Recently, teachers across the state have been striking to work in better circumstances. Higher pay, better benefits, and overpopulation of students per class are just some of the reasons Oakland teachers are walking out and threatening to strike for their rights as educators. Cynthia Lopez, a first grade teacher at International Community Elementary School in Oakland, commented on why she supports the idea of the Oakland staff striking. “We are the lowest paid teachers in the Bay Area and we can not retain teachers,” Lopez said. Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is offering a five percent raise over three years for their teachers. However, the teachers want a pay raise of about 12 percent over three years. The average salary of an Oakland teacher is $10,000 lower than the average teacher in San Francisco. It is also around $16,000 lower than the average teacher’s salary in San Jose.
With the inflation of property prices in the Bay Area, it is extremely hard for teachers to live near where they work. “The prices of rent in Oakland are unachievable for Oakland teachers who, on average, get paid less than $50,000 a year,” said Lopez. The average salary of a teacher starting in OUSD is around $46,000. Franco Demarinis, a physics teacher at Oakland Technical High School spoke to how he feels the price of housing in Oakland affects teachers. “With the rapid economic growth of Oakland, the city has seen a great deal of inflation (above the national rate), and unfortunately teachers salaries have not kept up with this pace,” said Demarinis. “This essentially means that teachers are taking a pay cut each year as the dollar does not go as far as it did the previous year. This makes it incredibly difficult to afford living in the Bay Area on a teachers salary, and subsequently we lose teachers year after year because they simply cannot afford to stay in this line of work,” he continued.
Another issue is the number of students per class. Lopez has 28 students in her class, which is higher than teachers are trained and paid for. “I have 28 first graders in my class and don’t have a lot of support or interventions,” she said. The district is stuffing as many kids as possible in each class, and not equipping teachers with the money or resources to teach that number of students. Not only does the overpopulation of students affect the teachers, but it also affects the students and the attention and support being offered to them. “I feel smaller class sizes are also key to providing our students with a solid education,” said Demarinis.
“Currently class sizes in the sciences are capped at 31 students per period. This number is far above the ballpark of 24 students that has been advised by multiple studies in the educational field.” In such large classes, it’s nearly impossible for teachers to give the time and attention that every student deserves. “Not only will smaller class sizes allow teachers to better focus on each student, but it will also lower teacher burnout and in turn help with teacher retention,” she said.
Gabriela Fuentes, a teacher at Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley, explained that the same problems are happening in the Berkeley Unified School District. “Our teacher salary keeps us in a constant state of financial distress,” she said. Teachers in Berkeley walked out in solidarity with Oakland teachers on December 16, 2018. They have decided, as a unified front, to back up any decision Oakland teachers make. “We have been demanding that we get the resources we need for the work we do daily with all of our students,” Fuentes added.
Oakland teachers will continue to strike. The conditions they teach under are not supported by the limited resources they’re provided.