Teachers, District reach tentative agreement (Dec. 2023)

As the North Peninsula Review went to press, Portland Public Schools and Portland Association of Teachers negotiators reached a tentative agreement ending the first teacher strike in City history. The teachers’ strike began November 1 and ended on November 26.

The interview below illuminates many of the issues leading to the teachers’ strike. The interview took place as near the picket line at Roosevelt High School. Deanna Delgado is an Instructional Coach who lives in North Portland and Coleen Smyth is a Roosevelt math teacher. (The interview has been edited for clarity and space.)

Teachers picketing in front of Roosevelt High School
Teachers picketing in front of Roosevelt High School

BQ: Why are you out here on strike? 

DD: We want to make sure that we have the resources and the time that is needed to give our students what they deserve. We need planning time. We need to pay teachers so they can afford to stay in this profession, and stay in the communities where they serve our students.

CS: I think that sometimes people don’t think about what all goes into actually planning and executing a lesson in the class space.

BQ: Tell us about that because I know planning time has come up as one of the issues.

CS: It’s huge. If you think about an elementary school teacher, I think they’re with their students 5 hours a day. So they get maybe an hour if they’re lucky, to plan a whole 5-hours for young students who also need a lot of support. They need to figure out how to explain the lesson in a way that makes sense to a third grader or a fifth grader. 

They also really think about the resources they’re going to use, Do I need to make any materials? Do I need to make an assignment description? Do I need to make slides? All of these things that support students’ learning. And they’re thinking, how am I going to explain each individual aspect of the lesson, and how am I going to get students to work independently so I can do individual conferences? They are juggling so many things and think about planning that for 5 of 6 hours a day, every day, with very little time to do it.

Striking teachers in front of Roosevelt High School
Striking teachers in front of Roosevelt High School

BQ: What would be your best outcome with the strike?

CS: I think our best outcome is getting a contract that actually gives kids the schools that they deserve and gives our community the strong schools that we deserve. 

I think something that has been really challenging with this whole process is just the feeling like our voices aren’t being valued at the Portland Public Schools (PPS) District Office. I think a lot of us feel that that’s been the case for a few years now. I can think of several decisions that have been made where there wasn’t teacher or student input sought before making those decisions. Or what input was sought was very minimal. 

I think we have a lot of work to do to rebuild trust between the District Office and the school staffs. So I’m really hoping that this contract is a moment where the District has to listen to us. I feel like they haven’t been listening in these last few weeks. From our perspective, we feel like we’ve been very clear. And they have not been doing their part to really understand where we’re coming from. 

BQ: Do you think District leaders are taking teachers more seriously due to the strike?

DD: From what I’ve seen so far, not really. I was hopeful in the beginning that we would make progress more quickly, but the fact that we’re still out here, shows me that they’re digging their heels in. But we’re going to stay out here as long as we need to. 

As an instructional coach I see so many teachers and I know how hard they are working and how much heart they put into this profession. I don’t want them to leave because they are overwhelmed. What we are asked to do, it’s just become untenable. It is cognitively demanding work. It’s intellectual work. And to be able to do that you can’t be constantly stressed out or burnt out.

BQ: Deanna how long are you willing to be out here on the picket line?

DD: I’m really concerned about the longevity of this profession. I’m thinking big picture. I’m thinking about our students now. For a long time we have not invested in education. So for me this is a very big part of my identity and my core values and what I believe about this country, that what we offer will make a difference in kids’ lives. So I will stay out here as long as needed. It’s financially a hardship, you know. It’s a sacrifice for us, but we’re willing to do it. 

CS: A lot of our teachers here are also parents of PPS students. Some of the kids are students here at the school. They know both ends of the sacrifice. 

BQ: How long are you prepared to be on strike Colleen?

CS: As long as it takes. I’m a PPS graduate. So are both of my parents. So are both of my mom’s parents. All of us have also been teachers in Portland Public Schools. So, this is my community, and this is what I love. This is who I am. I will be here fighting for my kids because that is what’s right. That’s what my family does. We are educators to our cores, and I think in this moment we’re standing up for our profession and we’re standing up for our students, and really trying to get them the support they need. 

I think COVID revealed so many problems with our schools and this is a moment for us to stop and say—instead of just trying to return to the same situation like we’ve been trying to do these past two years, we have an opportunity to do something better, something that makes it better for every next generation of Portland Public School students that come through the door. I will be out here as long as it takes.

North Peninsula Review asked for a response from a PPS board member but did not receive a reply by deadline. District leaders were not available to comment due to the holiday.