Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 6
Teachers Reach Across State Lines for Help Planning Protests
By Madeline Will
On a March day in Chicago, the
presidents of the teachers' unions
in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona all sat down for
an in-person chat.
The leaders, who were in the
Windy City for a leadership summit
with the National Education Association, had much to discuss: West
Virginia teachers had just completed a successful nine-day strike,
and there were rumblings of teacher
walkouts in the other three states.
Dale Lee, the president of the West
Virginia Education Association, told
the three other union leaders what
he learned from the strike and what
he wished he knew going in.
"It was really just a support group
of leaders that are going through
the same thing," said Alicia Priest,
the president of the Oklahoma Education Association, in an interview.
Since that conversation, teachers
in Oklahoma also went on a nine-day
walkout, spurred by frustration over
low pay and cuts to education funding. Teachers in Kentucky walked out
of their classrooms on three separate
occasions to protest pension changes.
And teachers in Arizona went on
strike April 26 to call for higher
wages and more funding for schools.
These movements have followed
similar patterns: In each state, a
bulk of the organizing has taken
place on social media among rankand-file teachers. These states all
have right-to-work laws, meaning teachers aren't required to pay
union dues as a condition of employment, so the unions may be weaker.
In most of the states, teachers are
demanding the same things: higher
pay and more school funding.
All these factors have led to crossstate organizing, among both union
leaders and rank-and-file teachers.
In addition to the "support group" of
union officials, teachers at the grassroots level are communicating with
each other on social media, leaving
comments of support and encouragement on Facebook posts and sending advice to the teachers who have
emerged as leaders of the movement.
For example, West Virginia teachers told Alberto Morejon, an Oklahoma teacher who led a Facebook
organizing group with nearly 80,000
members, that the first day of week
two was the most important day of
the strike. Morejon passed that advice on to teachers in Oklahoma, who
listened: Their turnout on that Monday was the largest of the nine days.
"There seems to be a learning process that's evolved," said Jon Shelton,
an assistant professor of democracy
and justice studies at the University
of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail/AP
Organizers in W.Va.,
Okla. offer advice
West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee speaks to school personnel crowded outside the capitol building
on the 4th day of statewide teacher walkouts in Charleston, W.Va., in February.
An 'Unprecedented' Movement
When you get
thousands of teachers
together, you don't
know how they're
going to react to things,
and you have to give up
any sense of control."
President, Arizona Education Association
For example, he said, teachers in
Oklahoma initially centered their
demands around their low salaries
and the need for a raise. But as the
walkout date grew closer, teachers
began "making really profound argu-
ments" about how cuts in education
funding have affected students, and
that helped garner public support,
And teachers in other states
were paying attention: "In Arizona,
they really hit the ground running
with that argument," Shelton said.
"They've been able to really dramatically connect their low salaries with
the conditions of [student learning].
... It enables working people to have
a better understanding of what's actually happening."
For the union leaders in affected
states, their peers across state lines
have been a source of advice, reassurance, and comfort.
"Unless you've been in this position, you really don't know the difficulties or the pressures or anything
like that," said Lee, of West Vir-
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ginia. "My role with [other union
leaders] is to give them encouragement and advice or things we would
have done differently."
Teacher strikes are rare these
days, and statewide movements are
even rarer, said Shelton, who wrote
a book called Teacher Strike! Public
Education and the Making of a New
American Political Order.
"I've never seen anything like
this," he said. "That model of [a
statewide strike] coming out of nowhere and then being replicated
very dramatically and on this large
scale-that's something that at least
in terms of teacher organization is
Because statewide strikes are so
rare, the "support group" of union
presidents has been even more important, said leaders in Oklahoma
and Arizona. The union presidents
are on a conference call every couple
of weeks. "I feel for Dale [Lee] because he had to go first," quipped
Joe Thomas, the president of the
Arizona Education Association.
