Episode 4: Right to Strike

Nivi  0:00  
When I was in eighth grade, we had a mandatory Capture the Flag rugby game for a PE class that I was in. This might have sounded fun to some people, but I was really, really not looking forward to it.

Nivi  0:13  
In addition to being the smallest kid in class, I also had pretty bad hand eye coordination and a fear that I was going to get hurt pretty badly during the game about five minutes in that's exactly what happened out of nowhere. Something hard hit my face. I wasn't sure what it was. But all I could tell is that my I was an extreme pain. My friends started gathering around me as I had my hand up to my eye and one of them said to me, maybe your eyes bleeding. I thought she was messing with me, because that's what friends do. And it just felt like it was watering really badly. But as I drew my hand away from my face, the whole thing was covered in blood. I wasn't sure who was the most terrified me.

Nivi 1:00  
My friends or the PE teacher, but all I know is both my PE teacher and I were cursing extremely loudly all the way to the nurse's office. Less than 10 minutes later the nurse had finished cleaning the blood off my face, assuring me that although I had an injury, both my eyeballs were still intact and everything was going to be okay.

Nivi  1:23  
until about two weeks ago, I'd assumed that having a school nurse is a universal experience for all students. They're the ones that picks up paper cuts, give you ice packs and tell you everything's gonna be okay.

Nivi  1:36  
Unfortunately, the LA teacher strikes that started on January 14 and went on for six days showed us that that was not the case.

Nivi  2:02  
I'm your host. And on today's episode of Get Schooled, I'm speaking to a teacher named Maya Daniels who participated in the LA strikes.

Nivi  2:18  
Can you tell me a little bit more about what some of the issues are that teachers and educators are striking for? I would say the number one issue that kind of rose to the top through this before and then through the strike was the class size and the class size is something that I've taught in to LA USD schools and in both of those schools, it has been tremendously difficult to have balanced classes, but also to honestly have enough seats and materials and breathing space and just walking space for students. So it is not uncommon to have classes in the 40s um, and that's, you know, it's one of those things where you

Maya  3:00  
Get used to it as a teacher. But I think when attention is called to it, you realize that yes, this is this is a tremendous amount of just work. It's physically stressful and exhausting, and it's emotionally like kind of draining to be in a room with that many people. And it's, it's true if you've, you know, we've also taught small classes as teachers. So we know the difference and we know the difference in the quality of instruction and feedback that we're able to give. So that definitely rose to the top. The other big one that people were very unified on was the issue of staffing, and that's something that I think a lot of the public became more aware of, in addition to class sizes is just not realizing that schools don't have nurses anymore, and I think a lot of people have who have grown up just assuming that will you go see the school nurse don't recognize that most schools at this point do not have a full time nurse and that has become the norm so you can go to the office and you'll get a makeshift ice pack or you can

Maya  4:00  
A band aid. But ultimately, a lot of times these students are sent home because there isn't basic medical care and that can be really stressful for parents as well. So I think that was something the counselor issue although quite honestly, if you want my opinion, I wish more attention had been drawn to that. And I don't think that that showed up in the the final agreement. And then librarians because as educators, we know how valuable libraries are, I think a lot of the public is aware of how important libraries are, you know, that's where the computers are, that's where the books are to check out. And it just provides a really safe study space for for students and if you don't have a full time librarian, then those resources cannot be accessed. And that's just really frustrating because, you know, they're there and it's one person but your students are limited and their school like San Pedro. We're talking about 2600 students who are not you know, we don't have a nurse all of the time so if you if you are getting sick on a Friday afternoon like that's it

Maya  5:00  
And that's just a lot of students to have to

Maya  5:04  
tell like, Oh, I'm sorry, we don't have these basic. So I think as soon as attention was brought to that issue, teachers kind of lifted their heads up and we're like, oh, that doesn't sound normal to me either. But I've just gotten used to it. And then the third issue that I think really came to light and this is the one that I know a lot of people who are not as familiar with school systems are getting more interested in it's definitely the dicey one. And that's the charter school issue. What were you striking for? Or like, what made you go out there other than the fact that you're a teacher what really drove you to like the front lines? Um, for me, it kind of it felt like and it's funny because I did I did that blog post it was called why I'm striking and now I'm like, why did I strike Um, I think

Maya  5:53  
you know, the, the foundational fundamental reason is just comes down to like, who I am and how I was raised and I

Maya  6:00  
I think that while that kind of evades the the teacher question or the educator question, it's also if you look at more

Maya  6:10  
the educators that I I believe in and I follow, they believe that teaching is a political act. And that teaching is really about presenting yourself. Mm hmm.

