Industrial action looks set to intensify after Britain’s largest teaching union announced walkouts over pay. Meanwhile, the government is seeking to limit strikes with a controversial bill. The National Education Union (NEU) said its members “voted overwhelmingly” to strike on 1 February, with more than 90% voting yes. Its demands call for an above-inflation pay rise to meet soaring prices and energy bills. Following the day of national strike action at the start of February, the union will also hold a series of more-regional strikes over six other days in February and March. The NEU said strikes will impact each school for up to four days. It will affect state school teachers in England and Wales, support staff in Wales, and sixth-form teachers in England. The NEU’s leaders will meet with education minister Gillian Keegan on 18 January.
For more than a decade, academics and education policy experts have raised concerns about a widespread shortage of teachers in the United States.1 The first wave of warnings came in response to the drastic cuts in state and local spending on education following the Great Recession. But teacher shortages remained a significant challenge for the nation’s public education system long after the immediate effects of the Great Recession wore off. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic ignited a new round of concerns. In this report, we use data from a wide range of sources to document the size and scope of the teacher shortage. The data show that the teacher shortage is both widespread and acute across several dimensions, from subject matter specialties to school poverty status. We also review data that point to the two most important drivers of the shortage.
When I stepped down as Chicago Teachers Union president earlier this year (the union has a dynamic new officer team led by Stacy Davis Gates), I did it partly because I was ready for a change, partly to make room at the top, and partly because I think we need a reckoning about the direction of the labor movement. Stepping down gives me a chance to write and speak out without the constant and overwhelming work of running a 26,000-person local. This article is the first in what I hope will be a series in which I share some of the insights CTU learned through our struggles. The Chicago Teachers Union gets a lot of attention among the people who make up the fighting wing of the labor movement—for our high-profile strikes over the past decade and our unapologetic, anti-racist critique of what’s wrong with our schools and our society.
Remember when federal, state and local governments actually seemed poised to do something about the great teacher exodus plaguing our schools? With an influx of money earmarked to help schools recover from the pandemic, many expected pay raises and bonuses to keep experienced teachers in the classroom. Ha! That didn’t happen! Not in most places. In fact, the very idea seems ludicrous now – and this was being discussed like it was a foregone conclusion just a few months ago at the beginning of the summer. So what happened? We found a cheaper way. Just cut requirements to become a teacher.
Members of the Hillsborough County teachers union packed the school board meeting, September 20, to demand a better contract that takes teachers' needs for a livable salary into account. A sea of the union's red shirts confronted the board members and the county's superintendent, who with faux concern, offered nothing but the platitude that he "heard" teachers’ concerns. The crisis could not have been clearer to anyone with eyes and ears, as union members shared stories not just of having to work second jobs for pennies, but unsafe conditions for students. One teacher said that because of understaffing due to a lack of funding, students were left without school counselors, wandering the campus, vaping in bathrooms, fighting and wandering off campus. Teachers emphasized to the school board that it was impossible to be pro-student and anti-teacher. School officials even suggested a plan to train high school students in technical repair and assign them to repair district computers and electronics, owing to a lack of adequate staff.
Seattle, Washington - Six thousand Seattle educators walked out on strike September 7, which would have been the first day of school. The top issue was the district’s proposal—disguised in social justice language—to end student-teacher ratios for many categories of special education. Also key were struggles over class size, cuts to services, and wages, especially for substitutes and paraprofessionals, who often work most closely with students with disabilities. Late in the day September 12 the bargaining teams announced a tentative agreement, but provided only a summary to members. On September 13, after eight hours of meeting on Zoom, members voted 57 to 43 percent to suspend the strike, even though they still hadn't seen the entire deal. They had voted before the strike to stay out until members approved a contract.
Seattle, Washington - Seattle teachers on Monday night expressed gratitude for "solidarity on the picket lines" and "enormous community support" that they received over the past week while on strike, as the city's teachers union announced it had reached a tentative agreement with the school district. The Seattle Education Association (SEA) said it had secured a new three-year contract including improved and maintained teacher-student ratios for special education classes, additional mental health staffing across all schools, and annual pay raises. "We should all be proud of what we accomplished and what we stood up for: student supports and respect for educators," said the SEA. "We made real progress not only in our contract but also in rallying with our community these past several weeks."
