This is off topic from what I normally write about, but knowledge is power, right?
I was pretty ignorant about what was happening just across the river. I'd heard about the strikes happening in West Virginia, but I didn't know much about why. All I could gather from the media is that the teachers were fighting for better pay. That's honestly all I knew.
I don't live in West Virginia, but also I kind of do. My parents and 4 of my siblings live there, my church is there, I have friends who live in WV, and quite a few of my clients are from WV. I spend a lot of time on that side of the river. So the strikes impact a lot of people I know personally. I wanted to know more about what was happening.
As I was running around doing errands on Tuesday, I happened to drive by 3 different groups of protestors. Passing cars honked to show support. The teachers shouted and waved and smiled. I would have stopped on that sunny day to capture the scene, but I didn't have my camera on me.
When I looked outside this morning, the sky was overcast and the earth soggy. Not really ideal for being out and about, but I've been on assignments in worse weather before, so I grabbed my camera and headed out after dropping my oldest off at school.
I stopped at the middle school first. If you are like me and all your knowledge is based strictly on what you read or hear in the media, you might think this strike is entirely about getting better pay for the teachers, after all they have the 48th lowest teacher salary in the country. It's barely enough to live off. If you're like me, you'd miss a key detail. The teachers are fighting for better insurance for all of the WV public employees. One man said to me, "This has never been about getting a pay raise."
The woman next to him said, "The media is painting this picture to make us look like the bad guys."
You don't see the other public workers protesting because they aren't able to. The police force, for example, is not allowed to show their support despite the fact that they're insured through PEIA as well. While at the high school protest, a police officer honked on his way by. The teachers were encouraged by it, but some of the woman voiced their concern that he could get reprimanded for showing support.
I asked them about how their insurance works. Some of the women at the high school told me about how their premiums are based on their annual salary instead of being a fixed rate. So someone who makes $60k will pay more for the same plan as someone who makes $30k. One woman also said that through PEIA, insured people have to see doctors or go to hospitals that are within the state of WV. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but for those who live in the northern panhandle, the choices for nearby instate hospitals are limited. This is a huge problem for people with chronic illnesses or other debilitating conditions.
I asked how all of this will impact the students, especially those who are set to graduate this May. The teachers told me that seniors won't have to make up any days and graduation is still set to happen. Those in the grades beneath might have to make up their days and lose some of their summer.
"But they're happy to do it, right?" I asked.
The teachers just kind of chuckled. One of the women said, "We want to go back, we don't want to be out of the classroom."
They all nodded in agreement. There was this general sense of heartache.
These teachers don't want to be away from their students. They want to be back and teaching, but since other public employees aren't able to stand--for one reason or another--the teachers do. They're fighting for everyone.
There are a lot of people who claim these teachers are on strike just so they can have time off. If that were true, they wouldn't be outside in the cold and rain. There are others who are complaining about the strike because their kids aren't in school, so they have to arrange for childcare or take time off. Instead of complaining, why not go talk to the teachers instead? Become more informed about what they are protesting. Maybe then everyone could work together to help get good pay and good insurance for these teachers and public workers.
When the government refuses to treat our teachers well, it reveals how low it values them...and if the government doesn't value our teachers, it doesn't value our children.
Our teachers are sending a profound message to our children. Stand up for what's right, even if you stand alone. Stand up for those who can't and stand beside those who can. Stand firm and you can create change.