Teachers Experiencing Unrest As New Policies Impact The Profession

Teachers across several states are speaking out against low pay, pension cuts, poor benefits, crowded classrooms, and dangerous working conditions.

Teacher holding sign during protest
Timothy D. Easley / AP Images

Teachers across several states are speaking out against low pay, pension cuts, poor benefits, crowded classrooms, and dangerous working conditions.

On Sunday, NBC reported on a growing labor movement spearheaded by teachers living in states with low pay and high expectations. The West Virginia teacher’s strike may have ended last week, but the issues that it touched on are far from resolved.

Kentucky teachers held protests last Friday as the GOP-led Senate began their vote on a bill that would lower the funds available for teachers’ pension plans and undermine the financial security of many who dedicated their lives to public service. Amid public outrage and media coverage, the Senate delayed the vote pending changes to the bill.

In Indiana, lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow schools to hire unlicensed educators. According to WNDU, Senate Bill 387 gives schools the right to hire a number of unlicensed teachers equivalent to 10 percent of their total teaching staff.

Not only does this bill bypass important licensing requirements, it also doesn’t require that the unlicensed staff plan on earning their licenses in the future. In fact, Bill 387 has hardly any requirements at all. It doesn’t specify whether an educator should have any level of college degree and leaves the hiring completely at the discretion of the school.

Teachers across the state are outraged and claim that the bill is cheapening their education and effort. Jason Zook, President of the South Bend National Education Association (NEA), calls Bill 387 “a disgrace.”

“Our legislators need to respect the teaching profession, as a whole, and stop trying to water it down — stop trying to just piecemeal a plan together,” Zook continued. “Meet with educators. Meet with those that are retiring. Meet with those that have left the profession. Meet with those that are buried in the trenches and (ask), ‘What can we do to improve education in Indiana?'”

The extreme shortage of teachers is far from an isolated event. Experts point to budget cuts, crowded classrooms, and higher expectations with fewer resources as some of the primary deterrents to the profession.

In many states, teachers are starting at an annual salary of just over $33,000. This is $17,000 less than the national average for new college graduates, and below the poverty level. Benefits, unions, and pension plans are becoming non-existent—making the profession even more unattractive for prospective college students.

Dawn Penich-Thacker, an English teacher at Arizona State University, describes the problem, saying, “We have kids in schools where the teacher often doesn’t come back after a few weeks because they got a better job at Nordstrom.”

Teachers holding signs and yelling.
Teachers in Kentucky gather to protest potential budget cuts to their pensions. Timothy D. Easley / AP Images

States with the lowest pay for teachers like Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona are becoming increasingly restless and are showing signs of possible public protest. In places like Arizona where strikes are illegal, the Superintendent would have to agree to shut down the school in order to accommodate a walk out.

An emphasis on standardized test scores has placed even more stress on schools to try and operate at a higher educational standard in spite of ever-increasing issues. This is a problem that’s about more than just higher salaries and better retirement plans for our Nation’s educators—it’s about ensuring quality education for future generations.