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.