Arizona Teacher Shares Her #RedForEd Experience
By: Nikki Michelle Charnstrom
It’s no rumor that over the course of history, teachers have primarily been women. Even still today, education remains a female-dominated field — which would explain the lack of support and funding some states receive from their legislatures.
“This is why teaching is often looked down on, and why public education is often not a priority for funding. We are often belittled because what we do is viewed archaically as ‘women’s work.’ The Arizona State Legislature specifically as a whole doesn’t take teachers seriously and uses the passion we have for our students against us; believing they can give us the low pay because we will make major sacrifices for our kids,” says 24-year-old Arizona teacher Emma Fuller.
As of late, educators in Arizona have spoken up and demanded a voice in the negotiations of annual budgets and laws concerning public schools. With the #RedForEd teacher walkout behind us, it’s important to take a moment to recognize those who passionately campaigned for Arizona’s kids.
As a fifth grade teacher on the Navajo Reservation at Leupp Public School, Emma’s experiences serve as a small testament to this monumental time in her career…
Leading Up to the Walkout
“I was at home after work, sitting with a glass of $4 wine and live-streaming 12 News on Facebook. I had had a long day (besides teaching) gathering, counting and reporting walkout votes from my site. After my one hour drive back into town, I had a three-hour professional development on grammar and had picked up a five-layer burrito from Taco Bell on the way home. The press conference started one hour later than they had promised, and it was well past my bedtime, so I was exhausted. I think all teachers across Arizona were on an emotional rollercoaster with this call,” Emma describes.
After hearing the results that 78 percent of 57,000 teachers voted “yes” to a walkout, Emma was feeling all kinds of emotions. Arizona teachers truly had the solidarity they needed to evoke change and ensure a brighter future for the state. These results meant they had to become organized and efficient — almost overnight. From figuring out where their students would go to informing the public to planning locations for rallies, Arizona educators suddenly had a lot to manage.
“I was heartbroken because I hated the idea of not showing up to work for my kids. I hated that it was called a ‘walkout’ instead of a strike (for legal purposes) because I didn’t want my students to believe for a second I was ‘walking out’ on them. I was thankful because the leadership from Arizona Educators United (AEU) gave us a week to prepare for it. I was angry we had to go this far to get people to simply care about Arizona kids and respect a profession that is the foundation for all professions,” Emma says.
When it comes to being a teacher, Emma hopes her kids feel strong, supported, empowered, and loved. “I feel most myself when I’m with my kids, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Emma explains. Taking on the role of a teacher is one of the most heart-rendering and fulfilling things she has ever done. So, standing up for her kids and ensuring the very best for their future is something that comes easy to her.
Walkout Beginnings & Repercussions
Although a “walkout” sounds dramatic, Emma assures us it was professionally orchestrated. Teachers weren’t getting up from their desks and abandoning their classrooms in the middle of the day — instead, they took personal time off. The Flagstaff Unified School District made phone calls to families and staff well in advance alerting them of school closures. This truly was a community affair as educators, churches, businesses, and locals rallied together to provide childcare and food programs for those who still needed it.
“Educators were anxious. We wanted to get back to school and weren’t comfortable joining big crowds and chanting or being attacked by politicians. Essentially, we spent six days in solidarity babysitting the legislature while they were voting on the budget because for at least ten years in Arizona, they hadn’t done their job to fund public schools,” Emma explains, “For over ten years, they could count on us not standing up for ourselves.”
However, this year, brave and passionate educators made it a point to stand up against the legislature’s negligence. On Thursday, April 30, all educators followed through with their walkout while the state legislature called a recess midday lasting through Monday. While Emma says there were legislators in support of education, they were not invited to the table to formulate a sustainable education bill. Those with an ignorant attitude were disrespectful and demeaning toward educators.
“Ducey and the legislative members in support of the governor did not engage in conversation with the leaders of AEU or AEA, and most of the decisions that were made were simply a shell game that didn’t nearly cover half of what we need,” Emma says.
Although some might view this movement as a selfish one on behalf of teachers, it most certainly was not. Emma makes it a point that if their motives were to come from a place of financial strife or greed, educators would simply move elsewhere. Instead, Arizona teachers stood their ground for the better of the state. “Teachers can and are moving away because Arizona isn’t paying them, but the kids will still be here and they will need to be educated,” Emma says.
While a new education bill was signed by Governor Ducey, nothing is guaranteed as the legislature itself will change within the coming months. As no new taxes were introduced to fund the pay raise, the budget could easily be reallocated. According to Emma, 63 percent of the funding they had in 2008 is still missing and doesn’t even begin to cover the costs per pupil, classroom supplies, building maintenance, or raises for classified staff.
“Our fight is not even close to being over, but I have already heard many people congratulate me on our ‘win.’ Yes, we did get more funding than if we had all stayed submissive little classroom mice, and I am thankful to the thousands of educators and members of the community in red that made it happen,” Emma expresses.
Signs of Impact & Next Steps
Positively, the #RedForEd movement has united Arizona educators and communities in such a powerful way. Emma explains while there were colleagues who didn’t support the walkout, they understood the fight. She says even the parents rallied alongside — some encouraging they continue the walkout for a longer period of time.
Being a single woman sharing an apartment with a graduate student, Emma admits she has been losing money and spending $2,000 per year to supply her classroom. Although she knows she deserves a salary that reflects her worth, that’s not what the #RedForEd campaign was all about. “We’re simply asking to be able to survive because we want to stay here and educate the next generation of Arizonans,” Emma says.
Ultimately, as long as she can afford it, Emma hopes for the opportunity to continue living in Flagstaff and teaching at Leupp. If certain legislators are voted out of office and replaced with those who value education, things could definitely take a turn for the better of education. Fortunately, this is a decision Arizona voters have the chance to make come November. Emma shares two major things to look for come voting season:
- Quite a few legislators will need to be voted out of office as they are against public education funding because they are personally collecting money from private and charter schools.
- AEU is formulating a bill that would meet all necessary requirements for education funding.
Although educators faced many ups and downs along the way, #RedForEd created ripples and waves across the state. Emma was not afraid to follow suit when it came time to fight. The walkout might have only lasted six days, but the fire will continue burning until education is given the recognition and value it deserves.
“I was honored to be a part of history. I was panicking, laughing, crying, dancing, and praying a ton,” Emma concludes, “The movement itself has been empowering and surreal. It’s amazing the amount of solidarity we’ve seen, and I’m so excited to see what November brings for us all.”
Nikki is the owner and founder of Crowned Chics. She lives in the warm desert of Phoenix, Arizona with her beloved family. If she's not ferociously clanking away on her typewriter, she's behind the camera capturing moments for her business Charnstrom Captures Photography.