Photo by Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer

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Though she didn’t provide specifics about a timeline, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) recently alluded to the makings of a finalized teachers’ contract she said will make the District more of an attractive place for educators.

However, those familiar with the ongoing negotiations said they see no end to a process that has gone on for three years. After an academic year where class sizes exploded, schools experienced staffing shortages, and teachers battled COVID-19, some educators have reached the height of their frustration. 

“This year was one of the most challenging [because] it was post-pandemic and you had to meet the same standards [from] before the pandemic,” said a third grade teacher who requested anonymity. 

“We had to dig deeper into our toolbox to [address] students’ learning loss. A contract gives a decent wage and opportunities to grow with benefits. Not having a contract for three years is disrespectful.” 

This teacher counted among several dozens of District public school teachers who converged on Freedom Plaza in Northwest on Tuesday, June 28 in demand of a new contract that includes cost-of-living wage increases, an expanded benefits package, and a cap on classroom size. 

The protest, which took place days after the school year ended, attracted District teachers and substitute teachers and Ward 7  State Board of Education Representative Eboni-Rose Thompson along with trade unions and leftist organizations that explored the teacher pay issue in a greater socioeconomic context. 

After listening to speakers, creating signs, and belting chants in the sweltering heat, teachers, many of whom wore red shirts, entered the John A. Wilson Building and poured into the D.C. Council chambers. This act of civil disobedience counted among the latest to take place near the Wilson Building since after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday when substitute teachers picketed weekly for a similar cause. 

In the years leading up to the pandemic, teacher retention has been an issue in D.C. and across the country. A survey conducted by the National Education Association earlier this year showed that 55 percent of teachers considered leaving the profession because of low pay. 

The SBOE’s All-Teachers survey last year showed similar findings. 

For some District teachers, the pressures of standardized testing and the perceived racial bias of the IMPACT teacher evaluation, which teacher union officials said can’t be discussed during negotiations, have also compelled a career change, even with the District’s status as one of the highest-paying school districts in the D.C. metropolitan region and country. 

In a statement, DC Public Schools (DCPS) said the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) received an offer that includes compensation increases for educators. WTU President Jacqueline Pogue Lyons has countered that narrative in recent weeks, expressing disappointment that DCPS and WTU hadn’t been able to reach an agreement. 

A teacher who moved from the South to teach in the District said he couldn’t fathom a scenario where it took more than a few months to solidify a contract. He recounted experiences where he and colleagues at another school district experienced annual pay increases, and even a bonus for teaching during the pandemic. 

Since moving to the District, this teacher has taken on additional jobs as a retail clerk and delivery person to ensure that he can keep his head above water. As he reels from what he described as a stressful employment situation, the teacher continues to see colleagues leave the profession in droves for better economic opportunities. 

“This is more of a calling [but] there are teachers who have issues like being a single parent or experiencing loss [from COVID-19] have been forced to make hard decisions,” the teacher said. “Also, a lot of District teachers have to drive into D.C. with rising gas prices.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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