Why AZ Teachers Still Aren’t Happy

Seems like a big fat win for Arizona’s striking teachers. Headlines this morning announced a whopping 20% salary raise over three years. So why are some teachers still mad?

az teacher strike

Is RedforEd Dead?

For one thing, many of Arizona’s teachers wanted more than a pay raise. As the legislators voted on the new budget that included their pay raises, the crowd of striking teachers applauded the “no” votes, not the yeses. As one striker told USA Today,

This was never about teachers’ salaries. This was about the future of our kids and the future of education in Arizona.

Striking teachers didn’t only want increased salaries. They wanted a vastly increased budget for public education in general. They wanted funding restored for programs and staffing.

As another strike leader told Jacobin magazine, the new budget—including promises of salary raises—is really only a stopgap, a half-measure meant to distract attention from the state’s real educational funding problems. As she put it,

We’re opposed to this budget, it does not give us what we want. It does not put $1.1 billion back in the funding. What it does give us is a tiny piece of the puzzle, $400 million dollars. Which means we’re responsible for going and getting that other $700 million. We’re going to pivot and go fight to get that money ourselves. We need to fight for the money for our kids and colleagues, because they’ve been left out — and that’s one of the main reasons why we don’t support this budget.

I didn’t hear any strikers mention it, but I can’t help but think that some striking teachers are also peeved at the way they are being talked about by some conservative politicians. I know I would be. For example, even as the budget was being passed, one republican legislator tried to cram in three anti-teacher amendments.

The first would have banned any school closures, except in case of non-political emergency. The second would have allowed lawmakers to call for an investigation of any school district that seemed to be too sympathetic to teachers. The one best calculated to provoke the ire of striking teachers, though, would have prohibited teachers from spouting political ideology in their classrooms, including possible fines of up to $5,000. As this conservative legislator fumed,

It’s far beyond time we rein in indoctrination in our public schools.

As I argue in my book about the history of educational conservatism, this notion that sneaky subversive teachers are using their positions to warp students’ minds has a long and bitter history. Conservative pundits and politicians have long assumed that left-wing teachers were out to corrode children’s faith in America and capitalism. And for most teachers, those sorts of accusations are not only bizarre, but profoundly insulting.

In addition, then, to feeling shorted on their real goals of increasing school funding and reining in charters, I imagine some Arizona teachers must be chagrined to be subjected to this sort of continuing casual slander from their state leaders.

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  1. As I argue in my book about the history of educational conservatism, this notion that sneaky subversive teachers are using their positions to warp students’ minds has a long and bitter history.

    The conservatives are partly right. Teaching is subversive. The only way to avoid warping students minds, is to leave the students completely ignorant. It’s the job of the teacher, to subvert that ignorance.

    • Sure. But most of the teachers I’ve known and worked with have bent over backward to care for their students, no matter what the students’ political views are. To be told that we are out to “convert” and “subvert” is a tough pill to swallow. For me, at least.

      • I mostly agree.

        The problem is with the way conservatives think about it.

        Conservatives tend to think of learning as memorizing facts. But a student cannot have facts without first having suitable concepts. As I see it, the main job of a teacher is to stimulate the students to construct (acquire) an adequate system of concepts. Building concepts is subversion (broadly understood), because it alters the way that we think.

        Yes, teachers should be cautious about sensitive topics such as religion and politics. And, in my experience, most are indeed cautious about those. But teachers cannot avoid science. They cannot avoid teaching students about the world as we see it today. They would be derelict in their teaching duties if they only taught about world of the past, about the world as conservatives want to see it.

  2. Agellius

     /  May 4, 2018

    Oh yeah. They’re not at all happy about getting a 20% raise. Riiiiiiight.

    • My finely tuned sarcasm detectors are picking something up here… But seriously, OF COURSE teachers are happy to get a big raise. The teachers who were hoping for a bigger discussion about public-school funding, though, must be disappointed that they will no longer be able to get the vast majority of teachers to risk their jobs to join the campaign against charter schools.

      • Agellius

         /  May 4, 2018


        To be honest, I didn’t even notice that you had mentioned charter schools in the last paragraph. I see your point now.

        As a parent of private school students, I have very, very little sympathy with the notion that public schools are underfunded. Possibly teachers are underpaid, I don’t have a strong opinion about that …

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