Teacher: We don't ask surgeons to buy their own scalpels

Teacher's photo leads to outpouring of support
Teacher's photo leads to outpouring of support

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Teacher's photo leads to outpouring of support 02:27

Lily Eskelsen García is a sixth-grade teacher, Utah Teacher of the Year, and president of the National Education Association. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)A shining sea of red, comprising public school teachers and education support professionals who are frustrated, agitated and fed up, is rising across the nation.

Lily Eskelsen García
Last week educators descended by the tens of thousands upon the state capitols in Colorado and Arizona, inspired by the recent walkouts in West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma.
Parents and students, along with community, religious and business leaders, are right beside them, demanding an end to the chronic neglect of public education in America. In fact, a majority of Americans support the walkouts and believe educators don't get paid enough, according to a recent AP/NORC poll.
    This school funding crisis has been a decade in the making, manufactured by irresponsible lawmakers, and we have reached the tipping point. This is the start of a national #RedForEd movement to demand the schools our students deserve.
    Armed with the unofficial national anthem of the #RedForEd movement, "We're not gonna take it," teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, guidance counselors, custodians and other public school educators will no longer stay silent as their students sit in crowded classrooms at broken desks with decades-old textbooks.
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    It's no coincidence these walkouts are happening where they are. For years, some Republican-controlled state legislatures have pushed punitive austerity policies that serve up huge tax breaks to the wealthy and big corporations while starving public schools and students of the things they need to support learning -- and that includes retaining experienced and properly trained educators.
    Educators in these states are so underpaid that many are also Uber drivers. Some rely on food pantries to feed their families. At least one Oklahoma teacher sells his blood plasma to make ends meet.
    There is no length that public school teachers won't go to help their students, and many routinely buy the paper, pencils, world maps and books that their students need, and even desks and chairs for their classrooms. We have the only job where you steal supplies from home and bring them to work.
    We don't ask sanitation workers to buy recycling bins. We don't ask surgeons to buy scalpels and sutures. It's time to stop asking teachers to make up for the funding gaps created by their state legislatures.
    Given these conditions, educators are right to be deeply concerned about the future of their profession -- and the learning opportunities provided to their students. This school year, to keep schools open, Oklahoma approved a record-breaking number of emergency certifications for teachers. These emergency certified teachers have not completed the state's requirements to teach our students, but they are in the classroom with our children anyway.
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    In Arizona, there are thousands of unfilled positions, and thousands more students are being taught by unqualified or uncertified individuals. Why is this taking place? Fewer potential teachers are considering the profession, while tens of thousands of teachers retire or leave the profession each year. Teachers can literally go into any other profession and get paid more. One teacher in Arizona says her daughter makes more per week babysitting.
    But pay is only one part of the equation. Think about your former teachers. Probably their names started with "Miss," "Ms.," or "Mrs." It's a fact that the education profession is dominated by women. So, here we stand, at the intersection of gender, politics and education, where we must acknowledge the lack of value placed on women and their work.
    This public conversation isn't only about equal pay, it's also about how we value (or don't) the professions dominated by women. We have teachers with advanced degrees in math, economics, physics and chemistry, who are preparing the next generation of American inventors and entrepreneurs in these very lucrative fields -- and they're waitressing to pay the rent. And while educators do not go into teaching to get rich, we do not want to see them selling blood.
    Public education is the backbone of the American dream. It's the promise that all students, no matter where they live, no matter how much money their parents earn, or who they are, can get a great education in America to live a happy, productive life.
    Teachers will not stand by and let that dream slip away. Not in West Virginia. Not in Oklahoma. Not in Colorado. Not in Arizona. Not in Kentucky. Not anywhere in these United States. We are leaders, fierce organizers, we are the union and we will never stop advocating for our students.
    If legislators don't learn the lessons that we are teaching them with the national #RedForEd movement, they may find themselves working part-time jobs to make ends meet after this November's election.