Demand what you deserve

I heard a story this week that I cannot get out of my head. You may recall that I’ve been on the road talking with members in our local unions. I gather with them before or after school, or we chat over their lunch period. I’m looking for their insights from the classroom perspective about what works well and what can be improved about Ohio’s public schools.

The story that keeps playing over and over in my head is not unique to the person who shared it or to the local where she works. It’s not even unique to OFT members – this will resonate with educators most anywhere.

The group of teachers I sat with talked about their upcoming contract negotiations and the fact that they have been on a pay freeze for two years. When teachers went back to their classrooms, one young lady pulled me aside and said she is in her third-year as a teacher, but because of the pay freezes is still paid the starting salary of just barely $30,000. Last year, her husband, who works in construction, was laid off.  She was pregnant. In order to get by on her salary alone,  she and her husband intensified their already frugal ways and shifted their diet to mostly Ramen noodles, often the main course for those who are poor and struggling financially. “Thank goodness,” she said, “that we didn’t actually own a home or anything because we would have lost it.”

What sticks in my head: the experience of working hard to earn a professional degree in education (and taking on four years of heavy debt to do it), only to live a life three years into her career, looking forward to starting a family, but surviving on Ramen noodles.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Some people are fortunate to find work they are passionate about, where they can make a difference in other people’s lives. Teaching is one of those professions. It’s not only rewarding, it has the potential to guide and determine the quality of life of those we serve – students, young people who will find their way in life, maybe, because of a word of encouragement from a teacher. The successful learning of our children impacts the community in which we live, making it stronger when young people discover how they can participate in making their neighborhoods vital.

Like most jobs, there are highlights and frustrations in being a teacher. Despite the frustration, we give of ourselves for our students, for our communities. I can’t help but wonder if the weight of our work is appreciated. All working people deserve the right to be fairly compensated for an honest day’s work. Feeding your family Ramen noodles in order to survive is not the experience I want for professional educators who dedicate their lives to helping our children grow and explore opportunity and discovery that directly impacts our communities.

I mean this for all our members whether they are teachers, college professors, social workers, paraprofessionals, security guards, secretaries, interpreters, bus drivers, or any other public service you perform. I mean this for all working people who are the fabric of our communities.

You deserve better.

You deserve to be able to support your families and enjoy your lives without significant financial struggle.

You deserve the respect of the people who have been elected to represent you – respect that can be shown by giving you a voice in the laws that affect your profession.

You deserve answers to your questions about why schools are being funded so poorly that they are forced to layoff teachers, cut programs, and freeze salaries.

You deserve to know why some elected officials are voting for laws to give public money to private schools when they have not yet figured out how to define an adequate education, let alone fund it.

You deserve to know how policymakers intend to attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession when the salaries are so low and the stakes are so high.

You deserve to be given an explanation about how local communities are expected to grow and thrive with less and less resources to do so.

You deserve better.

Contact your state Senator and Representative (for contact info, visit

Demand what you deserve.

Please post comments below.

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