By Guest Blogger, NBCT Bethany Rivard
On August 14th, I answered a phone call from my union president. She asked me to step up into leadership and head to a training in Longview to prepare our members for a possible strike. The possible strike turned into a likely strike, and then before I knew it we were out on the picket lines. There were MANY sleepless nights and massive amounts of anxiety swirling through my mind and body during this time. The strike both tore me apart and strengthened me, in equal amounts. The negativity we encountered paled in comparison to the support and solidarity we received.
Somewhere in the midst of those Twilight Zone like weeks, I stumbled upon a text I had been perusing pre-strike entitled, When We Fight We Win. I flipped to chapter two, “Grounded in Community: The Fight for the Soul of Public Education.” I learned about the Chicago Teachers Union Strike of 2012 over issues of excessive testing, increased class size, the school-to-prison pipeline, and corporate takeover of public schools. The strike was ultimately successful because impacted families (led by African American and Latino parents), community organizations and labor allies joined forces with educators. The strike shut down the nation’s third largest school district for a week. The entire community came together to fight for the heart of public education, and won.
The three days Vancouver Education Association members were on strike, we were joined full force by our community. The overwhelming support has been a common refrain through teacher strikes across the state; education allies consistently showed up and linked arms with us. Over 900 parents and guardians lined up outside the VEA office to sign declarations that their child would not be irreparably harmed by a work stoppage when we were threatened with an injunction. Many parents and guardians brought their kids to the picket lines to meet their teachers. Local businesses stepped in to donate and show their support for educators. Labor allies were consistently on the lines with teachers, ILWU, SEIU, LiUNA, Firefighters…the list goes on. We were not alone.
The negative vocal minority painted us the same way that Rahm Emanuel painted the Chicago Teachers Union: Greedy. I find this false narrative of educators insulting and ridiculous. It’s no secret that the educator workforce is overwhelmingly female, and that certain people find it “unseemly” for us to ask for professional pay, even if the state money was earmarked for salaries. We fight for smaller class sizes, increased supports, full day kindergarten, arts funding…and now, ourselves. The vast majority of educators I know literally pour their heart, soul and resources into their students and classrooms. We routinely spend our money on food, supplies and curriculum. We give of our time well above and beyond what we are paid for. We know the relationships we build with students and families goes well beyond our contract hours.
The strikes in Washington state are about valuing the education profession. We have a massive teacher shortage, so it is imperative that we find ways to attract new educators into teacher preparation programs and make it worth taking out hefty student loans. I want my culturally and linguistically diverse students to become future educators in my building, and to be able to stay in the communities they love. By standing up for ourselves, we are standing up for the future of public education in Washington state.
José, a fabulous former student who is also leader and organizer, gave a speech to bolster the spirits of my fellow Fort Vancouver High School Trappers when we were on the line. He knows what it is like to confront adversity, to confront power that seeks to silence. He told us, “It’s not easy raising your hand and declaring your opposition to injustice. I know how it feels, teachers. I know how it feels to stand up and use my voice only to be ignored. I know how it feels to be treated unfairly. I know how it feels to be promised something only for that promise to be broken. Keep fighting. Keep striking. Nothing is more beautiful that uniting for one cause. Being a teacher is an overlooked job, but they are crucial in every student’s life. There is no way around this, to get through it we must go through it. Do not give up. In the end, they have no choice but to hear you. Keep on fighting and follow the light that is surely at the end of the tunnel.” José knows that with solidarity, unity and community we can confront opposition and declare our worth.
Educators across the country are running for office because they know we need to be at the table to shape education policy. We have expertise on issues that directly affect our caseloads and classrooms, our kids and communities. These educator-leaders have inspired me to announce a run for my local school board of directors. I know I will not be the only educator running for an elected position this year. I hope many others have internalized their worth and realize they have much to offer and choose to run as well. I stand with educators. I stand with students and families. I stand with my Labor Union brothers and sisters. I stand for the transformative power of public education. When we fight, we win!
Bethany Rivard, NBCT, teaches English Language Arts and Theater at Fort Vancouver High School Center for International Studies and is a member of the Washington Teacher Advisory Council (WATAC). She is a 2016 Washington Regional Teacher of the Year and serves on the Professional Educator Standards Board. Bethany is a Vancouver Education Association member and recipient of the NEA Foundation California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence. She lives in Vancouver with her husband and two daughters.