For nine days, students in West Virginia stayed home from school. Their absences weren’t due to inclement weather, the flu or building repairs. No, students missed nine days of instructional time due to a teacher strike, rallying for better wages.
The strike began on February 22 after lawmakers revoked a proposed 5 percent raise in teacher salaries and instead proposed a 4 percent raise, a difference of $6.9 million for the state between the two proposals. Following the ruling, over 20,000 teachers walked out of classrooms across West Virginia, leaving over 277,000 students without instructors.
West Virginian teachers rallied for better wages and better benefits. Nationally, West Virginia teacher wages rank as the 48th worst, causing qualified and competent educators to seek employment elsewhere in order to pay the bills.
Gathering on the steps of the state capitol building, teachers across the state showed up to voice their concerns over the low wages. So many teachers gathered that the Capital Police and West Virginia Fire Marshal issued capacity concerns. Their strike inspired teachers in Oklahoma to do the same, rallying in unison with their West Virginia counter parts and threatening lawmakers with a similar protest. After almost two weeks of protest and work stoppage, West Virginian law makers passed a tentative bill raising the wages by 5%.
For something so vital to our country as the education of our children, one would think issues such as teacher salaries would be resolved quickly and orderly, that there wouldn’t have to be in such an uproar about a 1% pay difference. Unfortunately, though, for public school teachers across the country, that 1% makes a big difference when you’re already being undercompensated for the work you put into your job every single day, and the health benefits your job offers are anything but desirable.
Although West Virginia is a severe case of low wages for the profession, teachers in the public-school system nationally put in the hours and the effort every day, but never see this reflected monetarily. Our nation under-values educators, and because of the lack of sustainable wages, we are consequently seeing a shortage in qualified and motivated teachers.
Teachers see the faces of our nation’s biggest problems every day. Poverty, racial inequality, violence and drug use—every walk of life sits in their classrooms. Teachers are tasked with building relationships and trust with these students and educating them enough to hopefully break whatever cycle they endure at home. They care for their students, often going above and beyond to make sure they succeed.
In impoverished communities like the counties of West Virginia, teachers spend their already thin pay checks on supplies for students. They buy school supplies as well as winter coats, socks and deodorant, and still must make sure there’s money left at the end of the day to put towards their own needs.
To expect teachers to continually give to their students, we have to make sure they have something left to give. After years of spreading their own resources thin to make sure their students don’t go without, teachers are fed up with being underappreciated by the ones who set their salary, our government.
To continue to do the work they do, teachers need to be compensated fairly. Every day their job requires them to give their time, energy, affection and resources to their students. Doing so solely because they care about the betterment and education of the future generations of our country, it’s only fair they’re paid an adequate amount.