On a Teacher's Responsibility

It's not unusual to hear resentful comments about teacher walkouts.  The Wall Street Journal wrote that "Arizona parent Jennifer Goehring, a nurse and former teacher, said she supports the teachers but not the walkouts."  They quoted numerous parents and officials stating that teacher walkouts placed an unfair burden on the parents of students.  But these criticisms miss the point.

The same Journal article stated that Arizona Governor Doug Ducey "proposed funding a pay increase through existing revenue—he is opposed to tax increases."  State governments are responsible for funding schools including teacher pay.  When they fail, the only people that can hold them accountable are voters.  Teachers do not have power because of the relatively small voting bloc they form, but because of the massive pressure they are able to exert upon a much group of voters.

Of course it isn't quite that simple.

Teachers are responsible to students, but the word is important:  "to."  Teachers are also responsible for students.  They should be paid in a way that reflects the immense duty that they've taken on.

By stripping away funding and crippling schools as institutions, we've allowed teachers to be the thing that makes or breaks an education.  It should hurt that our children won't be taught while teachers are on strike, but if that makes us angry at teachers then we're getting the wrong message.  We should be angry that our school systems are crippled in a way that puts its entire weight on teachers in the first place, let alone that we then refuse to pay them accordingly.

After all, how much power does a teacher really have to provide for a student's education when the state seems to value that education so little?  By striking, teachers are using their collective power to force governments to recognize, not only that they undervalue teachers, but that it's their abdication of responsibility for education that has made individual teachers so crucial to making a broken education system workable.

Perhaps teachers should demand broad reform, better funding overall, or more autonomy.  But how can we ask teachers to lobby for anything other than their immediate working conditions when won't even make the argument that a parent in Chesterfield or York County has any stake in the well-being of children fifteen minutes away in Richmond or Hampton.  We've built a system that asks nothing of us for those students even a stone's throw away from our front porch.  What right do we have to ask teachers that care for children on a daily basis to pick up what little slack they've left for us?

Teachers are striking for better working conditions.  If we better learning conditions, then the least we can do is meet them halfway.