One of the things about this strike that begs credulity is that somehow, teacher compensation has been forced into a negotiation package on issues that have nothing to do with salary. Our educators are on strike for a host of reasons, and it’s a real headscratcher as to how issues like recess time and equity in discipline around the opportunity gap got on the table when negotiating fair pay.
There are educators on strike because students in other schools don’t have guaranteed adequate recess. Teachers are on strike because other schools don’t have equity in discipline. Educators who teach advanced placement and high ability students are waving placards so that students in self-contained special education classrooms have access to the professional services they need.
Now imagine any other job where you would negotiate your contract based on the working conditions of colleagues in different departments across the city. Ever heard of an oncologist agreeing to work for a hospital only if the nurses in labor and delivery get the tools they need to do their jobs? Ever heard of a programmer who will take the gig only if the building across campus has good breakrooms with snacks and foosball tables, too?
Imagine any other field in which people negotiate their own compensation based on the broader clientele or customer base. Have you ever heard of a lawyer in a downtown firm say, “OK, I’ll take this bonus, but only if more people without representation have access?” Have you ever heard of someone in fashion sales say, “I’ll take the commission only if there is a mechanism for the naked to be clothed?” Have you ever heard of a realtor demanding that a plan to address homelessness is required for her to make the sale?
I’m not saying that oncologists, programmers, lawyers, boutique owners or real estate agents aren’t altruistic people who work for the good of others. It’s just that we can agree that it’s right to pay them a fair market price based on their expertise and if they can earn more as their profession takes off, so much the better.
We’re not paying teachers in Seattle a living wage. In a city where the rents have gone up 40% in some neighborhoods in six years? Come on. Houses — and not amazing ones — in some neighborhoods are going for six figures above the asking price. You can’t borrow more than the house is worth; what do we expect, that teachers have a couple years’ salary lying around to close the gap between the asking price and the sale price?
It’s not greed. Even if the district does right by our educators with a fair deal, they won’t be making a professional salary comparable to fields. But we’ve gotten to the point in our public discourse about teacher compensation that the only way to make discussing modest cost of living adjustments for educators palatable is to wrap it up in a bunch of justice issues for students.
It’s a lack of respect. Sure, we’ll memorialize a teacher as a hero if she dies in a mass shooting protecting students from a lone gunman, but will we provide a healthcare package adequate to cover her treatment if she’s merely wounded? Will we heed her requests to get more counselors and psychologists into the schools to provide early intervention for students at risk?
It’s a lack of respect. Sure, we’ll buy a ticket to a movie about a young teacher with moxie who transforms the lives of her underserved students with her passion for her subject matter, but will we believe educators who say that excessive standardized testing erodes their connection to students and undermines innovation in the curriculum? Why should I defer to a private, for-profit test company to tell me how my student is performing rather than the teacher who sees her daily and taught her how to write poetry?
It’s a lack of respect. Surely, if the administration was receptive to suggestions from teachers, issues like recess could be dealt with through a work group and a policy change. Instead, negotiation time and resources were directed away from salary talks to address these concerns.
Every day, I send my children to a place where they are taught respect. Respect for the person talking. Respect for others’ property. Respect for the planet. Respect for classmates from a different language, culture, or religious background. Respect for literature. Respect for the scientific method. Respect for the school facility.
It’s a shame that the people providing these lessons are getting precious little respect from district leadership. So disrespected, in fact, that they are forced to bring unrelated issues into compensation negotiations to make the case for a living wage for all educators in Seattle.