For the first time ever, Portland’s 4,300 teachers are on strike and closed down schools beginning on Nov. 1. They are demanding smaller class size — meaning more individualized attention to students — cost-of-living adjustments, and safe, healthy classroom and building conditions for over 40,000 students and educators.Teachers say the Portland Public Schools’ (PPS) recent offer is below what the state’s Quality Education Model estimates it would take to run highly effective schools. The state of Oregon has never achieved QEM funding levels.
Picketing teachers meet daily at most Portland schools and march through the streets and thoroughfares. It’s hard to drive anywhere through Portland without seeing teachers, students and parents in the streets with protest placards receiving honks of support from passing cars.
Kenny, the strike captain at John Jacob Astor school, told Workers World that teachers are getting full union support and participation is escalating: “I love all the support and knowing that basically all Oregonians are with us which is unique for Oregon.”
Erick Chong, a 6th through 8th grade Spanish teacher, said he was emotional seeing teachers striking together, not just for the pay, but because they love being educators: “I was moved to tears when I looked out at the sea of teachers with all the collective hope. We were there supporting kids and asking for improvements for children. It’s absurd that they are stalling on funding environmental safety for our classrooms for things like heat and air conditioning.”
Kenny led a sharing circle asking teachers to relay what has inspired them about the strike. Many teachers mentioned the motivation of spending time with teachers they are getting to know at their own school, district and all the other schools in the city.
Jonathan, Astor’s music teacher, said he loved that all the other talented music teachers in Portland started a marching band, playing at all the rallies and pickets.
Teachers were impressed with all the community and national involvement in their strike, referring to an article in the New York Times about the PPS strike.
A social studies teacher said she was awed by the lessons this strike is providing for her students in social justice, collective bargaining and democracy. She is struck by their enthusiasm and fist bumps after some of the chants.
Kenny said teachers are excited that students are leading chants and helping with the pickets, and by the example teachers are giving their students. This gives them a quick understanding of the power they will one day have as workers in our economy.
Lyn Neeley taught high school biology in New York City public schools from 1996-2016