Why I Walked Out

teacher_walkoutsOver the past few weeks, teachers from 56 school districts across Washington state have been holding historic one-day walkouts. The public is asking: Why take this action? Aren’t you just hurting the kids and inconveniencing families? What’s your message?

Educators only want to do what is best for our students and their families, which is why we are taking this action. Teachers are walking out to send a loud and clear message to our elected officials.

A highly respected colleague of mine said it best: “Lawmakers allow profiteers to hold schools hostage, experiment on students, brainwash voters, and bully educators. They’ve made it clear that their ears are plugged, eyes are closed, and mouths are full of agenda. If we don’t speak up, who will?”

When I got my first teaching job in 1993, I was thrilled. I had been hired as a middle school English teacher just a few miles from where I had grown up. I couldn’t believe it. There were tears in my eyes.

Twenty-two years later, I still celebrate being an educator (I now teach English and Social Studies at Park Place Middle School in Monroe, Washington); legislators, however, seem more determined than ever to make me stop.

I walked out because elected officials are ignoring the will of the people. In 2000, voters said ‘yes’ to Initiative 732, which provided annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) for teachers. It has been suspended for the past six years. Twice Washington voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 728 and I-1351 to reduce class sizes, including last November. The legislature is taking the unprecedented move to overturn I-1351 instead of funding smaller classes our students need to thrive.

In what is known as the McCleary case (a state lawsuit filed in response to legislative inaction) the Washington Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the Legislature was failing to meet its constitutional duty to adequately fund basic education. The court went on to say the State could not simply decide to suspend voter-approved initiatives for “reasons unrelated to educational policy, such as fiscal crisis or mere expediency.”

It’s gotten to the point where the State Supreme Court has ruled the legislature in contempt of court for failing to meet its constitutional obligation to fund education.

I walked out for kids and their right to be exposed to creative opportunities in school. “Creativity now is as important as literacy,” says Sir Ken Robinson, “and we should treat it with the same status.”

I walked out because high-stakes standardized testing is developmentally inappropriate and highly stressful for young people.

I walked out so parents know they can opt out of high stakes tests. They have the real power. At Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, not a single junior took the new SBAC test in April. They were making a statement, and so are we.

I walked out for new teachers, who start at $34,048.00 on the state salary scale, despite a Bachelor’s Degree, huge student debt, the high cost of housing, countless hours worked outside the school day, a grueling new teacher evaluation system (TPEP), and rising inflation. I walked out for veteran teachers as well, who haven’t seen the voter-approved COLA in six years.

I walked out because we stand at the brink of an educational shift we may never be able to undo. Simply standing idly by and watching it happen is inexcusable.

I walked out because competitive compensation is a matter of principle. If we cannot recruit top teachers, where does that leave the profession?

I walked out as a show of solidarity for all educators who are committed to improving the lives and outlooks of young people.

I walked out for my current students and my future students (as well as past students, who may soon be sending their own children to public school.)

I walked out for university teaching programs around the nation, whose numbers are dwindling because college graduates cannot afford to go into the field of education.

I walked out because education is society’s last and best chance to level the playing field for all children.

I walked out so our legislators would wake up.

Chad Donohue teaches English, writing, and social studies at Park Place Middle School in Monroe, Washington. He also teaches composition and public speaking at Northwest University in Kirkland and blogs regularly for Teaching Tolerance.

Photos: Washington Education Association