Teaching is not what someone does if they don’t have the skills for a high-powered career in corporate America. As someone who has worked in both worlds, I know that being an educator is a calling that helps a country develop and defines the character of its citizens. Character is what gives educators in Arizona, who voted yes earlier this month to the first statewide teacher strike in the state’s history, the ability to stand confident in the face of fear and determine their best course of action.
I am a high school teacher in Phoenix, and I have closely watched the events around teacher pay unfold. Arizona is the latest in a string of states—Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia among them—whose teachers are walking out of schools to demand higher salaries and more funding and respect for education. The headlines have provoked political agendas, economic turmoil, and views that teachers’ actions will inconvenience parents and that they do not have students’ best interests at heart. What those who criticize teachers’ choices don’t realize is that the underlying support structure to the survival of our country is its educators—and they cannot continue to put up with current conditions. Drastic action is in order.
I, like many of our teachers, am tired of expectations that I will remain silent and accept the trickle-down crumbs from the table of our state legislature."
The experience I bring to my students as a teacher of career-and-technical education was hard-earned over a period of 30 years in corporate America. When I was a software engineer and developer, no one thought twice about my $750 hourly rates to write programs or perform system analysis for large corporations. My students now leave my classroom well-qualified to enter college or careers as network administrators, cyber-security technicians, or information-technology support staff. The average starting salaries for these jobs are anywhere from $60,000 to $90,000.
Yet, my salary as an expert educator does not even come close, even with three decades of work experience. We Arizona teachers make, on average, $48,000 a year—that’s about $10,000 less than the national teacher average. The state governor has promised that he will encourage the legislature to give teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020. But we’re skeptical—and we can’t wait.
I, like many of my colleagues in Arizona, am tired of expectations that I will remain silent and accept the trickle-down crumbs from the table of our state legislature. On the contrary, I am fighting for our collective dignity and joining thousands of others in the walkout. What would happen if teachers with my kind of skill set stopped teaching the technology experts of tomorrow? Where would we be if we had no online systems for defense? When our elected officials put themselves in a position of elitism and superiority, I believe they have forgotten how they acquired their skills and abilities that got them to their elected positions in the first place.
Educators across our nation deserve the right to have affordable living conditions and equitable working conditions—ones in which rats don’t fall through the ceilings and electrical outlets don’t shock teachers. (Both of these things have happened to me.) No Fortune 500 company would put up with these conditions. We shouldn’t have to, either.
Yes, I could return to the corporate community and make two to three times the amount of money I make now. But I believe I am making a difference in the lives of my students by helping them develop the skills and abilities to be tomorrow’s technology experts. Teachers turn unbelievers into believers, fearfulness into hope, and dreams into reality.
I ask you, America: What price are we willing to pay to accomplish this?