Nov 1, 2023, Labor Notes: First-Ever Strike for Portland Teachers Tackles Student Needs https://labornotes.org/2023/11/first-ever-strike-portland-teachers-tackles-student-needs
The Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) walked out on strike today, closing 81 schools.
The 4,500-member union is demanding more counselors, more planning time for teachers, more support for special education students, smaller class sizes, and increased salaries and cost-of-living adjustments.
The union’s demands “are a paradigm shift for the state of Oregon,” said ninth grade teacher Sarah Mykkanen. “We aren’t just reacting to something negative, we are demanding a whole new view of what schools do, of how schools give students what they need.”
The union represents classroom teachers in the Portland Public Schools. While the district’s teachers have authorized strikes in the past, they’ve never walked out, though they’ve worked for as long as two years without a contract. Members I spoke to say they’d felt demoralized and defeated.
But that shifted when they returned from the pandemic.
Like many districts across the country, since Covid Portland has seen an increase in the number of students who are disruptive, suicidal, or have multiple emotional needs. While teachers struggled to attend to these students, the district pressured them to focus on academics. ”It was academics, academics, academics,” said Mykkanen. “Four new canned curriculums. Go. Go. Go. Just like a steam engine.”
“[We] reached a point where we realized, I cannot meet the needs of students alone,” said tenth grade chemistry teacher Chris Schweizer. “The only way we can meet the students’ needs is to act collectively.”…
The union also organized meetings for special education teachers and early childhood educators as their particular concerns could otherwise get lost in union planning. Building representatives were taught how to file grievances, and encouraged to file them rather than wait for union staff to do it….
Portland Teachers marched on Saturday. They walked out of 81 schools on Monday. Photo: PAT.