Lee said he had two main pieces
of advice for union leaders in other
states: Get the public involved in
supporting teachers. And make sure
the communication with members
"One of the best things we did during the nine days was start doing
nightly videos," Lee said. "People
were getting accurate information
from us-it wasn't secondhand."
Priest, of Oklahoma, took that
piece of advice, and held near-daily
livestreams via Facebook Live during and leading up to the walkout to
communicate with teachers across
the state. Arizona has adopted a
similar strategy as well.
Arizona organizers have also
taken a page out of Oklahoma's
playbook by holding "walk-ins," in
which teachers rally outside their
schools, to drum up community support before the walkout.
"It's not going to be the same in
every state, but there are going to be
similarities," Thomas said.
The most important advice he
heard from Priest and Lee, he said,
was threefold: Have thick skin-
people outside the education community won't want you to succeed.
Be aware that people will try to
divide the movement. And most
importantly, find ways to listen to
"When you get thousands and
thousands of teachers together, you
don't know how they're going to
react to things, and you have to give
up any sense of control," Thomas
said. "You try to put on a program
that gives them information and listens to them and gives them a way
to lead in, and you try to do that in a
purposeful and effective way."
The wave of teacher activism is continuing with Colorado. Thousands of
teachers there demonstrated at the
state capitol last week, forcing about
a dozen districts to close their doors.
Lee said he's received phone calls
from union officials in other states as
well who are considering orchestrating day-long actions next month-
though he declined to name the
states. (Some observers, though, have
said North Carolina could be next.)
The momentum seems to be contagious, Shelton said, adding that
he wouldn't be surprised if teachers
elsewhere began to organize as well.
"The fact that these teachers have
seen other teachers, in many cases
with unions that aren't particularly
strong, win significant salary increases ... it's really energized teachers in other states," he said.
In Arizona, where nearly 80 percent of the 57,000 school employees
who cast a ballot at schools voted to
go on strike, West Virginia was certainly the catalyst, said Thomas.
"The frustration was here, the energy was here, but that type of focus
wasn't," he said. "And that's the gift
that West Virginia gave us."
Visit the TEACHER BEAT blog, which
tracks news and trends on this
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 2, 2018
Education Week - May 2, 2018
Why Raising Teacher Pay Is So Difficult
Where K-12 Salaries Lag Home Prices, Districts Try to Help
Museums, Teachers Team Up on Science
Disparities Grow for Students of Color, Federal Data Show
News in Brief
Teachers Reach Across State Lines For Help Planning Protests
Quality Crucial to Sustained Pre-K Benefits, Studies Stress
Pearson Tests Growth-Mindset Messages In Software
Spec. Ed.Community Assesses Legal Impact After Landmark Case
Florida, California Revamp ESSA Plans In Quest for Federal OK
Where Do States Line Up on Aid for Title I, Title II?
Mike Schmoker: Why I’m Against Innovation in Education
Nicholas Brake: Want to Support Public Schools? Stop Cutting Taxes
Donald Sheldon: I’m an Arizona Teacher. This Is Why I Walked Out
Ted Dintersmith: What’s Actually Going on in Classrooms?
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Disparities Grow for Students of Color, Federal Data Show
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 2
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Contents
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - News in Brief
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 5
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Teachers Reach Across State Lines For Help Planning Protests
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Quality Crucial to Sustained Pre-K Benefits, Studies Stress
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Pearson Tests Growth-Mindset Messages In Software
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 9
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 10
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 11
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 12
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 13
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Spec. Ed.Community Assesses Legal Impact After Landmark Case
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Where Do States Line Up on Aid for Title I, Title II?
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 16
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 17
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Nicholas Brake: Want to Support Public Schools? Stop Cutting Taxes
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Donald Sheldon: I’m an Arizona Teacher. This Is Why I Walked Out
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 21
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 22
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - 23
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - Ted Dintersmith: What’s Actually Going on in Classrooms?
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - May 2, 2018 - CW4