When I was in school I remember two contentious teacher strikes. I remember sitting in the State Street School cafeteria waiting for the buses to come back because the teachers did not show up. My mother was very angry, saying, “Those teachers should be happy with what they get and go back to work!” She held bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and mathematics. I was and still am confused by her disdain of teachers. She never lived to see her son become one.
Ever since I started teaching in Westerly (1991), there was cooperation and harmony between the WTA and town officials. When the teachers agreed to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums, there was an editorial in The Westerly Sun titled “Westerly Teachers Get It.” The gist of the letter was that everybody else was paying a portion of their health costs and now teachers have thoughtfully done the same. The letter was a nod that our teachers were in touch with the climate. In my past WTA voting experiences, contract proposals had never failed a vote. These successful negotiations were different from the dysfunction that I had remembered growing up. As a matter of fact, one year, a proposal passed the union by so many votes (7 nays), the School Committee voted 6-1 to rework the proposal and then it still passed. In the last contract, teachers agreed to a longer work day despite there being no extra money. Now the Committee’s two proposals (one by mediation) have failed. This is the first and second time I have been part of a failed vote.
Teachers want the support of our community. These are the same group of teachers that have supported the community in endless ways for as long as I have been teaching. We have had great success and want to continue that success.
Unfortunately, I am aware of the sentiment by many when it comes to giving raises to teachers. I have a family member who cringes at the thought of his taxes going up to pay teachers — with grandchildren in the system. He is not alone. There are those who will do or say anything to smear teachers and dissuade our elected officials from granting raises. They are in favor of slashing teachers' health benefits and denying them fair compensation. Then, teachers are made out to be difficult because they won’t accept this. Teachers are not accepting current offers because they are being devalued when their jobs are ever more demanding. It is a profession that is rigorously controlled by the local and state government. Along with that, the state has granted teachers the right to unionize because of their unique position. State legislators are aware that they could never adopt high standards of evaluation, accountability, and train high-quality teachers who are paid minimum wage.
The teachers of Westerly prove their righteousness every day. People should not discredit them. Please support our future so that we can attract and retain skilled teachers that make our children’s day, every day.