My name is Jennifer Pawlik and I am a former elementary school teacher and a candidate for the Arizona House in Legislative District 17. When I reflect on my career, I have heart-warming memories of sweet children, bittersweet memories of the difficult ones, and memories of pride when the students “got it!” Some of my teammates have become life-long friends. I am an Arizona native, so the way we fund our schools is all I know.
During my career, there were years where there weren’t enough substitutes. If a fellow teacher was out sick, we split her class among the rest of the grade-level team and went on with our day. Full-day kindergarten was funded for a few short years, and then it was cut. Our bonus structure, Career Ladder, was phased out. Our Maintenance & Operations budgets were slashed to the point that district schools currently receive 15% of what they are due. For years we did not receive our cost of living increases. After the recession, many districts struggled to pass bond and override elections. School boards made difficult decisions to cut the arts, and some even had to reduce the school week to only four days. Despite all of these cuts, teachers continued to work hard for their students.
Many of us had to work a second (or third) job to pay our bills because our weekly take-home pay literally had been reduced. Some of our colleagues left the classroom because they simply could not afford to teach any longer. We began to experience a teacher shortage, which really just meant there weren’t enough certified teachers willing to continue teaching in these conditions. In an effort to address the shortage, the legislature passed a bill that allowed people to teach without certification rather than addressing WHY teachers were leaving the field of education in droves. Through it all, thousands of teachers continued to do everything they could for their students.
After more than a decade of these struggles, teachers had had enough. They were certainly at the breaking point. Many eagerly joined the #RedforEd movement; others joined nervously. Teachers are rule-followers and walking out of the classroom was a very difficult decision to make. At the end of the six-day walk out, the governor signed a 9% increase instead of the requested 20%, and the other demands were not met.
So was the movement a success? It absolutely was! Teachers found their VOICE. They found the COURAGE to stand up and share their stories. They discovered that their opinions do matter. They learned who their elected representative are and they saw how their elected officials behave. They observed first-hand how a bill becomes a law, and how all members of a legislative body do not have an equal say in an unbalanced legislature. Teachers have a clear understanding that they MUST be civically engaged. Many have changed their voter registration during the last week. Others are stepping up to collect petition signatures for local candidates and for state-wide initiatives. There is still much work to do to fund our public schools, but now we have an enthusiastic group who are determined to make a difference both inside and outside the classroom.
Arizona’s teachers are committed to voting in the primary elections in August, and they are excited to play a part in changing the Arizona legislature in November.