Maya  6:24  
Um, I think it's, it's prayer, oh, my God, I'm so I'm embarrassed but proud. I'm setting for an interview. But he said, I cannot be a teacher without revealing who I am. And I think any teacher can tell you, most teachers would tell you that's true, right? There's some teachers who kind of believe or think that they're going to divide themselves and their content, but I'm just going to say on on the record, that that's not true. Who you are in the way you teach is inseparable. Amen. And so for me, I think a lot of it is coming from this

Maya  7:01  
Social Justice backgrounds, I have a pretty radical family, I think by a lot of measures. Um, I definitely was drawn to education not only because of the personal fulfillment, but my experiences in New Orleans as well. As you know, just having those experiences growing up on the rez led me to understand that there are some fundamental differences in race and class and the possibilities that are offered in this country and so teaching for me has always been

Maya  7:36  
about you know, and education in general it's about creating a more just world and I know that that comes like a like a bumper sticker. But I think I really genuinely believe that all the way all the way down. What would you say to lawmakers of other states were walking out on the job as a teacher is not allowed.

Maya  8:01  
I question I guess why it is not allowed because there's some very obvious reasons. But I think that the response to strikes is fascinating. Just and it's like emotional weight. I would say the underlying issue there when people talk about a strike is people get afraid. And I noticed that when a lot of my friends, particularly those in the charter world, did not want to talk about the strike. I noticed that when certain media outlets or certain organizations went very, very silent, leading up to the strike, you noticed that when I worked in the charter world, there were some there was some organizing efforts within my charter network and it was a really good way to get everyone's voices very low and and someone would go shut the door you know, and and so with that fear, I think it's important to wrote to really probe into what are you afraid of? Right, so to those lawmakers

Maya  9:00  
I'm not going to tell them what to do. I don't think that's fair. I don't know their state. I don't know their job. I don't know the situation they're facing. But I would ask people who are facing labor movements and organizing actions to examine particularly the negative feelings that come up and not only examine them and recognize them that this is fear, right? This is anger. This is frustration. This is sadness, this is grief. But to really look at where did those come from, what what beliefs what values do we hold about certain professions or really tight you know, digging back into issues of race and class and land rights and education?

Maya  9:44  
What are we afraid of? Right? What is that anger directed towards and what is it source? Can you tell me a little more about the final agreement after this was all over? You know, it's kind of funny. It was announced we all heard about it on

Maya  10:00  
Facebook Live, we're super excited. We were at Grand Park and we were celebrating and then everyone went home and read it. And it was just like the high went to a low.

Maya  10:09  
So I do think, you know, since I have this, this platform and this opportunity to speak, I think it's really important for people to know and recognize that many, many teachers are very unhappy about this agreement. And I think people had different reasons for voting. Yes, I'm not going to disagree with those results. I voted yes. But I think that people's reasons had a lot to do with trusting the union being tired. I'm realizing, you know, larger picture that this is how it was going to be. I'm feeling emotionally drained. I guess that's tired. So people have different reasons for voting. Yes, but I would say it is while the media has crowned this say historic victory and teachers when I will say that it didn't look or feel like that from a teacher perspective lives.

