For nine whole days, teachers in West Virginia, which ranks 48th in the country when it comes to teachers’ pay, traded chalkboards for picket signs, rallying at the state capitol to demand a higher salary to make up for quickly rising healthcare costs. School was cancelled across the state, as the teachers -- many of whom are mothers, with children in the public school system -- refused to leave the capitol until their demands were met.
The move was risky; as many as 67 percent of kids qualify for school lunch in West Virginia, which translates to thousands of hungry children; and with no school, West Virginia’s working parents were left in a childcare bind. But teachers woke up earlier than ever to prepare free meals at churches, and those who weren’t at the capitol rallying for better health coverage and higher wages, were at community centers forming makeshift daycares to look after kids whose parents still had to go to work.
Their rallying paid off. West Virginia leaders ultimately agreed to increase teachers’ salaries and investigate the state’s health insurance program. Emboldened by that success, public school teachers in Oklahoma, who are paid even less than those in West Virginia, will likely strike unless lawmakers approve pay raises by April 2. Teachers in Arizona and Kentucky could follow close behind.
The groundswell of activism is an important reminder of what we can do when we make our voices heard, and how standing up for what’s right is our responsibility as mothers -- to our children, to our communities and to each other.
Here are a few of the courageous teachers -- and mothers -- behind West Virginia’s successful strike.
Name: Brooke Hartman (center)
Teaches: Second Grade
Children: Claire, 4; Colin, 22-months
“I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. I worked hard in college to finish my undergrad degree, and I spent the first two years of Claire’s life nursing her through live online graduate classes. It was important for me to fight for my profession because in the area I live in, most women enter the education or medical field. If my kids choose to go into the education field when they grow up, I want to make sure they are valued and know their job is important.”
Name: Brittaney Bailey Adkins
Teaches: Elementary Special Education
Children: Lily, 17; Dakota, 7; Qade, 20-months
“I spent my time during W.Va.’s work stoppage leading cheers to thousands of peaceful protestors and having sincere conversations with any and all who would listen. I pray that when my students, their families and my children look back on this experience, they are proud of me and the activism that took place around the state. I pray that my children will become responsible, active citizens that help change the world and bring back justice to our world. You can be the change you want to see in the world. Be persistent, be kind, and be aware of the injustice and stand up for what you believe in.”
Name: Robin Queen (with her two daughters)
Teaches: Long-term Special Education Substitute
Children: Kayla, 29; Taylor, 26; Casey, 23
“The PEIA issues do affect my family, not just immediate family, but my mother is retired and the changes in policy would be detrimental to her and so many others in my family that chose the education system as their career path. I felt it important to stand beside my daughters, teachers, bus drivers, cooks, and custodians to fight for what is right for all of us... The solidarity was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had. I'm proud to have been a part of this history-making event. I'm proud to have stood with my daughters. It was the right thing and I would gladly do it again.”