"I think the welfare of the children is more important than a raise," said Helen Wiggins, one of the few teachers who crossed the picket line yesterday at Burrville Elementary School in Northeast Washington.
Lindsay Ford, a striking District of Columbia teacher, attended a union rally yesterday instead of holding classes. "Everything I've heard on the radio and the TV makes it look like teachers are trying to hurt children," Ford said afterward. "Teachers are trying to help children. A lot of the things we want to get in the (union) contract would benefit the kids, too."
Wiggins and Ford -- a nonstriker and a striker -- represent two of the myriad viewpoints echoed yesterday by teachers caught between concern for children's education and widespread support for at least some of the key demands of the Washington Teachers Union.
Many teachers expressed mixed emotions about the strike that disrupted the city's school systen and their normal daily jobs. Sometimes they revealed a sense of frustration they revealed a sense of frustration and defensiveness -- a felling that teachers are frequently blamed for social ills that are not their fault. Many would speak only if they were promised their names would not be made public -- one symptom of the sensitivity of the issues stirred by the walk-out.
An English teacher at Eliot Junior High School in Northeast Washington was so torn by conflicting feelings about the school system and the teachers' union that she switched from being a striker during the 1972 teachers' walkout to being a nonstriker yesterday.
"I was out there in 1972 and I still have the same problems that I had then. I walked (on picket lines) and I had such great hopes for changes and it never changed," she said. She complained that promises of more textbooks and other school supplies were never fulfilled.
Because of continuing shortages, she said she had spent more than $500 of her own money in the past year for books, tape recorders and other classroom supplies. "If you are a teacher and you take your job seriously, you have to buy supplies," she asserted.
"It just seems like a hopless situation -- it seems that nobody cares if the children get an education until there is an election year for (union president) Bill Simons, the mayor or the city council," the teacher added. "I said I was going to stay with the system until it got better. I'm going into my 15th year and it's getting worse."
A defensive tone was especially evident among teachers who joined the walkout. "Every time the teachers go out on strike, they say it's for the money, that we don't care about the children, (that) we care about our contract," said an Eliot teacher walking a picket line yesterday morning.
"This is not just about money," said a striking Burrville teacher. "For the children, this will be a learning experience. They can learn to grow up with dignity."
Yet among teachres who refused to join in the walkout, the prevailing views did not appear to be markedly antiunion.
"I don't believe in strikes for teachers. It's our job to be here," said a teacher who went to work yesterday at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in Northwest Washington. But she added, "I don't think the union is wrong. I think the (school) board is wrong." Another nonstriking Woodrow Wilson teacher remarked, "I don't care for either side very much. I think a lot of us are on the fence."
Some teachers who crossed picket lines said they supported union views but could not afford to lose a paycheck by staying away from work.
The teachers at one school -- the small Heart Elementary School in Northwest Washington -- appeared to have ignored the strike completely. No pickets were outside and all 11 members of the school's teaching staff reported for work yesterday, as officials said they had during the 1972 teachers' strike.
"We are committed to our children," said Muriel Logan, head teacher at Hearst. Susan Wheelock, another Hearst teacher, added: "Striking just doesn't seem the way to solve the problem. I don't think we agree either with the school board or the union."