Oakland, CA — *Since this post went out, a tentative agreement has been reached between the Oakland teachers union and the school district.
Teachers from Oakland Unified School District went on strike last week, after working without a contract for over a year. Negotiations between the school district and the teachers union are ongoing.
Teachers are demanding higher wages, smaller class sizes and more support for their students. After only the first week, however, many are already struggling financially. They’re faced with the paradox of the strike: to fight for higher wages, they’re striking without pay.
Here’s what four OUSD teachers told YR Media’s Lucy Barnum about the financial struggles of being a teacher.
Elena Martyn, 30, math teacher at Life Academy
“I’m just lucky in the sense that I don’t have any student loans. Most of my money goes to cost of living. Which is paying for car insurance, paying for groceries, paying for rent. So I have been able to save some. I’m in the unique position where I have enough saved for maybe a month or two, but I don’t also want to have to dip into savings. Beyond that, I will have to take out loans. And I really hope that it doesn’t come to that. If we can’t afford to live in our own communities, then it’s hard to stay here.”
Mitch Singsheim, 35, science teacher at Castlemont High School, married to a fellow teacher
“We can pretty much no longer afford to live in Oakland, so this is our last year teaching in Oakland Unified School District. We’re moving to Southern California this summer. It was a very easy decision, because we just didn’t have any other options. We both love Oakland — my wife has lived here for over 10 years, I’ve lived here for 15 years — we’ve definitely built a huge community here, we have tons of friends. And so we don’t want to leave. If we didn’t have to we wouldn’t leave. Our two teacher salaries are not enough for day care and preschool for two children, rent for a two-bedroom apartment. We just can’t make ends meet in the city that we teach in. It makes literally no sense to stay here.”
Aly Kronick, 32, English and academic literacy teacher at Oakland International High School
“Given the cost of living in Oakland, it’s pretty impossible to do the work that we do, and do the work that our students really deserve. My partner is also a teacher at Oakland International, so we’re in it together, which I think is helpful. We both understand the struggle that we’re in and figure out how to make it work together. But at the same time, it’s really difficult because we both have the exact same salary. I felt confident that I would be okay without a week of pay. But beyond a week, having additional assistance is necessary.”
Revaz Ardesher, 38, history teacher at Hillcrest Middle School
“I decided that I was not going to live in Oakland this year, that I was going to live close to my hometown in Concord and not deal with rent this year. It’s bittersweet. I want to be a teacher who works and lives in Oakland. … I mean, that’s my plan. But I’m critically looking at it because it’s hard to stay in Oakland. You can get paid more in San Leandro or in Berkeley or in Marin or Redwood City or anywhere else. [Oakland] is a deeply special city — that I think a lot of us grew up in — and it’s a place that’s starting to maybe not feel so much like home anymore.”
These interviews were edited for length and clarity.