In 2012, I joined thousands of my fellow public school teachers in Chicago and walked off the job. After facing 30 years of corporate education “reform” that demonized teachers and led to massive privatization of public schools across the United States, teachers everywhere were ready to fight back. For many of us in Chicago, ahead of the 2012 strike, political developments had shown a range of possibilities for what that fighting back could look like. We had watched intently as protesters took over plazas in Tahrir Square to demand the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as well as the crowds occupying the Wisconsin statehouse to oppose Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union Act 10.
If you feel like your union needs a jump-start—whether you’re a longtime shop steward or just started your first union job—this book is for you. The impulse you have (“This union could be stronger and better, and I want to help change it”) makes you part of a long tradition—what we at Labor Notes affectionately call the trouble-making wing of the labor movement. One basic principle unites us troublemakers. We believe democracy, meaning broad member participation at every level of the union, is the heart of union power. The Chicago Teachers Union’s 2012 strike didn’t just put the union on the map; it gave a jolt of hope to the whole labor movement.
Ridgefield, Washington - Ridgefield teachers went on strike Friday after negotiators failed to reach an agreement with the Ridgefield School District on a new contract at a bargaining session Thursday night. “We're not doing this for just more money, we're not doing this because we're greedy, we're not doing this because we're lazy, we are doing this because we want to make a difference for our kids," said Joe Thayer a teacher with the Ridgefield School District. "I don't think what we're asking for is too much. I think that those issues are things that every parent and every family and every teacher could get behind. And I wish the all district leader ship was behind those also.”
Six thousand teachers and support staff in Seattle, Washington began a strike this morning, cancelling the first day of classes for 50,000 students in the state’s largest school district. The walkout followed a 95 percent vote by teachers, paraprofessionals and office workers to authorize strike action. The Seattle Education Association (SEA) did everything it could to reach a last-minute deal but was unable to prevent a strike. Union officials have pledged to continue talks to reach an agreement to bring teachers “back to the classrooms as fast as possible.” The union also dropped its initial opposition to the district’s demands for the intervention of a mediator.
Columbus, Ohio - Students, teachers, and support staff in Ohio's largest school district returned to the classroom on Monday after the Columbus Education Association won a new contract and ended its weeklong strike. Gathered at the local minor league ballpark on Sunday, CEA members voted 71% to 29% to approve a three-year contract with Columbus City Schools that satisfies most of the union's demands, which revolved around improving students' learning environments and opportunities. "We are so excited to get back to where we belong—our classrooms—doing what we do best: educating our students and shaping the future of our great city," CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes said at a press conference.
Chicago, Illinois - In late July, Lauren Bianchi and Chuck Stark, two teachers at George Washington High School on the Southeast Side of Chicago, were on the verge of losing their jobs. In what Chicago Teachers Union officers suspect was an act of retaliation from Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Chicago Public Schools recommended that Bianchi and Stark be fired for their involvement in the student-, teacher-, and community-led effort to stop the relocation of the General Iron metal shredder from the wealthy Northside neighborhood of Lincoln Park to a site half a mile from their school. With the union and their community behind them, though, the Chicago Board of Education issued a stunning rejection of Chicago Public Schools officials’ recommendation to fire the two teachers.
We need more teachers. Good teachers. Well-trained and seasoned teachers. Teachers who are in it for the long haul. Many of the articles floating around about the teacher shortage focus on data—What percentage of teachers really quit, when the data is impenetrably murky at best? And how does that compare with other professions? In other words, how bad is it? Really? These articles often miss the truth: Some districts will get through the teacher shortage OK. And most districts will suffer on a sliding scale of disruption and frustration, from calling on teachers to give up their prep time to putting unqualified bodies in classrooms for a whole year, sometimes even expecting the real teachers to keep an eye on the newbies.
In March 2019, following numerous community pleas to curb graft among local police that had fallen upon deaf ears, residents of Kyere, Uganda tricked a notoriously corrupt police officer into a bribery arrangement. They caught him red-handed. Emerging from their hiding places in a community market, they seized the officer and arrested him—a man who had often used the same power of arrest to extort from them! This effective sting operation occurred without any of the usual police brutality toward activists. As democracy erodes at an Increasing Pace, slipping our species toward the normalization of authoritarianism, protesters are understandably exploring how they can stay safe. But reducing the risks of our nonviolent actions can also come at a cost—the cost of our power.