Walkout: Dilemma for Some Teachers

Times Staff Writers

Once teachers come to work at Walker Junior High in La Palma, say those who teach there, they tend to stay forever.

Here at Walker, which was named a Distinguished California School in 1985, teachers spend some of their spare time raising money to buy computers for math labs. For many, Walker is the only place they have ever worked. And they say they would never dream of going anywhere else.

But on Wednesday, when the teachers union in the Anaheim Union High School District staged a 1-day strike, all but one of Walker's 34 teachers put aside school loyalty and joined more than 650 other picketing teachers.

When the strike was called last week after 14 months of growing frustration over working without a contract, Walker teachers said they found themselves faced with a decision they never imagined they would have to make: whether or not to strike.

"This is hard, very hard," said Linda Carter, who has taught at Walker since graduating from the University of Nebraska in 1964. "I come from a union family, and this is still hard."

Carter and many other picketing teachers at Walker and other district schools spoke of their personal dilemma.

Carter said she recalled the time in her youth when her father's union went on strike against an auto manufacturer, and he stayed off his job for 8 weeks.

But when the strike vote came in the Anaheim school district, Carter said the choice that she thought had come easily to her pro-union father was difficult for his daughter.

"I called and told him, 'Daddy, I don't know if I can do this,' " she related.

In several conversations, she said he told her why he believed in an employee's right to strike. On Wednesday, Carter proudly wore her "Day of the Teacher, I walked in '89" yellow ribbon on her sweat shirt that read "Walker, Distinguished School."

Some teachers said Wednesday that they decided to go out on strike even though they didn't agree with the tactics because there was a lesson in it.

"I think today's the worst day of my career," said Ed Craig, a band teacher at Orangeview Junior High School in Anaheim who walked the picket line despite having voted against the strike.

"But I belong to the association and I believe if you belong to any group, you should follow its rules," explained the veteran of 24 years of teaching. "That's what I teach my kids in band."

George Peterson, who teaches English and oversees the yearbook staff at Kennedy High School in La Palma, said: "A couple of teachers were crying to me on the phone (Tuesday night) because they didn't know whether they could do this or not.

"I would say all the teachers I know, even the bad ones, are in the profession because they want to help kids," he said. "We're certainly not here for the money."

One sympathetic teacher spent Tuesday night inside Western High School in Anaheim so that he would not have to cross the picket line Wednesday morning, according to Dan Saling, a field consultant with the California Teachers Assn.

"The association understood his position," Saling said, explaining that the untenured teacher did not strike because he would have put his job at risk.

Another teacher at Western, Don Crosby, said he had resigned Wednesday as an assistant football coach out of dismay that fellow coaches did not join the strike.

"They talk about teamwork, then they cross the picket line," said Crosby, who also teaches business and has been with the district 23 years. "They bailed out on the team (of teachers) this morning."

Even substitute teachers found themselves torn by loyalties.

Marvin Tweedy, a retired teacher from Whittier Union High School District who filled in Wednesday as a substitute at Brookhurst Junior High in Anaheim, said he did not realize he would be called during the strike when he recently signed up to substitute. He wanted to work, he said, only to fulfill state requirements to keep his teaching certificate valid.

"I have mixed emotions about it," Tweedy said of his day's assignment. "If I stopped to think about it, I might not be here."

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