Education Week reporter Catherine Gewertz and photographer Morgan Lieberman set out on a rainy day to cover the Los Angeles teacher strikes.
They started with a visit to Vine Street Elementary school, where classes were in session but attendance was down by more than half.
The old wooden classroom doors were closed and classical music played throughout the hallway. As Gewertz noted, it was certainly not a typical school day. Students were being herded between the auditorium, the library, and an indoor physical education class.
Principal Kurt Lowry hadn’t taught in 15 years, but was at the front of the auditorium leading a lesson on essay writing. A chilly breeze rushed in through the open doors in the auditorium, so students stayed bundled up in their jackets. In the library, Mr. Esperanza, a full time math specialist in the regional office, taught a crowd of students seated without accompanying desks. And yet there was a calmness about the situation.
While the children inside Vine Street were cooperative and attentive, the scene outside was one Gewertz characterized as “boisterous.” Teachers were juggling umbrellas and picket signs. The rain fell down on a sea of red-clad strikers, while cars honked their horns in solidarity.
The next day, educators and supporters flooded downtown Los Angeles, and Gewertz followed along.
Strikers and supporters filled the streets and lined the tall rooftops. The whole place reverberated with a “Let’s do this!” energy, according to Gewertz.
But underneath the positivity and hopefulness that comes from a large group of people rallying together towards a common goal, there was anger. Teachers demanded that their schools be better staffed with nurses and counselors. They demanded smaller classes. Frustrations ran deep.
The sea of people was so tight that Gewertz said there was a moment she couldn’t reach into her pocket to retrieve her notebook.
The rally bolstered the determination of teachers, who continued striking until Tuesday, Jan. 22, when a deal was struck and most of their demands were met.
Clarification: This post has been updated to clarify Esperanza’s employment and the reporter’s description of the protest scenes.
A version of this article first appeared in the Full Frame blog.