Thursday, April 17, 2008

Striking teachers: the Pros and Cons of Nonviolence

When I analyze a nonviolent campaign, it is important for me to try to remain as unbiased as is humanly possible. This is the case because I have a natural predilection and preference for nonviolent means of affecting change. I must admit, sometimes this tunnel-vision impedes my ability to see all sides of an issue or campaign.

I had to work very hard to remain unbiased when I discovered an article in the New York Times covering a strike that is being staged by "350 teachers at Roman Catholic schools from New York City and its northern suburbs." The teachers will begin their strike on Thursday when the Pope arrives in New York. The teachers, however, are not protesting the Pope's arrival. Rather, the 350 teachers and the Lay Faculty Association to which they belong are striking for better wages and quality health care plans. According to Henry Kielkucki of the Lay Faculty Foundation, the movement is supposed to show people that the "Catholic diocese is not preaching what the pope is preaching.”

The Lay Faculty Foundation is a labor union which has observed that Catholic diocese teachers are making "$25,000 less than their public school counterparts." According to Mr. Kielkucki of the LFA, the pensions are insufficient and health care premiums are too steep. The union feels that it needs to make its voice heard. Therefore, the teachers are waiting until the Pope shows up before they express their discontent with the situation. The archdiocese have been trying to compromise, but the LFA has been persistent, refusing to make any concessions. It appears as if picket signs will remain until something concrete has been established.

For me, it would be easy for me to be completely content with the demonstration; teachers are ridiculously under-appreciated.

Nevertheless, I would not be thoroughly examining this nonviolent campaign if I looked simply at these facts, because the other fact of the matter is relatively saddening. Thousands of kids will not be able to interact with their favorite teachers. Thousands of kids will miss many days of instruction when the teachers begin striking. The Lay Faculty Association has been rigid with negotiations. In other words, the singularity of purpose of the striking teachers has adversely affected the lives of many individuals in the New York area.

Ultimately, one involved in a nonviolent campaign must seek justice first. Then, he/she must seek to preserve life at all costs through compromise. Granted, these teachers are not killing their students for higher wages. However, they are damaging their educational growth. And as a teacher, that should always be one's first priority.

How can teachers seek to improve their plights while at the same continuing to instruct their children?


Ellie said...

I understand your argument, because the students of these teachers certainly do not deserve to miss so much instruction. However, I strongly oppose any argument to take away teachers' right to strike, because as you mentioned, teachers are already incredibly underappreciated. Teachers are oftentimes the most influential adult in a young person's life, and their services are already devalued in the terrible pay they receive. If they were not allowed to strike, this devaluing would only increase. Because of the severity of what it means to lose a day of school, strikes are generally negotiated quickly, which benefits both the teachers and the students. Those missed days of class are a serious inconvenience for parents and students, the right to strike is incredibly important, especially for such an underappreciated group of individuals. In the long run, higher-paid teachers will have more job satisfaction and will be able to do their jobs better, so their striking is ultimately in the best interest of their students.

Mary Adair said...

I agree with your point, Ellie. I have spent a large portion of this semester studying the No Child Left Behind Act and public schools in America. One of the biggest factors in public schooling today is the lack of funding, especially in poorer areas. One place where this shortage of money is most blatantly seen is in teacher salaries -- for one of the most important jobs in the country, educating tomorrow's leaders, these people are grossly underpaid and under-appreciated. A disgruntled teacher, no matter how much they value their work, can only sacrifice so much for their students. Their standards of teaching fall and this creates a long-lasting, perpetuating cycle of under-educated children who aren't up to sufficient grade-level and their teachers who must work twice, or three times harder (for less money) to bring these children up to standards or risk having even MORE funding cut, meaning their salaries may decrease even more...

Politicians and administrators alike have been advocating for increased salaries for public school teachers. Bill Richardson said in a debate that he would give public school teachers a $40,000 a year beginning salary. Kaya Henderson, the assistant superintendent of DC Public Schools (who I got to meet with for my other project) says that her biggest challenge in this struggling school system is the teachers. If you give teachers a decent salary, a safe and comfortable working environment and the resources they need to succeed then they will be much more willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make sure every child is performing to the very best of their ability.

Long story short, while I agree that children missing school is bad, I think that the long-term benefits from happier teachers far outweigh the long-term detrimental effects of undereducated children. I hope that Ellie is right in saying that negotiations will be short, and a few days of missed class seem to be a small price to pay.

Robert Wiese said...

In my mind, there are a number of good points here, and I feel like this may be a situation in which there is no concrete right or wrong. Ellie makes a good point that it is a teacher's right to strike, but I also see validity in the argument that a teacher has a special form of responsibility which does not come with most jobs. When construction workers strike, it is the company they work for that is being hurt. When teachers strike, however, there is an innocent third party which is losing out: the children. The impact would have been lessened if the teachers planned ahead to ensure that their students would be taught by adequate substitutes in their absence, but that did not occur here from what I can tell.

It is the teachers' right to strike, but keep in mind that the teachers are also within their rights to seek employment at a public school if they are tempted by that extra $25,000.

JennaK said...

It is counterintuitive to think that private school teachers get paid less than public school teachers – until you realize, however, the private school teachers do not have to be certified (which may be the reason they cannot go to those more lucrative paying positions). But regardless of this, being a teacher is a laborious and taxing occupation where much of their satisfaction is personal – seeing a struggling student succeed, for example. And while most teachers do not choose to be a teacher for the glorious paycheck, they should be compensated accordingly. And unfortunately, striking is an effective measure. Union negotiations can be painfully long, and often end up not achieving desired results – for anyone. And while I could just be saying this because I am a student myself, but I am sure a child will not mind missing a few days of school and I hardly think their education will be severely damaged in the meantime. In fact, it could be educational to witness and understand the components of a strike. I think the most angered party will be parents who are forced to figure out what to do with their kids during the day while they go to work – and that certainly should be a consideration.

I believe the most important point was made by Mary: children will not learn as much from disgruntled, financially-strapped teachers. If teachers feel unappreciated, what is their incentive – other than the kindness of their own hearts – to go above-and-beyond the call of duty for their students?