Our strike happened near the end of September in 2002. I believe it would have happened earlier in the year, but appearances would not have looked good striking over the one year anniversary of September 11th. As I said, I don’t remember many details of what led up to the walk out, but even if I had heard the specifics of the ongoing talks or the breakdown of talks, I would not have understood what was going on (yes, even at 18). I may have been what one would call a self-absorbed teenager. I’ll admit that while I walked and talked as a newly minted adult, I was certainly too wrapped up in my world to really be bothered with such silly things as other people’s struggles. No, unfortunately, I was mostly concerned with how what was happening around me affected me. I’m not exactly proud of that, but I do not really think that is much different than the life trajectory of most kids, adolescents, or young adults.
I did not really ‘get it’ because I wasn’t trying to ‘get it’. I was busy having a self-centered life with my new drivers license, a job, my friends, and planning on what I wanted to do next. I don’t think I would have understood what was going on and I don’t think my parents could have helped me at the time because while they are the smartest people I know, they are not teachers. I don’t think they really began seeing this profession more clearly until I went into it and I was the first teacher on both sides of my family. Even if teachers had explained it to me, I would have filtered it through my own filter that would have altered the message. Now I know that the only folks who know what is really going on are the adults on either side of the bargaining table.
I did feel mad and frustrated at the time. I wish I had been more mature to understand and be understanding of what my teachers were trying to say with their actions. But the truth is I thought they were being selfish because I was being selfish. I wanted a “normal” year. I wanted to have a “normal” summer before college. I told myself that I deserved those things. Now I know I deserve a great education, and I got that even if the last year did not look as I had pictured it. Now I know that every teacher is putting in more than they are getting, and I’m mad at myself for not thanking them enough when I had the chance. Now I know that I had everything I could have wanted and needed that year including a band trip to Washington D.C. thanks to the tireless work of Mr. J, a once in a lifetime musical tour to Hawaii with G., dances, proms, senior sports nights and awards ceremonies with my classmates and friends.
Yes, I may have had school on Christmas Eve, but it was one day. Yes, I may have had no break from January 1 until June 22, but honestly I am a better, more disciplined worker and human thanks to that experience. I had the chance during the strike in October to work with students who needed a place to go during their parents’ workdays at the YMCA, and I learned that year that being with kids, teaching them, having fun and silly times with them was what I wanted to spend my life doing.
There are things that happen during our lives that we maybe don’t understand when they are happening. Maybe we don’t ‘get it’ after they have happened until we’ve done our homework and really contemplated what happened. Maybe we never really get it at all. I am now a teacher, but I still don’t have a full picture of what happened in 2002, but I know now what life is like as a teacher. I can tell you about the teacher I know that knitted hats and gloves for over a hundred kindergarten students every year. I can tell you about the teacher that visits parents houses just to ask them if everything is okay and if there is anything she can do to help. I can tell you about the hours and hours that my coworkers spend arduously designing and delivering great lessons and inspiring future leaders and great humans. I can say that the last thing they want to do is leave their post and their charges in the hopes to get other adults to show up at the negotiating table.
Unfortunately, you won’t really get it unless/until you are in the shoes of a teacher. And that may not change your feelings of what happens if a strike occurs in your school, for your child, your friend, your neighbor. Your feelings are valid and appropriate, and it’s okay to talk about them. It’s okay to talk with your parents, your friends, your neighbors about what is going on. It’s important to ask questions and understand the many sides to the events that are happening. Knowing more is always better than knowing less. It’s okay to feel hurt, sad, mad, or confused. Be open, however to what someone else is feeling. We can a shoulder for someone who may be having a harder journey. At some point, however, this will be a memory, the feelings will fade away and hopefully some new understanding will come out of the chaos. I graduated on June 22nd, 2003 because of a strike between teachers who deserved better than they were being offered. Teachers who were told they didn’t deserve what the district could provide. I am glad they stood up for themselves then, it makes me feel strong enough to do so for myself and my colleagues today.