taxes for buildings and grounds. They approved a voter initiative in 2000 (prop 301) to fund education’s base level at a pace with inflation. Just last year they voted to increase pay as much as they can with a plan to rob the land fund to make up for what wasn’t paid from that earlier initiative. This summer, in sweltering weather we collected 75,000 signatures to get a vote from the citizens on a law to rob public schools of funding and give it to private schools.
Arizonans care about education, but we have this dreadful habit of electing people who don’t.
All of this is to say, that although we keep trying to help our schools, we keep being thwarted.
This brings us to the last two days and why I am there.
I woke up Thursday morning with a sea of faces in my mind. I see all the indignities my kids have endured. I see their overcrowded classrooms, where we had to have them sitting at cabinets on folding chairs in years past. I see all the times I had to explain that, no we can’t set up a field trip because we have no budget for it. I see them squeezed into tiny metal desks from 1960. I see them laboring on 10 year old computers solely unfit for use. I see them walking all the way across campus to access the only working water fountain on a 100 degree day in Phoenix, in our school with outdoor halls.
I see them upset that their favorite teacher has to leave. They don’t know why, but I do. They can’t afford to raise their own kids on teacher pay. They love this profession and these kids but they literally won’t be able to feed their families.
I see them staying after school for hours with teachers who stopped being paid hours ago, trying to make it to standards they can’t achieve on 15 year old text books missing every other page.
I see them having to wait for a social worker, a nurse or counselor even though their need is urgent. I see them trying to use me, a 34 year old teacher, who doesn’t know the first thing about helping them through the painful extremes of their lives, trying to be all the things we can’t offer them, all at once.
I see them asking me for food, for water bottles, for bus fare. I see them sitting on the floor of overcrowded buses that break down in intersections and leave us stranded for hours.
Their faces, their anguish, and their beautiful resilience is in my mind, all at once and I know I can’t fail them. I just can’t.
I don’t want to be out of my class. I don’t want to be away from them, but I know this can’t go on. We cannot continue to be all things to our students without the resources to manage this task.
Full disclosure right now, at the end of the year, I am leaving this profession. The chief reason is the above. I cannot for one more year have too look into my student’s eyes and be this inadequate.
I have tried to do it but I can’t. I’m a special education teacher. My kids need support to be able to learn how to cope with a world that is clear that they are an inconvenience to it. I’m sick of not having the budget for adequate speech services. I’m sick of overcrowded and overburdened social and emotional programs. I’m sick of not having social learning programs for kids on the spectrum. I’m sick of buying my own enlarging bars for visually impaired kids and those who just can’t afford glasses. I’m sick of not having enough special education teachers to meet even the most minimal of student needs, and having to buy low-quality scripted programs because we don’t have the budget to find or make adequate materials to help our kids with learning disabilities make it to grade level. I’m sick of knowing that there are fixes out in the world for all of these problems and more, and knowing that we could never dream of affording them.
My mother-in-law, spouse and I have spent a fortune in school supplies. We buy pencils, pens, tissues, paper, erasers, lead, colored pencils, markers, highlighters, white out, notebooks, planners, and even backpacks for my students, every year, all year. We do so happily, because the kids need it, but its not sustainable. We could never buy enough to satisfy the need.
So, when I marched on Thursday, when I met at the capital this morning, when I met with a representative, emailed my representatives, called my governor every hour all day and when I made plans to be at the capitol tomorrow then canvass neighborhoods after, that’s all I could see. It’s all I can see now, those faces.
I am terrified that my legislature will make me go back to those faces once again empty handed. That I will be called on once again to say to those kids, “I’m sorry, but no one in state government cares about you.” It’s unacceptable. It just is. I’ve been asked to convey that message too many times, and now it is in my power to help get them a fraction of what they deserve.
You better believe, I will be hanging on until the bitter end of this thing.
Conspiracy theorists can think what they want. They can say what they want. Other strikers can think what they want, and can say what they want.
For me though, this is about coming back to my classroom with the words “your state cares about you” finally on my lips.