I first started hearing about the Los Angeles teachers’ strike about a month ago, when their union officially announced it, but I didn’t understand what it meant. The last strike was decades ago, so my classmates and I had no idea what to expect. My teachers varied in their explanations about the reasons for the action. Some just called it “a fight about money” and left it at that. Others said that they were trying to make sure their voices were heard by the leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
When I talked about it with my mom, she reminded me about how teachers are always making sacrifices for their students and don’t always have the resources that they need. My cousin, who teaches elementary school in Los Angeles, has to use her own money to set up her classroom each year, and my siblings’ middle and elementary schools always ask for donations of supplies like paper towels and tissues.
Then I thought about one of my favorite teachers, Ms. Avdul. When I first had her for English in my freshman year, she seemed extremely strict. But she was just holding us responsible for our own work and choices, and in turn, she would ask for feedback about how she could communicate more effectively. She even talked to us about the struggles she’d had when she was our age. She treated us like adults and made us feel like we weren’t alone. If she felt like she needed to walk out, I wanted to support her.
The administrators made it clear that they thought we should just act like everything was normal. We got emails saying that we were expected to come to school, and none of them mentioned that there would be 30,000 educators on strike, or that state funding partly depends on student attendance. Last Friday morning, when my classmate Mia said over the loudspeaker, “Teachers, we support you,” during the morning announcements, the principal removed her from that job, which she’d been doing for years.
Our student council, of which I’m vice president, didn’t have an official position or pressure its members to take one. But the president, Daniel, and I agreed with what the union was saying: He felt strongly that we needed more counselors in schools, and I’d noticed how our classrooms seemed to be getting more crowded every year. Though our school, John F. Kennedy High School, is relatively well off, even here, some of our classes have more than 40 students. In other schools, there aren’t enough desks to go around, and students don’t have college counselors or psychologists they can go to for advice.
Daniel and I got our workplaces — a local bakery for him, Starbucks for me — to donate refreshments for the first day of the walkout. When we arrived with the bagels and coffee on Monday, it was pouring rain. Our teachers handed us laminated signs and loaned out extra umbrellas. Parents dropping off their kids honked to show their support, or joined in the picket line themselves. When the teachers left to join the rallies in downtown Los Angeles, we sneaked a peek inside the building, just to see what was going on. A lot of students were absent — across the district, only a third of students attended school on Monday — and those who did show up were sitting around with the rest of their grade in the cafeteria, theater or one of the gyms. All the classrooms were closed. From what I could see, most people were talking with their friends or on their phones, supervised by administrators. I don’t think I’m missing out on much education by skipping class while the teachers are out.
I’ve learned a lot more by standing outside the building than I would have cooped up inside the auditorium all day. When my grandfather was running for city council, I knocked on doors and put up fliers, but this is the first time I’ve gotten directly involved in a political action like this. It was intimidating, at first, to be surrounded by adults dressed in red T-shirts, totally drenched, shouting things like, “Hey hey, ho ho! Class size loopholes got to go!” But when you believe in something, when there’s something you want, your adrenaline starts pumping. You feel a sense of momentum. On the first day, I only saw between 10 and 20 students in the picket line, which wasn’t as many as I’d have liked. But every day, there seem to be more kids and parents standing in front of the school, carrying Star Wars- (“May the funds be with the teachers”) and “Frozen”-themed signs.
Seeing us outside, some of my classmates wondered what all this noise and commotion was really for. Was there a real reason? One student asked, was this all about a 6.5 percent pay raise? Our teachers answered their questions patiently: They want reasonable class sizes, so they can give each of us the attention we need. They want more support staff, like librarians, social workers and nurses. They explained that the LAUSD had agreed to some of their demands but only committed to spending for one year — and then everything would go back to the way it was. We agreed that this sounded like a bad deal.
Ms. Avdul looked so happy and surprised to see us out there. It was almost funny to hear a teacher express appreciation for students, rather than the other way around. It’s been a rainy week. But I’ve bought a poncho, and as long as teachers like her are standing up for me, I am going to stand up for them.
As told to Post editor Sophia Nguyen.