Connecticut teachers are unlikely to organize walkouts

By Sam Prevot

Students made headlines around the country for walking out and protesting for gun control in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. Now, teachers are protesting for better work conditions, higher wages, and fighting against budget cuts. These walkouts are becoming more and more widespread, leading to statewide school closures in some cases.

The question now is: will teachers in Connecticut walk out as well? The answer is, most likely not.

This movement began in March when West Virginia teachers went on strike and shut down every public school in the state. Those teachers’ demands included defeating the expansion of charter schools, fixing a health insurance crisis and pay raises. The teachers also wanted to stop a proposal that would eliminate seniority, meaning the state could replace older teachers with younger ones that could be paid less.

The situation in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona is similar.

Kentucky teachers are walking out in protest of pension overhauls and are demanding better funding and working conditions. Arizona teachers are participating in “non-disruptive walk-in demonstrations” this week.

Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma signed a bill to provide $50 million more in funding for schools, increased teacher salaries and pay raises for support staff. However, this wasn’t enough to meet the teachers’ demands, and their walk out went on as planned. The teachers want the funding to improve conditions such as replacing decades old textbooks that are beginning to fall apart.

Teachers in Oklahoma are some of the lowest paid in the country, with kindergarten teachers making an average salary of $40,370 per year. Elementary school teachers in Arizona and West Virginia make an average of $42,730 and $45,520 respectively. Kentucky comes in a bit higher with an average salary of $52,420.

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(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

On the other hand, Connecticut teachers are some of the highest paid in the country. An elementary school teacher makes an average salary of $76,740. The only state that pays teachers more is New York. There is the factor of cost of living, as it is higher in states like Connecticut and New York than in the Southern states.

According to USNews, Connecticut ranks 14th overall in education nationally, but ranks fifth nationally in PreK-12 education.

Professor Mordechai Gordon of the Quinnipiac School of Education says his students may not even be aware of these walkouts. However, the faculty are aware and according to Gordon, the professors at QU are very sympathetic to what the teachers in these states are going through.

“The school supplies were in very bad condition and teachers sometimes had to draw on their on personal funds to get supplies for their classes,” Gordon said. “And just in general the way teachers are treated in those states is very reprehensible. Our teacher candidates are hopefully going to go into situations where it’s much better.”

The QU School of Education works with many schools in the area and conditions there are “considerably better” according to Gordon. Teachers are getting raises, and are generally being treated better.

“We’re glad that they’re organized and were able to, at least in West Virginia, get some things changed in the right direction,” Gordon said.

There are currently no reports of walkouts or strikes for Connecticut teachers.

Teri Alves, a second grade teacher in Orange, Connecticut, does not expect teachers in her district to organize a walkout. She says she rarely spends much money out of pocket for classroom supplies and the district and Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) help meet her needs.

The PTA for Alves’ school gives teachers money to spend every summer, which is enough to get her through the school year. Her school also bought her a new classroom library this year when she made the switch from fourth to second grade.

Alves was surprised by the working conditions of other teachers around the country.

“When I saw some of the things on the news like those books falling apart, I’m like well I have some of those in my closet because they weren’t cleaned out from the other teachers, but I wouldn’t ever think of using them,” Alves said. “So if that’s what people really have to use as their teaching materials, that’s pretty sad. I’ve never had that experience at all.”

Alves’ school provides laptops for students, and she has a SmartBoard in her classroom. She also says there is little to complain about when it comes to her pension and healthcare plans. A former teacher in her district is now the president of the Connecticut Education Association union, and Alves says the union is strong when negotiating things like salaries and other work conditions in the teachers’ contract.

So when it comes to the question of Connecticut teachers striking in the future, Alves is confident in her response.

“No, not at all. I don’t see it happening.”