Cheryl Foster is ready to walk out of her classroom.
She’s afraid it could mean the end of her 26-year career, and she worries deeply about what that could mean for her students.
But she’ll do it. She’ll do it for them, said Foster, who was among the wave of protesters who carried handcrafted signs during Red for Ed demonstrations at the Capitol in recent weeks.
But for Foster and her fellow teachers who carried the signs, anxiety about their careers and their students, and frustration over the voting process grew as they weighed whether to strike in spite of Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan for a 20 percent raise by the 2020 school year.
The decision on whether to walk out of schools across the state went to a three-day vote organized by Arizona Educators United and the Arizona Education Association that began April 17.
Foster, a fourth grade teacher at Kyrene de la Sierra Elementary School, voted in favor.
She cast her vote after she and 12 other teachers met with the governor on April 17.
She said the meeting felt “impersonal” and “calculated. She said it seemed like a PR stunt rather than a genuine discussion about solutions that weren’t his own and that he “did it for the tweet” he later sent about the meeting.
She said he missed the heart of the movement, missed that their passion lies in the children they serve every day.
“Teachers are not just teachers of science and social studies and math,” she said. “We become caregivers, and we become so connected to our students.”
Ducey’s teacher raise proposal does not include dollars for additional school counselors or pay increases for school support staff or increased per pupil funding, so Foster was not satisfied.
Tiffany Huisman, a ninth grade teacher in the Phoenix Union High School District, was also among the teachers who met with Ducey, but she left feeling a bit more optimistic, and she ended up voting against a walkout.
“I added my own box that said, ‘not right now,’” she said.
She said she thinks the effect on end-of-year activities and graduations would be too great.
Huisman said she would support a walkout at a future time, though, if Ducey and the Legislature prove not to be committed to funding public schools beyond this election cycle.
She felt the governor was genuine and more candid then she expected, even if he did not seem to fully grasp that his plan addressed but a “sliver of the problem.”
Huisman said the move to vote felt rushed, and not enough was known about how the decisions to proceed with it or the voting process were made.
“I know we have momentum, but we must be thoughtful in our approach and look toward a longer-term strategy,” she said. “I’m just not sure this is the right approach.”
Huisman took what she called a Red for Ed field trip, meeting not just with Ducey but also with Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, to learn about the legislative process.
The experience was energizing, she said, and she wished more of her colleagues would take it upon themselves to do the same.
Instead, they were taking a vote on whether to leave their schools without a clear plan: how long would a walk-out last, when would it even begin, what would happen to their students?
“This is stressful. This is my life. This is my livelihood. These are my kids,” Huisman said. “And I will do everything for them to ensure they get the best possible education in Arizona. Right now, they are getting substandard leftovers.”