I thought about just writing to politicians, but frankly, this is too important to leave for political gamesmanship. I’m writing to Iowans sounding an alarm. I’m writing as a public service so we all can avoid what is coming.
It’s a storm warning.
Teachers are patient. Walk by any classroom, and you’ll hear “Let’s try it again.” But patience is wearing thin. They look at shrinking paychecks because of insurance spikes. They see weekends and nights full of work. They see overcrowded, underfunded classrooms, and they hear politicians using them for political fodder. All this is against a backdrop of little or no voice through collective bargaining.
In 1974, Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code was passed as a compromise with public sector workers. It was bipartisan and a Republican governor signed it. It allowed collective bargaining, and in exchange for the new law, public workers were not allowed to strike.
That covenant was shattered in 2017, when public sector collective bargaining was destroyed. Unfortunately, the prohibition against strikes was maintained while the remainder of the law was gutted.
Teacher patience is running out. The consequences are threefold.
First, Iowa teachers, who are mobile and able, will escape to greener pastures in Minnesota, where bargaining is alive and well. Secondly, those of a certain age will walk away into retirement hoping they can afford the insurance nightmare. Both will cause a huge teacher shortage. Finally, for those who can’t take either option, I predict a time where despairing teachers will make a decisive hand gesture to the law and make their case using their feet to walk out.
This may be the only way they feel able to protect Iowa’s public schools. It may be a “Hail Mary.” It may be dangerous. We may not see this tomorrow, but storm clouds are gathering. This is the future.
I understand it’s not “Iowa Nice,” but that went out the door when former Gov. Terry Branstad and his allies threw it away by cynically seeking revenge on public sector unions by destroying collective bargaining.
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So how do we avoid Iowa teachers taking one of three ways to walk? Here are some of the teacher needs that will keep them from voting with their feet:
l Teachers need more time. They need more time during the day to prepare, strategize with colleagues, and evaluate students. Those five to 12 shows a day called lessons don’t just materialize out of thin air.
l Teachers need supplies and a reasonable place to teach. Because the Legislature has increased funding well under the cost of living, schools do not have the resources to provide fundamental supplies.
l Class size matters. Every time a school administrator tries to run the con that reducing teachers and adding to class size doesn’t affect your child’s education, they are doing what politicians call spin and what you and I call lying.
l Teachers need to feel empowered. If a teacher feels helpless and like a victim, he/she cannot empower our children for the future. Taking away collective bargaining rights was a giant step backward.
Teachers will leap tall buildings for a little positive recognition. After all, they do teach the future. Let’s get them what they need so we can miss the coming storm.
• Bruce Lear of Sioux City was a teacher for 11 years and a regional director for the Iowa State Education Association for 27 years. He recently retired and is a native of Shellsburg.