After a massive rally for better working conditions, northeast Indiana teachers are readying for further action to push Indiana lawmakers for meaningful changes to state education policies.
Hundreds of area teachers, counselors and retired educators joined thousands Tuesday at the Statehouse for Red for Ed Action Day.
They railed against rules tying standardized test scores to teacher pay and school funding. They pushed back against requirements calling for completion of a 15-hour externship before teaching licenses are renewed.
They carried signs and talked about salaries, which lag behind many other states, according to the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics. A Forbes study ranks Indiana last in salary raises over the past 15 years.
They all wore red, they chanted.
“Legislators left us no choice,” went a popular one, which echoed throughout the capitol. “They made us use our teacher voice.”
The show of force was for many who attended simply a first step in restoring fairness to what teachers say is an unfair system.
“It's absolutely not the last one,” said Gabriel Gan, a South Side High School teacher, who finished the six-hour rally by watching lawmakers meet and shake hands with educators before leaving Indianapolis.
Gan, who has been teaching since 2008, said he knows teachers who hold second jobs. Others are saddled with added responsibilities that make it difficult for teachers to work with students.
“The fact you have 15,000 people here – I don't know how you (can) not respond to that,” he said.
Crimson-garbed instructors walked and stepped off buses onto Statehouse grounds about 9 a.m. and stayed most of the day. When four buses chartered by the Fort Wayne Education Association – the union representing Fort Wayne Community Schools teachers – left about 3 p.m., thousands of teachers still were making their way into the building.
More than 150 local educators rode on the buses, but FWEA President Sandra Vohs said at least 350 more went to the rally. FWCS officials said at least 650 teachers had said before the district canceled classes that they would not work Tuesday. Many would have counted it as a personal day and would not have lost pay.
At least 120 educators from East Allen County Schools attended, said Andra Kosmoski, president of that district's teachers union. She echoed colleagues' comments that efforts to lobby legislators will continue.
Kosmoski also said teachers can vote to unseat lawmakers unsympathetic to educators' demands.
“I know this is just a beginning,” she said. “What I feel optimistic about is this is a first step. We're not done.”
Tom Bailey, a veteran North Side High School English teacher, said things used to be simpler. He would go build lesson plans, go to work and teach.
Now, Bailey said, flawed standardized tests that have evolved several times in recent years dominate teachers' – and students – attention.
“We change tests every 15 minutes,” he said. “Every time we do it, it becomes more convoluted.”
For teachers in Huntington County, where voters this month rejected referendums that would have paid for raises and a new high school, the need for the Red for Ed rally was particularly acute.
“We'll have to get the funding we need from the state,” said Tom Gross of the Huntington Classroom Teachers Association. “This will be one of the steps to making real change in Indiana. There will be future rallies.”