Former B-A teacher takes part in Arizona walkout


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More than 20,000 teachers participated in the Arizona teacher’s walkout.

Julie Bauer, Staff Writer

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. This week, teachers can get discounts on food and groceries from various places of business around the country participating in the national event.

However, as one-time Bellwood-Antis student teacher Ms. Emma Farrell knows best, teachers don’t always get the funding they need.

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Former B-A student teacher Emma Farrell took part in the Arizona teachers walkout that helped earn a 20% increase in pay for the educators.

Ms. Farrell taught English under the guidance of Mr. Kerry Naylor during the 2013-2014 school year. Since then, she has moved to Arizona to teach English at Peoria Unified School District. Although Ms. Farrell enjoys Arizona, she would be the first to say that the state is in serious need of education reform. That’s why she participated in the #RedForEd teacher walkout.

From April 6th to May 3rd, 2018, teachers, students, parents, and other supporters marched on the Arizona state capitol to protest low pay and cuts to school funding. It’s no wonder that the teachers think it is time for a change. On average, teachers in Arizona make about $11,500 less per year than the national average salary for teachers. Funding for education in Arizona is nearly 14% lower than it was in 2008.

The walkout ended last week with teachers receiving a 20% raise to be administered by 2020.

Like many of the teachers in Arizona, Ms. Farrell knows the need for funding firsthand.

“Classrooms have been set up in ‘temporary portables’ that have been there for decades. Desks are broken, and books are held together by duct tape. I don’t have a pencil sharpener or a clock in my classroom,” she said.

Mr. Naylor said he remembers Ms. Farrell’s time at B-A fondly and they still keep in touch. When she told him about the strike, he said he remembered a specific conversation they had in 2013.

“We were having our own labor issues at Bellwood then, we didn’t have a contract, and we thought we were in need of better working conditions,” said Mr. Naylor. “It was nothing to the extent of what’s going on in Arizona, but it was an issue. Emma has always been an idealist and an optimist and during student teaching that shined through. I remember telling her about our labor problems and saying all of the things you do in front of the class are what you dream about, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes, and it can be a dirty business. Unfortunately she is seeing that first-hand now in Arizona.”

The walkout was organized by the Arizona Educators United. Among the teachers’ demands were a 20% pay increase, an increase in funding to meet pre-recession levels, and smaller class sizes.

For Mrs. Farrell, though, it’s about much more than money in her wallet.

“I care most about school funding,” said Ms. Farrell. “A raise will be nice, but the lack of funding in Arizona public schools is truly appalling. We are at the bottom of the barrel.”

Everything ended last Thursday when the governor of Arizona agreed to increase salaries for teachers. The teachers returned to work, schools reopened, and the 840,000 students who were affected by the walkout continued their education as normal. After six exhausting days in Phoenix, Ms. Farrell is glad to be back in the classroom.

A raise will be nice, but the lack of funding in Arizona public schools is truly appalling. We are at the bottom of the barrel.

— Emma Farrell

“The biggest challenge [of walking out] was overcoming the emotional obstacles that came along with this walkout,” she said. “It was very difficult to be away from my students for an indefinite amount of time.”

In fact, some parents and community members have raised concerns about keeping students out of school for almost a full week. Many teachers would agree that advocacy for better funding would benefit the students in the long run, however.

“Teachers and supporters are finally putting their foot down and refusing to put up with these conditions any longer. We went to the capitol to demand better conditions for both students and teachers,” said Ms. Farrell.

There are still many aspects of Arizonian education that still need improved on.

“The next step is to keep fighting for the rest of our demands that were not met. We are still fighting for smaller class sizes, additional resources for students, and for raises for school counselors and other support staff,” said Ms. Farrell.

After so many long years of hardship, Arizonian teachers have a better future in education to look forward to.

“While the walkout did lead to a larger school budget and an increase in teacher salary, the most important thing that it accomplished was raising awareness of how far behind Arizona has been with public education…We have created a very powerful movement that is not slowing down any time soon,” Ms. Farrel reflected.