The first teachers’ strike took place in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1946. This illegal strike lasted five weeks and involved the need for better working conditions, enough textbooks for all students and better pay. In 2012, teachers in Chicago, Illinois, chose to strike. Though it lasted just several days, many of the circumstances were similar, but with additional requests for better healthcare, revisions to teacher evaluations and the recall policy for laid-off teachers.
The impact of teachers’ strikes on students and families often depends on their socioeconomic status. For example, it was largely impoverished African-Americans and Latinos who were negatively affected by Chicago’s strike. When these events occur, many parents are forced to leave children alone, hire babysitters or take children to the workplace. The situation for some youngsters is even more desperate. Because many are homeless, school is their only form of stability. Neighborhoods in which students travel and live are often rife with violence and drugs. In many instances, there is a vast majority of students who rely on free or reduced breakfast and lunch. Therefore, during a strike many go hungry.
In suburban communities, a teachers’ strike can mean something entirely different. In these predominately white, middle-class and affluent communities, students and families may utilize churches, community centers and homes to offer activities. Stay-at-home moms may organize sports, games, arts and crafts and creative writing activities. Some families will take a vacation and travel somewhere.
For many high school students there is often great concern over how a strike could affect their future educational opportunities and ultimately their future achievements. Though many students and families may support a teachers’ strike, there is always the underlying concern about academic well-being and future success. Students who had hopes for athletic scholarships may be passed over because of the suspension of sports activities during a strike. Without the assistance of guidance counselors and teachers, students may find it difficult to prepare for college entrance exams and complete applications. For others, time away from the classroom can be unproductive; they may sleep in, watch television and participate in negative or questionable social activities.
As it is, the public school teachers – who have a teachers’ union and the ability to strike, bargain and negotiate – with families who have the financial means may remove students and enroll them in private schools. For those who cannot, there will always be the uncertainty of a teachers’ strike.