20 years later: Personal lessons from the Warwick teacher strike
(This is my account about how I experienced the Warwick teacher’s strike. This is not, in any way, expressing any opinions against teachers, unions or anyone. )
As we approach the school year with the kids going back to school, I sit here and remember a very important event that had hindered the beginning of our school year of 1992-1993, the Warwick teachers’ strike. Even though back in 1992 the start of the school year was right after Labor Day (now they start in August), but instead, it did not even start until almost October.
I was 14 years old and about to start the 8th grade at Aldrich Jr. High School that year. I was so excited because it was my last year of junior high school before I went off to high school. Of course, just like in the previous years, there was the possibility of a teachers’ strike.
When it was announced, just like many of my peers, I was excited. I looked at it as an extra time for me to ride my bike all day long, like I had done during the summer. But of course my mom and dad spoiled it by saying, "You will be in school a week longer, though." Parents, always a buzz kill, ruining a good thing. I figured it would probably only last about a week, like it did in 1991.
However, no one was prepared, especially our parents, for the longest teachers' strike in the history of Warwick schools. The first part of that strike lasted about three weeks. During the beginning of those three weeks, I was doing what I loved to do, riding my bike through the whole neighborhood. But toward the middle, I was kind of missing school. Then, they announced that the teachers were going back to work. I was very happy and relieved that I can get back to the books and see my friends. When the teachers went back to work, they were "work to rule." This meant they only went to class and no after-school or other fun activities. But I knew of some dedicated teachers who would do after-school activities and stayed to help the kids. Well, we returned to school, but guess what, THE STRIKE WAS NOT OVER, NOPE! In November, the day before Election Day of 1992, I was outside waiting for my bus to go home and heard a rumor that the teachers were striking again. I thought, "Great." And guess what: THEY WENT ON STRIKE AGAIN! This time, it only lasted a week. In the end, there were so many consequences that all this striking led to.
There were concerns about how the strike had affected us students. There were many questions such as, how were we going to make up the days and how will this affect our extracurricular activities, among other questions related to student interests. Many students at the junior high and high schools had organized many walkouts, sit-in protests and anything they could do to get their needs heard. The causes of these protests were either due to having to lose activities, having to make up a huge amount of days, or just how our education was affected. This upset many of us, especially us 8th graders, who wanted to go on the yearly Washington, D.C. trip and have our 8th grade social. I also felt bad for many of the high school seniors because many were graduating and how this affected their senior year.
The worst part was when the school administration had us make up the days during all three of our vacations. I was ticked off. My mom was cool, and just like many other parents, she was not going to cancel vacations based on the fault of the teacher strike. I got to stay out during the Christmas vacation and relax. However, I was forced to go in during February vacation. But that was pointless because not many of my teachers even showed up and I did nothing. So, I stayed out of school the rest of February and even April vacations. There was even talk about having to make up the days by having us go to school on Saturdays, but thankfully that never happened. In the end, we only had to stay in school a few days extra.
The teachers also had negative consequences, as well. For one, a group of teachers was arrested. Another major consequence was the new law that prevents teachers from going on strike. It was all because of this long-lasting strike. I was too young to understand the politics of all of this, but our former Warwick mayor (now governor) Lincoln Chafee was one of the players who had to make the compromise to get these striking teachers back to work. However, I feel that one should have looked and challenged the wages that the school administration gets paid. Now, I see why these teachers went on strike. It is always the teachers and the students who take the hit.
In the end, I had no anger or any negativity toward the teachers. During that school year, our teachers were very nice, honest and sincere and would tell us their side of the story. Many teachers had families to feed, kids that were going off to college and had bills to pay. Of course, you bring that story home to mom and dad and they would tell you different. I actually wanted to be a teacher way before the strike, not because of money. It was because I wanted to help educate children to have a better future. I also had my sixth grade teacher, who I had as my role model. It was not until two years later, when I was part of the Children and the Elderly program at Pilgrim High School, that I really got to know what hard work teaching was. I had to team teach a group of wonderful 4-year-old children and had to spend many hours planning lesson plans and everything. I think I spent more time planning and doing the lesson plans than I actually did spending the two hours, two to three times a week, with the children. Through this program, I realized how much work being a teacher was. It was so hard, that I decided that I could not become a teacher. However, I developed a new appreciation and respect for those who were teachers.