Opinion: I’m an LAUSD teacher. This is why my colleagues and I are going on strike

A crowd of protestors gathered at Grand Park in Los Angeles.
United Teachers of Los Angeles and SEIU 99 members hold a joint rally on Wednesday at Grand Park in a historic showing of solidarity.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Wednesday, I watched thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District employees, students and families converge at Grand Park. There was a sea of red and purple, a cacophony of whistles and bells and the reunion of former co-workers happy to see each other again. But there was something else I saw emblazoned on posters and T-shirts — the word “respect.”

If someone were to ask me what is causing anger and exhaustion among so many people in the field of education, I would have to say the lack of respect for teachers like me and other critically important employees who serve the needs of students in the second largest school district in the country.

That is why I attended the rally at Grand Park, and why I will strike on Tuesday in solidarity with the Service Employees International Union Local 99 to push the district to negotiate for the future of our schools. Our schools could not function without the 30,000 workers represented by Local 99, which includes bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria and other food service workers, campus security aides, teaching assistants and aides for students with disabilities.


LAUSD teachers and staff unions plan three-day strike beginning Tuesday, shutting schools down. What you need to know.

March 16, 2023

While the issues teachers and staff face go far beyond pay, it’s still an important measure of the work we do. Many of our colleagues in Local 99 make minimum wage for part-time hours, thus needing to take on other jobs and having to find rent and food assistance. And teachers make considerably less money than most people with comparable levels of education. Accounting for inflation, teachers are making less money than in the 1970s. And teacher education programs are starving for students as young people opt out of the teaching profession because of low wages.

Educators feel undervalued in many other ways that directly affect our daily working conditions. We are asked to help our students — who have experienced violence, financial insecurity, dangerous migration journeys, homelessness and racism — to develop resiliency but the struggles of the school staff are rarely acknowledged.

Respect can also be shown by maintaining the infrastructure of our schools. While the district has built several new campuses, there are existing schools that are crumbling. At my school, ceiling tiles fall on students’ heads, staff and student bathrooms are regularly out of service, and our student store sits surrounded by fencing after being condemned.

Respect can also be shown by acknowledging that teachers are professionals, who know their subjects well, and may know better how to teach children than people who aren’t teachers. I wouldn’t tell my dentist how to do her job, just because I’ve gone to the dentist my whole life. Why do so many politicians, business leaders and parents think they know more about teaching?

Negotiations between Los Angeles Unified and the union for low-wage district staff must not fail. The education of 420,000 students is at stake.

March 16, 2023

That’s not to say teachers shouldn’t learn how to do better, but too often professional development does not correspond to our needs, or it’s just new jargon for things we are already doing.

As a middle-aged teacher, I worry about my colleagues who are just entering the educational field, and experienced teachers who are trying to raise young families. I see their dedication to their students and their school communities, but I also see their struggles to pay for rent, childcare and other expenses. I wonder how long they will be able to stomach the frustration of not being able to live up to their expectations because of the burdens placed on them by factors outside of their control.


Not only does LAUSD need to invest in our students, but we also need to invest in teachers and the school staff. I would say the first step is one simple word: respect.

Ingrid Fey has been a social studies teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District for over 15 years.