It was a different kind of strike in Philadelphia earlier this month. For one week, a number of elementary school teachers across the city did their jobs.
Only their jobs.
Only their jobs as stipulated by their contracts, in fact. So while they taught, graded, and cared for their students, they did not patrol the playground before school, tutor kids at lunch, or stay late with kids whose parents couldn’t be there right at the bell. No printouts in the classrooms or copy paper to make them, because that’s been coming out of the teachers’ pockets. Books purchased by teachers for their classrooms vanished, just for the week.
These actions, organized by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, were concurrent with a protest held at Cooke Elementary School, one of the statistically “failing” schools that the Philadelphia School District intends to hand over to a charter operator. That announcement was not received well by local teachers.
“We don’t have teachers in classrooms some years, and then they tell us that we failed,” said Christine Kolenut, one of the Cooke teachers who will be fired if that handover occurs.
The decision to make more Philadelphia schools into charter schools has not been popular with parents either. In 2014, the district allowed the parents of two schools to vote on the matter, and both votes were landslides against charters. This year, the decision was made without parent or teacher input.
The objective of the semi-strike was to force the district to recognize that teachers do much more than the contracts itemize, and that disrespecting teachers will never lead to a better-performing school.