Liberation News spoke with teachers on the picket lines Feb. 21, day one of the Oakland teachers’ strike.
Anita Gutierrez is an Oakland Unified special education teacher and parent of two public school students.
“For me, this is extremely personal. The showing of support from the Oakland Community today sends me absolutely through the roof. I’ve lived in Oakland for 25 years and I feel like the schools in the district have not always gotten the support and attention they need, so to see this outpouring support, is absolutely fantastic. The teachers need more resources and the children need more resources. My priority for this strike is not necessarily the higher wage because as a special education teacher, I’m seeing that our students need better access to nurses, psychologists, speech therapists, and other services. I think the community understands that this is not just a one-dimensional strike.”
Jewell Adams is a twelfth grade student at an Oakland Unified high school. She and her friends decided to support their teachers after walking into school this morning and seeing the picket line.
“It’s my last day today. I decided to join the picket line because I know with all the problems happening in Oakland, including the high cost of living, the salary that teachers get isn’t enough. It’s hard to get by as it is, and I know their salary is stretched really thin in California.
“We only have a part time school counselor right now, they’re here maybe two days a week. We don’t have a nurse on site at all. We have textbooks in our American Government class and that’s about it for what the district provides. “
Bernard Vanburen is a student at an Oakland Unified high school who joined his instructors in striking for more classroom resources and better teacher pay.
“I’m out here today with a lot of my favorite teachers protesting. The teachers are doing it for a good purpose. They do a lot for us.
“There are almost no nurses or medical resources at this school. Like, we could hurt ourselves right now and there ain’t a medical clinic here so we would have to call the police or an ambulance. All we really have is an IEP lady.
“Gentrification is happening a lot right now in Oakland. People are buying the cheap houses after old people die, and selling them or renting them to make money, not to invest in the community. They’re selling them for a lot of money to the wrong people who flip the house and sell it for more. So now our teachers can’t live out here no more. So now they’ve got to go to a different area that’s cheap and that’s got Section 8 housing.
“From the district, we need updated education systems, new technology like laptops, or even textbooks that aren’t ripped or aren’t from years ago.”
Sean Gleason is an Oakland Unified teacher and OEA union member. He is striking to gain access to better resources for his school, fight for better pay for his fellow teachers, and the stop the privatization of public education.
“The Union called a strike and I’m in support of that. I’m out here to represent teachers and students, to stand up against what we’re calling ‘educational malpractice.’ This strike isn’t just about teachers’ pockets. It’s not just about money. It’s about the allocation of resources, and the consistent and perpetual depletion of those resources to public education. This has to do with a pattern of gradual destruction of public education, so we’re standing up against that. Oakland has had an explosion of charter schools, has a charter-backed school board that has not been standing up for public schools for decades now.
“I’m hoping that this strike will shed more light on privatization, and that there will be a little more attention and scrutiny brought to viewing the decisions of the school board and of the district. The best outcome I could hope for would be the district restructuring in order to prioritize the needs of students and teachers.
“One of the biggest issues we’re addressing is the teacher retention crisis. There’s not a lot incentivizing teachers to stay in Oakland. One of the only reasons teachers teach here is because they believe in their work in Oakland, or their heart resides in Oakland. There’s financial incentives to not teach in Oakland.”
Jazmine Cisneros is a former Oakland Unified student.
“We’re here supporting the teachers. They’re here to teach; they’re not here to do other jobs. They’re not here to be counselors, nurses or psychologists. They don’t have the resources or the time to do more than they already are doing for the students.
“When I was in high school here, we had separate vice principals for each grade because of how many students there were, and the vice principals also served as our counselors. We never had any real counselors to guide us through the whole college application process. They were each assigned to 200 students, so I was never able to get a relationship with them since they were not really accessible to us. I can’t even imagine how it is now for the kids because that was four or five years ago.
“When I was in school, I never knew we had a nurse, if we even had one. At my sister’s school the nurse is maybe there two or three times a week for a few hours. So, what happens if a kid gets hurt when there’s no nurse there?”