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These are a few more thoughts about why we defended teachers in their historic strike. We heard from our union that it was not primarily about them but about the students and the quality of the education teachers are able to deliver. We may have even heard that the amount of the raise they were demanding was less that they needed to keep up with the cost of living, but they were asking for less because some of their other demands, like lower class sizes, would cost more, and that was more important. You might have even heard that early on, the district offered them a good raise, hoping they wouldn’t have to concede on lowering class size, adding nurses and counselors, and the like. But the teachers refused to be bought off, because this was all about the students.

Let Teachers Live

But it was also about the teachers.

I remember decades ago, while visiting a woman friend on my winter vacation, she and her guy were teasing, playing, roughhousing, laughing. I remember my first thoughts were of, “How come they have time to play? They’re not on vacation.”

Then it occurred to me; they’re not teachers. If I had a job in a printshop, worked as a handyman, or did any other “normal” job, I would be putting in a certain number of hours at work, and then – instead of reading and responding to thirty essays, correcting thirty papers, studying the next textbook lessons, and writing lesson plans – I would come home to spend whatever hours I had left playing, talking with friends, writing screenplays, sleeping...Whatever!

So let me talk with you about Peggy. Peggy was my best co-working friend. She was raising two teenage children as a single mother while teaching at the same elementary school in Watts.

A co-worker and I were talking about how heavy was the load that the administrators kept piling new tasks onto. “Well, at least we’re not dying,”

One day after our aerobics class that she had gotten me in to taking with her, she told me she was going to have to take an evening job at the post office she had worked in before teaching. I asked, “Peggy, how can you do that?”

She said, “Carolfrances, I have no choice.”

Later, after she had mostly dropped out of the aerobics class, she told me that she was having to quit her night job. I asked, “How can you do that?”

I’ll never forget her exact words in response, “Carolfrances, I have no choice.”

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A few years later, after we both split up to go to other schools in the area, I received word that Peggy was dead. Heart attack.

She wasn’t my first co-worker to go out that way. Two other dedicated teachers from our school had died of illnesses the doctors attributed, at least in part, to stress, but they were older. Peggy was in her forties.

A few decades later, a co-worker and I were talking about how heavy was the load that the administrators kept piling new tasks onto. “Well, at least we’re not dying,” I said, mentioning my experiences from my other school.

A few days later I came to school and was approached by a coworker with the news: another young teacher, also a single mother, had been hospitalized over the weekend with a heart attack.

Yes, as I read these words that I write, I feel tears of rage and frustration pouring down my face, as they always do when I think of Peggy. I carried her with me as I walked picket lines in the rain for our teachers of today.

So they don’t have to give their lives for their students.

It always reminds me of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s song, penned by their Y.M. Barnwell, “More than a Paycheck”:

With every job there is a fear that disease will take its toll.
If not disease, then injury may befall your lot.
If not injury, then stress is going to tie you up in knots.
We bring more than a paycheck to our loved ones and family...
Me, I don’t want no more.
And if you don’t want no more,
Just say out loud, ‘No more.’ ”
Say it, sisters and brothers – really out loud – “No more!”

carolfrances likins

Carolfrances Likins
UTLA Member and Retired Teacher