Teachers Strike, Amid Student Protests

Students learn about and discuss strikes by teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, and consider how they are connected to student-led protests over gun violence.


Gathering: Word Web

Write #ENOUGH or #NEVERAGAIN on the board or chart paper and circle it. 

Invite students to share their associations with the hashtag.  If necessary, elicit that these hashtags are from the movement against gun violence and for gun control organized by young people from Florida and across the nation following the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Chart student associations radiating out from the center. Related ideas can be grouped. Draw lines from the associations to the core hashtag to create a web. 

Making word webs can stimulate creative thinking. Encourage associations while energy is high. Ask open-ended questions to stimulate students’ thoughts. As energy tapers off, ask students to read what’s on the web and ask some or all of the following questions:

  • What do you notice about what’s on the web?
  • What has the anti-gun activism been about?
  • What has been President Trump’s response to the protests?
  • What solutions to gun violence has he offered? 
  • How has he proposed to make schools safer?
  • What are students’ thoughts and feelings about these solutions?


Agenda and Objectives

Explain that in today’s lesson students will be exploring the teacher strikes that have spread across states including West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.



Teachers tweet: #armmewith

The hashtag #armmewith was created in response to President Trump’s idea of arming teachers to address gun violence.  What do students know about this hashtag? 

Distribute the #armmewith handout included in this pdf, and have students look it over.

In pairs, ask students to discuss their thoughts and feelings about what’s in the handout.

Bringing students back to the large group, invite them to share what they discussed in their pairs.  Continue the dialogue using some or all of the following questions:

  • Which of these social media posts resonate most with you?  Why?
  • What are the similarities and differences between these posts?  Do you see any themes?
  • What are these teachers asking for? 
  • How does this relate to your own experience in school?



Teachers Strike

Ask students if they know why teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky went on strike in the winter and spring of 2018. What are they fighting for? What are their demands? How are their demands related to the social media posts we just discussed?

Provide students with art teacher Laurissa Kovacs’ tweet in this handout.

Explain that Kovacs is among the thousands of teachers in Oklahoma who went on strike. They have walked out of their classrooms and schools to march on the state Capitol where they are demanding more money for education and higher pay for teachers.

Ask them, after reading the tweet, to discuss it using some or all of the following questions:

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about Laurissa Kovacs’ tweet?
  • What does the broken chair represent?
  • What are her reasons for walking out?
  • Who is she concerned about?  What is she concerned about?
  • How does that relate to our schools, our teachers, our students, the future of our country?

If time allows, consider showing the following video:



  • How does this news clip relate to the tweets we discussed just now?
  • What does it say about the support of teachers and the power of a quality education in this country?
  • The generous donations Laurissa Kovacs received from around the country, as a result of her tweet, helped her, and the other teachers in her school and district, in ways they probably couldn’t have imagined a few weeks ago.  Does Laurissa Kovacs think this is a long term solution for the broken chair education system she highlighted in her tweet?
  • Does it matter whether books and other school items are received from individuals who feel motivated in the moment to contribute rather than from adequate and reliable public education funding? 

Invite students to read the handout “Teachers Strike across West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona” (also included below). Have them annotate the handout, highlighting what teachers’ reasons for protesting are and what some of their successes have been so far. Then discuss some or all of the following questions:

  • How do you feel about the teacher protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona?
  • Based on everything we’ve done today, how do you think the teachers are feeling about their jobs?  About education in general? About the protests?
  • What are some of the reasons teachers are protesting?
  • What are some of the successes teachers have been able to secure?
  • Does this mean that this is the end of the protests? Why?  Why not?




Invite students to share one thing they’d like to tell the striking teachers. 



Teachers Strike across West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona

Public investment in K-12 schools — crucial for communities to thrive and the U.S. economy to offer broad opportunity — has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade.  Worse, some of the deepest-cutting states have also cut income tax rates, weakening their main revenue source for supporting schools.  https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-punishing-decade-for-school-funding

The West Virginia teachers strike … may have ignited a national labor movement, as teachers in Kentucky, Arizona and Oklahoma are making their frustration over pay and benefits known and sharing demands with their state legislators. ….  “Last week, Kentucky teachers came out in force to protest proposed cuts to their retirement benefits. And in Arizona and Oklahoma, two of the worst-paying states for teachers in the country, educators are demanding salary hikes.  All three appear to be taking cues from West Virginia.”

Dignity and respect are the root cause of every serious labor struggle. This was certainly the case in West Virginia’s unprecedented nine-day statewide education strike. When the workers won …, singing and dancing erupted among the thousands who packed the state capitol.  The strike produced a string of significant victories …. Perhaps most significantly, it restored the dignity of 34,000 workers, rebuilding the pride of West Virginia’s working class and reinforcing one hell of a union that will carry the struggle forward. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-west-virginia-teachers-strike-shows-that-winning-big-requires-creating-a-crisis/

Oklahoma teachers reached their breaking point after enduring no pay raises since 2008.  State lawmakers tried to avert a strike by passing measures in the past week to raise teacher salaries by $6,100 annually and support staff salaries by $1,250 annually, as well as increase education funding by $50 million. But the increases were only a fraction of what the teachers wanted, so the strike moved forward. https://www.courthousenews.com/striking-oklahoma-teachers-share-their-demands/

On Wednesday, the Oklahoma legislature passed a historic tax increase – the state’s first in 28 years – to give teachers their first salary boost in more than a decade. The $450 million tax hike required a three-quarters majority, a barrier that has typically been insurmountable in deeply conservative Oklahoma. “That’s something we never thought we’d see,” says Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma School Board Association. http://www.governing.com/week-in-finance/gov-teachers-winning-historic-tax-hikes.html

Teachers in … [Kentucky] are furious about a surprise bill lawmakers passed last week that cuts pension benefits for new and retiring teachers. Hundreds of teachers walked out of class Friday in response, and about 5,000 rallied in the capital of Frankfurt Monday. https://www.vox.com/2018/4/2/17188700/teacher-strikes-oklahoma-kentucky

Will Arizona teachers strike?  That question has swirled for weeks as educators rally for higher wages and more school funding.  Leaders of the grassroots Arizona Educators United unveiled a list of demands last week, and they’d wait to see how Gov. Doug Ducey and the legislature respond as budget negotiations advance. …. “Arizona Educators United is prepared to do whatever it takes to reach our demands, …. However, we will do everything in our power to avoid a strike.  As educators, we’re willing to put kids first, even when the state won’t.”  https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-education/2018/04/05/what-take-arizona-teachers-strike-walk-out-redfored/491377002/