Teachers are rule followers. We tend to not be boat rockers. We value stability and order, but we also know that sometimes conflict is necessary. It can be the only catalyst for change.
That’s why I am prepared to strike with other St. Paul teachers. The conflict that a strike would create would be temporary, but would be necessary to create progress. That progress will ultimately be about improving the learning conditions of our students and the working conditions of our teachers. It will be about giving educators a say in our workplace and about being treated with dignity now and in the future.
The decision by the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers to put the question of a strike to its members Feb. 24 was not about educators like me, who are near the end of our careers. It was about the 23-year-old prospective teachers who I can no longer look in the eye and say they could have a rewarding career in St. Paul, a career in which teachers can make a difference in the lives of students and be treated with respect.
And respect is what we deserve, every day. We deserve it when we are executing lesson plans we prepared with imagination, energy and commitment. We deserve respect when we interact with students, even those students who are disrespectful toward us. We deserve it when we interact with district leaders, even those leaders who have made a conscious choice to ignore our voices and make policy without our input.
Our issues of class size, of wanting a nurse in our buildings, of calling for more counselors and teachers of art, music and physical education are consistent with educating the whole student. Expanding pre-K is the best strategy for closing learning gaps. We know that we are on the side of our students and families because we talk with them every day.
There are other issues that affect our daily working lives that clearly will not be addressed if district leaders see they can ignore the concerns of teachers at the bargaining table. Those issues are a key reason why so many veteran teachers believe that a career in Saint Paul Public Schools is no longer a viable option for our younger educators. And sadly, so many of our younger teachers show that they agree with this assessment by voting with their feet.
There are people who say we should wait, maybe until the next contract or one after that, to make progress on our issues. I disagree. As educators in the federation, I believe it is time to reach out to our colleagues and our neighbors and explain that helping our schools, our communities and our students means standing up for ourselves and doing it now.
No one wants a strike. That’s clear. But as difficult as a strike would be, it could be the best thing in the long run for our students and their families if we can’t make real progress at the bargaining table.
This is a legacy moment. As a member of the federation’s executive board, I was proud to authorize a strike vote. I have proudly explained this vote to our members because I want to be able to look back and say that this was the beginning of a new era for St. Paul public schools, an era when the voice of teachers was no longer ignored and an era that began when teachers were ready to take a risk to reclaim their profession’s present and future
Roy Magnuson is a teacher at Como Park Senior High School in St. Paul and a member of the executive board of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers.