School of Thought: LA’s teachers deserve more — in both respect and wages

In many ways, education is the bedrock of society. Our most praised authors and most talented engineers have gotten where they are largely because they had teachers who taught them the skills and values they practice on a daily basis.

We champion our best scientists for medical breakthroughs and fancy new inventions, but we rarely think about the mentors that led them to those breakthroughs by teaching them essentials  that built the foundation of the rest of their life’s work — from reading and writing to critical thinking skills.

They play such an essential role in making our society function, yet they are often paid poorly and not taken seriously by administrators. The United States is currently facing a nationwide teacher shortage because of poor working conditions that make them feel unable to effectively teach their students.

For the past couple of months, tension has been building between the Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles because of these issues. The teachers’ demands are very basic.

According to the Los Angeles Times, they want to limit class sizes (California currently ranks 48th in teacher-student ratio), hire full-time librarians and nurses, cap the student-to-counselor ratio at 500:1 and receive 6.5 percent pay increase, among other proposals.

It’s surprising that most of these proposals aren’t already school policies — it is very difficult for students to learn in environments where they can’t access librarians, can’t go to a nurse if they’re hurt and can’t talk to counselors about their classes. Large class sizes often prevent students from accessing their teachers, too, and make it harder for teachers to effectively do their jobs.

The pay increase they are demanding isn’t even a large one — the 2017 average teacher salary was $75,350, according to the Los Angeles Times, and a 6.5 percent increase would bring that to about $80,250. Underpaying teachers perpetuates some of the problems that constantly plague public education — teacher shortages, low staff retention rates and underqualified teachers. Students cannot be expected to succeed if their teachers are not given fair compensation.

On top of that, just last year, the members of the L.A. Board of Education, whose pay is determined by a LAUSD committee, received a 174 percent pay increase. Board members now earn $125,000 per year.

Teachers shouldn’t have to fight this hard to fulfill their basic needs. The LAUSD says the demands are unreasonable, leading UTLA to vote to authorize a strike. This doesn’t mean teachers will definitely strike, but union leaders can call for a strike at any time without calling their members to another vote.

The vote is mainly a pressure tactic, but if the district and UTLA still fail to reach a decision, a strike is a real possibility. And strikes are highly effective — earlier this year, thousands of teachers went on strike in West Virginia, Oklahoma and other states as part of the #RedforEd campaign. Their demands, including pay raises, were ultimately met.

But we should avoid a strike in L.A., because it doesn’t just pressure the district into meeting demands — it also means students lose one or more days of instruction, so hopefully the strike authorization is enough to make LAUSD negotiate a fairer contract.

At the same time, however, the problem isn’t entirely LAUSD’s fault. According to Education Week’s Quality Counts, California ranks 46th in per-pupil spending in the nation, despite being the richest state. Funding for education is funding for the future of the state and nation; if the population is not investing in its students, it can’t expect to produce future generations of creative thinkers and meticulous researchers that will drive innovation and progress.

I’ve never understood why teachers aren’t as highly appreciated as the hundreds of bright young minds they shape every day of their careers. I think we should revere our teachers and provide them the resources and environment they need to be successful — not create untenable teaching conditions that are causing teachers across the nation to strike.

Karan Nevatia is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also a multimedia editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “School of Thought,” runs every other Thursday.