President of the Malden Education Association; Educator in the Malden schools
When our students arrive at school unable to effectively learn because they are too tired, hungry, and worried about where they’re going to live, that’s a problem.
When the educators who work with our most vulnerable students can’t afford to keep doing a job that they love for children who desperately need them, that’s a problem.
When class sizes and special education caseloads are so large that it’s impossible for educators to meet students’ individual needs, that’s a problem.
In Malden, where I’ve been an educator for 19 years, our union brought proposals around these important issues forward to the School Committee during bargaining sessions scheduled for our contract renewal.
After months of facing what we contend was almost complete silence at the bargaining table, Malden educators last October made the difficult decision to go on strike. This decision was made out of care and concern for our students and our community, and it should not have been an illegal activity.
Without the right to strike, the scales are tipped unfairly in management’s favor. Collective bargaining is the best process to achieve the schools educators and students deserve, especially as we confront educational inequities exposed during the pandemic.
In Malden, we knew our proposals could harness the power of our schools to address community issues impacting our students’ ability to succeed. In a district where more than 60 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, we believed our schools should play an active role in addressing housing insecurity.
We also felt we needed to stand up for our paraeducators. In too many districts, paraeducators are no longer able to do what they are passionate about and what our students need because the job doesn’t pay anywhere close to a living wage.
It wasn’t until the Malden Education Association went on strike that the School Committee began to truly engage in collective bargaining.
The strike led to a contract with language that begins to address housing insecurity for Malden students, better pay for paraeducators, and more appropriate special education caseloads. The one-day strike was inconvenient for families, but they understood why we were on the picket lines.
Denying our students the best possible learning conditions is worse than an inconvenience; it is a tragedy.
Toni Sapienza Donais
Haverhill School Committee member; former teacher and principal in Haverhill schools
I strongly believe teachers should not be permitted to strike. There is no wiggle room for discussion on this issue.
Students are always the most negatively impacted by any teacher strike. Students who have absolutely nothing to do with a labor dispute bear the biggest impact.
As a former public school teacher for 32 years and an administrator for eight years, I am well aware of the issues teachers face each and every day in the classroom, and realize that public school teachers earn less than those in other fields. This often leaves teachers feeling underpaid and undervalued.
A 2022 Gallup poll found K-12 workers have the highest burnout levels of all US industries, and teachers the highest rate among those school workers.
With that being said, the problems with underfunded public education should not and cannot be solved at the expense of our children. Our public school system is designed to provide academic achievement for our students. Academic achievement is not taking place when teachers are not in the classroom and are on the picket line.
Teacher strikes — we had one in Haverhill last October that lasted four days — leave parents scrambling for child care. The result is often parents missing work or worse yet, children being left unattended. Parents need to find alternative care for their children and most of the time this will come at a cost and becomes yet another financial burden.
It is not hard to understand that when teachers strike it causes a complete breakdown of our education system. The fundamental right of an education is taken away from our children. The Washington Post in 2012 cited studies that found teacher strikes hurt student achievement.
Knowing that strikes can lower student test scores, it can be inferred that a teacher strike — particularly if prolonged — could affect our students’ lives for years into the future.
Teacher strikes should not be carried on the backs of our students. Teacher unions and school boards need to seek ways to solve tough issues together. Teacher unions as well as school boards need to be trained in labor negotiation strategies in order to achieve an atmosphere where both sides are heard, and to eliminate the combative and destructive atmosphere a strike often creates.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.