Red for Ed

After a weekend at a Labor Notes conference, I sit here in contract negotiations and reflect upon the fact that I have never done the most important things in my life alone. Having and raising kids was a team effort, not just between my husband and me, but other friends and family, as well. My classroom is synergy between my students and me, and my colleagues have made a huge impact, too. Of course, there was the recall in 2015. There are bigger things on the horizon, and for me, they start with wearing red to school tomorrow.

In 2013, when I joined a fairly small group of people who were determined to keep three people from taking over our schools and undermining our kids, I knew a lot of people thought we were taking on a Sisyphean task. “What’s the point of wearing blue on Thursdays?” they asked. “That won’t make any difference.” Actually, blue Thursdays was the start of something big. Red Tuesdays are even bigger.

Red for Ed Tuesdays began in West Virginia. I had the opportunity to hear a number of West Virginia’s teachers last weekend. You know about West Virginia, right? The lowest paid educators from some of the most poorly funded schools in the country, when the state decided to make major incursions into their health insurance, the educators decided to do something. They started with Red for Ed.

Why? What difference could a bunch of red shirts make? Well, for one thing, it built solidarity. It told every educator who was frustrated and scared, both of losing health insurance they could afford and of getting in trouble for making a fuss, that they were not alone. Later, it let their leaders know how many people were prepared to take action.

Teachers don’t usually do things that will impact their classrooms unless they think the impact will ultimately be positive. The state legislature of West Virginia may have thought a bunch of educators in red shirts was no problem, but they soon learned differently. For one thing, it wasn’t just licensed staff. It was bus drivers, food service workers, paraprofessionals–you know, the people who make the everyday operations of a school possible.

Eventually, a bunch of harmless red shirts escalated into a strike from February 22-March 7. Health insurance is a work in progress, but the strike brought the legislature to the table prepared to offer a 5% raise. As I write this, the Oklahoma teachers (after following the Red for Ed Tuesday message set by West Virginia) are in their second week of striking.

Do you really think red shirts on Tuesdays won’t deliver a powerful message to Colorado elected leaders? I think at this point those shirts could make leaders sweat on sight.

Colorado is in the bottom 5 states for educator salaries. If you think that the Colorado State legislature should make education a budget priority, if you think Jeffco’s school board should raise teacher salaries before they fund new positions in the Ed Center, then you know what to do tomorrow and every Tuesday after until we see action. Will one red shirt make a difference? Probably not. Thousands of red shirts? That’s power.

And while I’m talking about power, if you want attracting and retaining quality teachers to be a priority in Jeffco, let’s start seeing more of us at negotiations on Mondays.

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Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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