Miss Alice Graham’s voice reminding my classmates and me at West Philadelphia High School that corresponding parts of congruent triangles are equal.
Mom’s coconut custard pies that punctuated the humid Philadelphia summers of my youth.
Constance Clayton, the first woman and the first African American to lead Philadelphia’s schools, whose letterhead read, “Every school is a good school.”
My aunts, who spent their careers educating Philadelphia’s youth.
All women that I have seen throughout my life as emblematic of fortitude.
These are just a few of the women who are the bedrock of our society. The women that young men like me saw leading our communities, our churches, schools, and families. I can still see them clearly, from my mother canning succotash and corn, to Connie Clayton walking into a school and bringing with her warmth and joy.
And they are the women who are holding our schools together today. The women who have gone for more than 1,200 days without a raise. The women who are working second jobs in order to care for their families, because they are earning $10,000 or sometimes $15,000 less per year than they would be under our now-frozen pay scale. The women who come into schools each day ready to show our youth the love and respect that they deserve.
In a profession that is dominated by women, it should be appalling to us all that for five years, educators across the city (most of whom are women) and the students they serve have borne on their shoulders the burden of systemic disinvestment in our public schools.
Instead of looking for reasons to run away from Philadelphia’s children (as State Sen. John Eichelberger and many of his colleagues in Harrisburg are trying to do), our educators and communities are embracing them. Being an educator is, indeed, a labor of love. And educators have always gone that extra mile for their kids, but thanks isn’t enough. Today, too many of Philadelphia’s educators are leaving the system or even the profession, getting second jobs, and even losing their houses. No one should be OK with that.
The time is now for a fair contract that recognizes the enormous sacrifices that Philadelphia’s educators have made over the last five years. In a time of uncertainty and unease across the country, the stability of our public schools is more crucial than ever.
So on Wednesday, Philadelphia’s educators are gathering in front of their schools as part of the National “A Day Without A Woman” action. They’ll be out there highlighting the work they do each day and their commitment to our children. I invite you to join educators at your child’s school on the picket line on Wednesday morning. Drive by and honk your horn, or stop by with a sign and a smile.
Educators work hard each day, and they have grown weary of being brushed off and told to wait their turn when they stand up and declare that they deserve to be compensated fairly. Advocating for a self-sustaining salary doesn’t mean they love our kids any less. The fight for fair wages for women, for a fair contract, is inextricably linked with the fight for a public education system that reaches and educates every child.
Because as Connie Clayton used to end every speech: “Remember, the children come first.” And at the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, we live by that.
Jerry Jordan has been president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers since 2007.