Teachers in the Twin Cities voted early this morning to go on strike. Their demands include better wages, better student mental health support, and smaller class sizes. Left Voice interviewed 16-year-old Isaac Stets who is a sophomore at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis and is in support of the Minneapolis and Saint Paul teachers’ decision to strike.
What are the current conditions in your school, especially in the context of the pandemic?
Throughout all of the pandemic, classes were completely online, except for a quarter of last year. Lots of students were struggling academically, which is why they opened up the school at the end of 2021. It was an OK transition. I know I was glad to go back and be able to be with everyone again.
Why do you think that some were students struggling?
We live in a big city and some kids don’t have the resources they need to succeed [academically] at home or they are not in a safe environment. School was a necessary place for them, where they could get away from their home life, so [in-person] classes were necessary. And the motivation is better with in-person learning since you are actually talking to your teacher versus it being assigned to you over the internet.
How do you feel about the strike? Why are you supporting the teachers?
I definitely consider myself in full support of the strike. I think the demands that the teachers in Minnesota Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Professionals (MFT 59) have put forward are straightforward and should have come a lot sooner. Ed Graff (Superintendent of Minneapolis Schools) sent an email and is putting out these vague consequences of what will happen if teachers strike and I think it’s really misleading. [The email warned of classes being canceled, making up missed days to meet state and graduation requirements, delaying graduation of students and possibly extending the school year into the summer.]
I think one of the reasons why I am supporting the strike is the wages for the Educational Support Professionals. They have been paid so low for so long. Wages for them should be a huge priority. They are barely getting paid to live. In addition, the teachers are demanding better Covid precautions. The resources they have provided us [for protection against Covid] have not been adequate. They are talking about better mental health resources for students and teachers.
A lot of the mental health support now is the same as before, except for some inspirational messages that don’t mean a lot. There is not enough educational support for students who can’t get school work done as easily as they could before the pandemic. A lot of the expectations are still the same. Everything is crazy right now and it’s hard to carry on like before. There are unrealistic expectations regarding how the school needs to be operating.
What would you say to people who claim that a teachers’ strike would hurt the students?
I think they are not taking into account why teachers are going on strike. We will be able to get better education and learn effectively if the teachers get their demands met. Teachers and Educational Support Professionals often have to work two jobs. They will be able to dedicate more time to teaching. By striking, the teachers are trying to improve educational standards.
What are other students saying about all of this?
I have not come across any negative sentiments from people I have talked to. No one I know has talked badly about the strike. The only bad things are coming from district officials. I have some teachers that are very pro-union and we talk a lot about it, but there is not a lot of dialogue in the media. There is obviously discussion within progressive spaces on social media. I think there should be more discussion that is accessible to students. We should have resources to learn about teachers’ strikes in the school media that are distributed to students. In our advisories there are school bulletins and I have not seen anything about strikes and that would be a great way to get the message out.
Do you feel that the Black Lives Matter movement, the George Floyd Uprising and subsequent protests have had an impact on struggles like the teachers’ strike?
I definitely think so. Because of all that, there is a greater social consciousness. More people are willing to call others out and force them to take accountability for their actions. It has become more mainstream, both to our detriment and our benefit. To our detriment because when things become mainstream they tend to become more moderate and get co-opted. But it’s still definitely beneficial to have that message out there.
What is the kind of public education system that you would like to see?
An ideal public education system would not be focused on making the most productive workers possible and dehumanizing them. Success should not mean how much you can contribute to the ruling class but what you can achieve for yourself and your fellow workers.
What is your message to other students who are thinking about the teachers’ strike?
Do your research. Listen to actual union members. Do your best to combat misinformation about the strike and support any teacher who chooses to go on strike.