W.Va. Teachers Deserve Our Support

As a child, I weathered the costs of my father’s union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, going on strike several times. In fact, one months-long strike led to our family losing our home, a financial crisis from which my parents never recovered. I remember my dad and his co-workers standing in the cold for eight-hour shifts carrying picket signs. I also remember when the union provided a Christmas party and gifts for their members’ children one particularly bad year.

Even with these struggles, though, I always felt so proud that my dad was a union member, which in my younger years meant the ability to work together to achieve a common good. I still believe that to this day, which is why the West Virginia teacher’s strike was so moving to me.

In some ways, it is probably jarring for people to think of teachers striking. Most people imagine wildcat strikers as being gruff steel mill workers and dust-covered coal miners, but the faces of the 2018 West Virginia teacher’s strike are college educated, middle class and (mostly) women.

As public perception of teachers has declined in the past decade, so has support for the work they do. The majority of these opponents are not parents, though, but pundits and politicians, as the recent strike has made abundantly clear. In a 2012 report, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that “Some elected officials don’t know what to do, so they demonize teachers as a rationale for why they’re cutting budgets.” Is that what is happening here in the Mountain State? Instead of finding ways to increase our budget for education, including the taxation of the oil and gas industry, are some of our elected officials simply shaming teachers for demanding a living wage and access to affordable healthcare?

But in an era when teachers are expected to do more than ever, including shielding our children from school shooters, what should they expect from us? People become teachers because they believe they have something to offer young people. They go into the profession knowing that their pay will not be high, but in the past, they willingly sacrificed a hefty salary for job security, excellent healthcare and a comfortable retirement. West Virginia teachers went on strike to regain those lost benefits because without them the incentive to make salaries far lower than their peers in other lines of work disappears.

Yes, teachers become teachers because they believe it is for the common good, but beyond personal satisfaction, what can the state of West Virginia offer our teachers if their labor efforts are questioned, their salaries do not begin to keep the pace of inflation, and their benefits are decimated?

What can we as West Virginia taxpayers do for the more than 20,000 educators and support personnel in our state who have spent years earning college degrees and certifications, spending money from their own pockets to provide learning materials, clothing, and even food for this state’s children, and sacrificing time with their families to ensure that our young people get the education necessary to have productive lives? Keep supporting them. Don’t fall victim to the fresh backlash that scapegoats our teachers for cuts in state programs.

Nearly 30 years ago, my teachers went on strike along with teachers in 47 of our 55 counties. I walked the line with them and my classmates in torrential rain and frigid temperatures because I knew then what I know now: Our teachers deserve our support. It is the least we can do for people who do so much for all of us.

Christina Fisanick, Ph.D., is an associate professor of English at California University of Pennyslvania and a 1996 graduate of West Liberty University. She lives in Wheeling.