Written by Alan Garcia
Students have long been supported and nurtured by their teachers; teachers always seek the best for for their kids. However, recently the roles have reversed and students emerged as the ones to support their teachers. On Monday January 14, 2019 teachers from all throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) stepped outside of their classroom and took to the streets to participate in a city wide strike. Teachers who participated in the strike made their goals crystal clear. They demanded that all classes have a cap to make classes smaller; in addition they demanded that all schools receive a full time nurse and full time librarian, even pleading for more counselors so there will be a more manageable ratio of 250 students to every counselor instead of having nearly an entire grade level assigned to a single counselor. Ultimately, the strike did end a week after it initially began with the teachers coming to a settlement with the LAUSD and many of their demands being met.
But now why does this matter? Well all the attention has been on the teachers, people questioning teachers asking “Do you really care about your students if you are not in the classroom?” and making statements such as “they’re only striking for money” seeming to belittle them. Yet something that people are not focusing on is the students themselves. While the choice the teachers made to strike was ultimately to benefit the students, did the students make choices during that time period to help the teachers? Did they choose to stay home? Did they go to school?
Well evidently the district reported that out of all the students in LAUSD only about 144,000 attended school on the first day of the strike, with attendance continually plummeting. Things only got worse on Wednesday when attendance sank once more. So, it is clear that students did not want to attend school for one reason or another but it was not like many of them were out striking with the teachers. For many they were out and about: going to a friend’s house, perhaps going to the mall, maybe even just staying home. The question I hope to have some answers to centers on why students chose to stay home instead of going to strike, or even going to school. I sat down with two students who for certain reasons wish to remain anonymous and asked them a few questions about their experience in this time frame.
Alan: First and foremost, did you attend school at any point throughout the time of the strike?
Student 1: Um-well I came on the first day but like once I saw everybody that didn’t show up I thought that it would be better if I just stayed home, besides, like we didn’t really do anything. (Side note: the administration did have learning activities planned each and every day.)
Alan : When you heard the strike was going to happen what were your initial thoughts?
Student 1: I thought it was whatever at first, like to be honest I thought it was going to be over after like the second day.
Alan: Putting yourself in the shoes of the teachers can you understand why they opted to strike?
Student 1: I mean obviously as teacher you’d want the best for your kids but like I’m basically risking a lot in order to gain something and I don’t know if I’d risk that much.
This second interview comes from a student that while they didn’t go to school they attended the strike and helped protest alongside teachers.
Alan: If you were a teacher would you have chosen to strike?
Student 1: Yeah. Definitely.
Alan: Then what prevented you from striking? Because obviously you weren’t in school or anything.
Student 1: Honestly, I don’t know- I was just like lazy, and didn’t want to do anything.
Alan: Do you believe that you helped your teachers in any way, shape or form by not doing anything?
Student 1: Looking at it now like I didn’t do anything productive and it kind of sucks that the purpose of this strike was to help us but we didn’t do anything to show that we supported them.
When compared with student 1’s responses student 2 had a very different experience in the strike, this is what they had to say.
Alan: So I do know that you went to school for the first two days and yet on the third you didn’t go to school but instead went to strike in LA with the teachers, what was that experience like?
Student 2: It was a little overwhelming being surrounded by all these people but like knowing that we were all there for the same reasons was something that made it really empowering.
Alan: Why did you make the choice to go strike, instead of just going to school?
Student 2: I think that I just wanted to support my teachers because although school was boring I didn’t want stay at home and do nothing so I chose to strike.
Alan: Being out on strike with the teachers, what kind of emotions did you feel as a student?
Student 2: I felt sort of proud that i could walk alongside with them and see them being activist for change which is something that they really do push here and it was nice to see it being demonstrated outside of the classroom.
Alan: Now looking at the strike from the teachers view what difference would being out there make?
Student 2: Well it makes a huge difference; I mean teachers were in the rain right on the first day and for what? For us, they didn’t have to go on strike it was a choice that they made so they could help us and in the end they get a raise but looking at it the students benefited more than them.
Alan: Do you think that the teachers appreciated you more by coming out to strike rather than going to school?
Student 2: Definitely! Our teachers always say that we should be the ones to advocate for social change and stand up for ourselves. This strike wasn’t for them, it was for us, and I feel that more students should have come out.
We don’t exactly know how many students went on strike alongside the teachers and we can’t directly claim that those that were absent just stayed home; however, I can say that student involvement could’ve been a big support in the strike. With teachers and students both standing side by side the court ruling might have happened a lot quicker. The students did were the main focus of the strike yet there was rarely any participation from their part. The kids will not always have someone to stand up for them so sooner or later they must learn to be the change they seek. I believe that they should at the very least look at this as an example and use it as a model for future events.