While the big news in teacher strikes has been state-wide walkouts, elsewhere in the world, teachers are also dealing with strikes the old fashioned way-- one district at a time.
In fact, right now in my little corner of the world, two local unions are looking at teacher strikes-- one in the fall, and one tomorrow (I will note in the spirit of full disclosure that one of these school districts is the one where my wife works).
I've been through two strikes in my career (one as a new hire, and one as local president). It may seem as if there are many reasons that strikes happen, but there really aren't.
Okay, I take it back. There is one other "or else"-- teachers can decide to stop working for you at all. The nationwide teacher shortage is simply a slow motion teacher walkout.
If you say to your staff, "We want to be the school district of last resort, so that you can work only with people who couldn't find any job anywhere else," you are being a dope. Nobody wants that.
The most important thing to understand about a teacher strike is that no teacher wants to strike. Not one. Not ever. Teachers do not suddenly decide they'd like to strike because a couple of rabble-rousers stirred them up. If your teachers are talking strike, it is because you have backed them into a corner. You have convinced them they have no other options short of quitting permanently.
If you're a school board looking at a strike-- well, you made this. You treated them like dopes who couldn't figure out that a $100 salary bump minus a $200 increase in insurance payments isn't actually a raise (or some similar mathematical baloney).You have convinced them that you are not interested in bargaining in good faith. You have convinced them that you view the contract as a battle to be won instead of a problem to be solved together. You have convinced them that they can't trust you to put the interests of education first. You may even have convinced them that you do not respect or value them.
Schools boards can send messages. In my strike, years ago, the board opened negotiations with "stripping," a move in which the board "offers" to strip dozens of items from the contract-- things they didn't remotely care about, but took as a bargaining position so that they could claim they were "giving something up" when they agreed to only take teachers' arms instead of teachers' arms and legs. Last night, one board, knowing that the full contingent of teachers were coming to the meeting, moved the meeting to a larger venue, then moved it back to the classroom-sized location so that folks would have to squeeze in and sit on the floor and wait in the hall. This is what is technically known as "a dick move." And it send s a message-- We have the power and you don't. This is our space and you're not welcome.
There are plenty of other delightful things you can expect if you are a teacher on strike.
Fellow teachers who want to hide. "I don't want to wear the union t-shirt. I don't want to wear the color we picked out for that day. I don't want to walk on the picket line. I believe in what we're doing and I want to see this contract settled but couldn't I just stay home and watch Great British Baking and let someone else take care of all the hard stuff?" I get it. It's scary to actually stand up publicly for something when some people disagree with you. But as with all sorts of negotiations, the principle is very simple. You want A. That's nice-- but how badly do you want it? How much difficulty and inconvenience are you willing to suffer to get it. If the answer I "Now very much," then you aren't going to get it.
Fellow teachers who are conflict averse. My union had several members who were just sure that it was all a big misunderstanding and if we could just explain to the board and the public, it would be okay, so let's just do that. As the strike becomes more real, some teachers will decide that maybe a 0.12% raise isn't that bad. This is normal and understandable and not unusual-- Patrick Henry's whole speech is about responding to the colonials who wanted to try anything else except revolution, and his whole point was that everything else had been tried and had failed.
The race to the bottom. People working in convenience stores make minimum wage and have no benefits. Why should teachers do any better? This would be an excellent argument if schools were competing with Wal-mart for personnel, but they aren't. Good teachers want to work side by side with good teachers. Good teachers want to feel that the school they're investing in is going to have a future. You don't recruit and retain the best by offering the worst; striking teachers are often depicted as greedy and selfish, but strikes are always in part about the teachers of the future-- will any of them want to work here.
Some people just don't like teachers. It not worth wondering why. Some people hate teachers like I hate bats in my house. They will tell you how the union is responsible for everything bad in the world, how teachers are overpaid slobs who think they're so special just because they went to teacher school, how teachers are just glorified babysitters who work two hour days three months a year. Uppity teachers on strike make these people really angry, and they will find all sorts of ways to tell you about it. Warning: do not read the comments to articles about the strike on social media. I'll bet someone will be along to the comments here to explain how I have it all backwards and teachers are just evil greedy terrorists.
The hostage children. This one always comes up. Teachers are just holding children hostage so they can make more money. Of course, saying that is just a way to hold children hostage so that teachers will accept being compensated poorly.
You will have your heart broken. The single most difficult part of being the president of a striking union was the number of people, including friends, neighbors, family, former students, who made it a point to make sure I understood just how little they value the work 've devoted my entire adult life to. Plus the people who indicate that same disregard without even realizing it ("Well, I mean, geeze-- you're only a teacher."). And all of this including families for whom I'd gone an extra mile, or who had made it a point to be friendly to my while Chris and Pat were in my class. As a teacher, you know somewhere in the back of your mind, that an awful large sector of our society does not value education or teachers or any of the rest of the work, but it's one thing to know you're standing on a tightrope and another thing to stare straight down into the abyss.
All that, and more. Did I mention that no teachers actually want to go on strike?
It's not hard to avert a strike. In fact, while I was typing this, word arrived that the school board facing a strike tomorrow has postponed that strike for the moment by reversing their previous position and agreeing to meet with an arbitrator. See? Was that so hard?
I'll let you know how things go.