Maya  11:00  
That I think if you look at the actual class sizes, I'm 39 is a lot. That's only English and math. One counselor for 500 students is still a staggering statistic. Having a nurse, that's amazing. But again, we have 2600 students. And now we have one full time nurse. So I'm just going to say I love that nurse, but I would hate to have her job. And I know a lot of people were deeply unhappy about the rays was one sticking point. I think that's always going to be a sticking point. So I won't spend too much time on it. But it kind of sank in after the fact that like, Whoa, we went on strike for six days. My next paycheck is not going to look that pretty. I think the other thing that people the bigger issues that I heard raised, a lot of it came from special educators and just feeling like

Maya  12:00  
Those students were still not going to receive the support that they needed. So a lot of it just had to do with, like, on a classroom level. And on a school level, we're not going to feel this, or these changes will be so small as to be imperceptible. And, you know, I think that's the difference between being a teacher and then there are so many levels of power and removal between being a teacher and being someone who works in a downtown office or works in a state office. And so I can definitely see and I'm quite happy

Maya  12:37  
to, from a bird's eye view say that this is a tremendous success looking at the the ways that the Union and the district were divided and the the gaps between them and the spaces that they had to make up in negotiations. That is tremendous, but I think on a from a lot of teachers, I definitely heard the sense that we had our moment we had support we could have done

Maya  13:00  
More, we should have pushed for more. And I think a lot of that just comes down to realizing that the problems that we face as direct service providers are not, they're not easy and it's so frustrating to just return to those same conditions and feel like, you know, I have, you know, I have 40 students now I'll have 39 and and that's because I teach math, right? It's, it's, if I teach a history course, I can still have 46 kids. So just that frustration of having given so much personally and then feeling like when it comes to on the ground educational condition, we have a very, very long way to go. What do you think this is going to look like in the future now that the movement has gained some momentum and it's on the national spotlight and teachers have gone home feeling, you know, the sense of frustration What do you think is going to happen next?

Maya  14:00  
Couple theories I think, um,

Maya  14:03  
you know, teachers tend to be kind of turtle ish in that we will often retreat to our classrooms for survival. My hope is that

Maya  14:15  
people felt enough joy and energy from the last two weeks to start paying a little bit more intention, you know what if I had to make a prediction I bet we're going to pay closer attention we're certainly going to pay closer attention as teachers to the board races because that was very important and I think teacher we didn't see necessarily see ourselves as activists until maybe the last two weeks right. There's there's certain people who like you know, will always consider themselves an educator activist but I think a lot of teachers who just thought I'm just a teacher I just deliver content suddenly saw themselves in this larger fight and will most likely you know, maybe start talking to even their family, their friends, their neighbors about

Maya  15:00  
These different candidates for different districts. I think that's one place this is going to go. A second place that I'm hopeful this will go is to a state level. And I'm very, very hopeful that voters will remember in 2020 that we are struggling and we need funding and that this strike came to be a strike because of the lack of funding. And so I hope that they remember, I know there's a split roll happening that partially repealed prop 13 which in terms of school funding, and school funding history is really what put our schools in these Dire Straits and brought us you know, into this kind of hypocrisy of being the wealthiest state with you know, I think we're 43rd and funding 48 so we're down in the 40s for funding and so I hope that voters remember that remember those times and are willing to give more and a lot more towards school funding. And then the third place I see this going and this is where I think it

Maya  16:00  
We really did win and earn a victory. And I'm glad that the media is calling it that is that these are these are growing, right? These different strikes popping up they are becoming more of a trend. So I know that I was personally and we as a as a collective I'm at San Pedro High School and then in LA were inspired by West Virginia and Oklahoma and even friends I had I had a couple of friends strike in Washington and so being able to see educators do this and then be successful can help fortify you when you when you have to make that decision to authorize a strike. That's very insightful and I totally agree with you on on all of those fronts. Maya Thank you so much. My pleasure

Maya  16:55  
to read more about my experience participating in the strikes.

Nivi  17:00  
Check out the blog posts that we shared on facebook.com slash soapbox project official on our Facebook page you can also find statistics about school support stuff in the United States articles about charter schools, the labor movement and much more.

Nivi  17:18  
If you're enjoying Get Schooled, please share podcast with your friends and subscribe to us on whatever platform you're listening to us on.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Nivi Achanta