As I stood in the library, looking around the room as strike preparations were being discussed, I took note of the faces. None of them were in the room the last time strike preparations were being discussed. Not that it has been forever and an age since strike preparations were being discussed. In the decades that I have spent in Oakland as a teacher, I have rarely worked with a valid and ratified contract. Those of us who teach here have worked on extensions and promises based on never fully settling the last one before the new one comes due. Perhaps as a result of this instability, the Oakland Unified School District has a problem with teacher retention.
I recognize this each time I attend one of those district wide trainings or gatherings of educators. It used to be easy to look into the crowd and catch the eye of colleagues from credential programs or substitute gigs that have become permanent placements. Now, as a veteran, I find that those encounters are fewer and farther between. My twenty-plus years of experience tend to elicit "wows" or murmurs of curiosity. At my school site I am in a league with our esteemed cafeteria supervisor for longevity. By an interesting coincidence, I count among our staff one of the people I knew in my credentialing program as a contemporary. I have him by a few years since I have been at the same site this whole time. He served elsewhere before landing his current slot just down the stairs from me.
So I can say that in our case, Oakland retains teachers. The gentleman who works down the hall from my credential buddy has been with our school for fifteen years. And from there, the tenure drops off considerably.
It's a hard job, that's for sure, and most civilians won't argue that the pay is not great. Making the slow uphill climb to a comfortable wage takes patience and sacrifice. A lot of fresh faces come through our doors and leave before they make it to that plateau. A single income in the Bay Area won't buy you a house. Not if that income is a school teacher's salary. So you can live in that studio apartment and save your nickels and dimes and work an extra job while the dysfunctional funding of the district forces you to purchase supplies for your students - or you can set out in search for greener pastures.
Money is green, get it ?
I wish that I could state categorically that this looming strike is all about the kids and we're doing it for the students and the truth is this: If we don't keep well-trained, committed teachers on the job, the students suffer regardless of class size and school closures. I don't want to look around our library again in a year at a new bunch of faces that are surprised to learn that "being good with kids" isn't enough. Knowing that your experience and enthusiasm is valued and will continue to be rewarded is what makes this engine run. I am striking to keep that room filled with people I know.