ARTICLE

Why I’m Participating in the L.A. Teachers’ Strike

We caught up with Amanda Tooley, a fifth-grade teacher in the country’s second-largest school district, to find out why she’s striking and what she hopes for her students and community.
Photography by The Washington Post/Getty Images

Amanda Tooley, a fifth-grade teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and a member of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), has students at the forefront of her mind as she joins her colleagues for a strike that began January 14. After marching on Monday, she took some time to share with us what she hopes this strike will accomplish for teachers, their communities and, most importantly, their students.

 

Why are you striking? What are the demands of teachers as you understand them?  

The demands are issues we’ve been addressing to the district since April 2017. Our union, UTLA, has negotiated and tried to meet LAUSD at the table. Unfortunately, they haven’t given us a fair deal or met what we are asking for. They’ve given us pieces of what we are asking for but never focused on what is best for the students. 

You’ll notice a lot of our demands are student-focused, so here is a brief list: 

  1. We are striking for smaller class sizes where they can have their learning needs met. Most classes in LAUSD are overcrowded. They go over the class sizes for K-3 and upper grades. We can’t teach effectively with overcrowded classrooms. 
  2. We are striking for nurses and librarians in every school every day, not just one or two days a week. We need nurses for health needs and safety, and we need librarians to promote a love of literature at our schools. 
  3. We are striking because our kids need less testing! In LAUSD, [they] are given 15-18 standardized tests. This takes away from instruction and bends instruction to the test rather than the students. 
  4. We are striking because our public education is being threatened. Charter schools are being let in, and our public schools are being pushed aside. Although there are some amazing charter schools, they are being used to privatize our district. If this happens, our schools will become places of business rather than education, further school segregation will happen and there will be less focus on effective teaching. 
  5. [We are striking for] more counselors, aides, resource teachers and therapists for the district. We have a lack of counselors and those that we do have [carry excessive] caseloads. They are unable to keep up! It affects our students’ well-being and stresses our teachers, who are trying to help their students but do not have the training or time to adequately meet each child’s needs. With more aides, counselors and therapists, every child’s need can be met! 
  6. Lastly, we are striking for better pay. The high living cost in L.A. has taken a toll on teachers’ daily lives. We need an increase in pay so that we can have a livable wage in L.A.

To learn more about the issues these teachers are fighting for, visit We Are Public Schools.

If the strike is successful, what changes do you anticipate for students?

A lot of our students are underserved, and teachers lack resources. Students are unable to achieve success a lot of times in our schools because they lack resources, aides, therapists and counselors. We are fighting to change that. We want each child to find success at their community school. We want students to not be dismissed because of their “learning abilities.” By striking, we are hoping to begin that change in our schools. 

 

What has it been like participating in this strike? 

There have been so many emotions! Excitement because you are a part of something bigger than you. You are fighting for your students and for the future of education. You are fighting to change a system that is rooted in racist tendencies and money. There is a fear because we aren’t getting paid. It is stressful, too, because I want to be teaching. My students are not getting an education right now. However, I know that what we are fighting for is for their future, as well as teachers’. 

 

What do you hope your students learn from your activism? What do you hope the communities of Los Angeles learn from teachers’ activism as a whole?

We have been talking about activism, being an ally and movements in class. I want them to see it as an example and that they, too, can participate in it. I want them to understand that a group of people can work together for change, and sometimes it won’t happen right away. I hope the communities see how we need to invest and support public education as a whole. I hope they see that our schools are worth being supported and worth fighting for. 

 

How has student voice informed what you want from LAUSD? How are your students present in your choice to participate?

Student voice has been powerful! They have spoken out and stood with teachers. They were at our rallies and have met before the board. They have brought up what they see and what they need to succeed. With my students, they are fifth-graders. We had discussions surrounding other movements, discussed power and discussed unions. 

We used some things from Teaching Tolerance specifically: what an ally is and Cesar Chavez and the farmers’ rights movement. We discussed current movements we have seen, too, like LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter. 

I really tried to lay a foundation with the students and help them understand. I then held a community circle where we discussed the strike, and they could ask me any question they’d like. We learned a lot, and I was able to be open and honest with them. 

 

The negotiations with LAUSD have been drawn out and tough. What gives you hope? 

What gives me hope is really the support from teachers across this nation and support from the community. They show they care and want to amplify our voice in education. The teacher Instagram community has been amazing. And, really, the words of the parents. Many of my parents have let me know they stand with us. It’s been amazing!

 

What message do you have for teachers across the country who are facing similar choices to join strikes or stand in solidarity with organizers negotiating on their behalf? 

I would say stay informed and stay politically active. It’s important to know what’s going on in your community and your cities. Reach out to parents and the community! They are your biggest support. We could not do this without our communities that surround us. If your district is struggling, start asking what you can do. Start talking to people outside of the teachers and district. You will find support there! 

 

Is there anything else you’d like your fellow educators to know?

First, thank you for all your support and standing in solidarity with us. Please keep wearing red and supporting us through the strike. Second, know that we are fighting for so much, and this is not going to solve it all, but it is a start. Our schools are segregated and are policed. We have schools falling apart in terms of infrastructure. This is a step toward rectifying these issues, though. This is a step toward improving our school and our students’ education through LAUSD. 

Editor's note: Opinions expressed in this article are Tooley's and do not reflect the official position of SPLC or UTLA.