Teacher Strike 1975

The time is always right to do what is right.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

“It might be dangerous; we’ll all meet in one place, then bus you to your school.” These are the words I heard during my interview for my first teaching job. I was in a gymnasium with hundreds of other teachers interviewing for teaching positions lost by striking teachers. The 183 Crestwood School District teachers, in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, had been working for a year without a contract and walked out because of a salary dispute. They were fired by the school board for disobeying a back-to-work order; impacting the lives of 4,800 students.

On a cold, dark January morning my fiancé drove me to the high school. Time stopped as we approached the crowd of people; I felt like I was in a dream. Teachers carried picket signs, screaming and protesting, swearing and shouting “Scab!” I understood their cause and wished they had come to some kind of an agreement. Too many children’s lives were being affected; deep down inside I knew I was doing the right thing. I left the safety of my fiancé’s car and climbed the stairs of the waiting bus.

The bus dropped us off at our school and police escorted us to the building. Pressing forward, clutching my bag, my eyes cast down, I crossed another picket line to my first teaching job; grade four. Our principal met with his new, young staff and we introduced ourselves. Like me, for most of the teachers, this was their first job. The morale in the school was high because of the teachers, the students, and their parents. We all wanted to be there.

It is hard to explain how I felt walking into my own classroom for the very first time. My own bulletin boards, my own chalkboard, my own teacher’s desk, my own students! I waited for this day for a long time, waitressing my way through college and taking a teacher’s aide job after I graduated.

It was important that I made each school day joyful for my students; they had already witnessed too much turmoil. The protestors marched up and down the sidewalk; I closed the blinds on the windows to shut out angry voices coming from below. The previous teacher stripped the room and took all the teacher manuals and supplies. I wrote my lessons using the students’ textbooks. The students did art projects and we decorated the room with their colorful drawings, and paintings.

My teaching position lasted two weeks because on January 10th a panel in Wayne Circuit Court ordered the teachers reinstated. The teachers returned to their classrooms, but they still did not have a contract.

On April 4th, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the decision and declared the firings legal.

In the summer, I received a phone call from the principal at the school I taught in. My job was waiting for me if I wanted it back. In the Fall of that year, I once again had my own classroom and my own students.

 

  6 comments for “Teacher Strike 1975

  1. Amy
    January 20, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    I cannot fathom how unnerving it must have been to walk past a line of angry demonstrators to go to your first teaching job, and to have need of a police escort! So glad it all worked out in the end for you and for your lucky students!

    My degree is in elementary education, as well! I loved my years in the classroom. xox

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 21, 2015 at 12:15 pm

      I didn’t look into the demonstrator’s eyes. I just kept thinking about what was waiting for me on the other side of the line. I never gave up hope.
      We are kindred spirits; both choosing teaching as our career.:) Most of my teaching was with first graders; loved introducing them to beautiful literature, teaching them how to read and write from the heart.

      Like

  2. Jill Hall
    November 16, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    I was a student at Brainard (now long gone) in the third grade while all this was going on. I remember the events but not with any depth or animosity.

    Like

    • November 18, 2015 at 6:08 pm

      Jill,
      That is interesting that you were in third grade when the strike was going on; I’m glad you weren’t affected by it. 🙂 It was a great place to teach.

      Like

  3. John Golles
    January 20, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    I, too was a student, though I was a senior in high school when this occurred. I’d like to say thank you for being there for the students! That was a very tumultuous year for everyone there, including the teachers that were fired. Many, I believe, did care about about the students, but, as part of the union, felt that things would fall in their favor and continued their battle. Parents, on the other hand, were fed up with the constant fighting over contracts, as that had gone on for years. They backed the school board, which eventually won in the courts.

    For me, I survived it, went on to college for a couple of years, then on to a successful career in IT (still doing it).

    Again, thank you for being there!

    Like

    • January 21, 2016 at 3:36 pm

      Dear John,
      I was moved to get your comment, thank you for taking the time to write it. I did feel sorry for the students, and their parents and the teachers who got fired, and wish the conflict ended with a better outcome. It was an emotional time, witnessing something we will probably never forget; seeing the teachers, many of whom you had in classes, lose their jobs was a tragedy a senior in high school shouldn’t have to witness. 😦 I am glad you went to college and now have a successful career in IT! Much luck to you and may your future hold happiness and good fortune.

      Like

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