Three weeks ago I was teaching in my Oklahoma City classroom when a voice announced over the intercom that our school was going on “lockdown.” In the moment, I thought little of it. Then a principal ran to my door, banged loudly on our window and frantically motioned for us to hide. I stood in a dark room huddled with my terrified students for 30 minutes before we received any word from the outside world.
At that point we didn’t know that a student brought a gun into the school. We didn’t know that he dropped the weapon and ran. We didn’t know that he would eventually be caught and no one would be hurt. All we knew was that days earlier, 17 kids had been shot at a school in Parkland, Florida and we, like them, were hiding.
When you sign up to be a teacher, you commit to more than just grading papers and teaching lessons. Teachers at my school have handled gas leaks, students without coats and classes with more than 40 students. They do all of this in addition to doing their “jobs.” My colleagues are the most dedicated people I have ever met, yet the starting salary for a teacher in Oklahoma leaves some families near the poverty line, qualifying them for food stamps. If we can’t expect our students to learn when they are hungry, how can we expect our teachers to teach when they are hungry? Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.
On Monday, April 2nd, I walked out of my classroom alongside 30,000 Oklahoma teachers. My colleagues and I descended upon the capitol and demanded funding for education. Every teacher contributed something. Some teachers are artists. Their picket signs made national news. Some teachers are musicians. Their songs lifted our spirits. Some teachers are public speakers. Their rallying cries focused the crowd on their goal.
I decided to contribute to the movement in my own way. As a new teacher and resident of Oklahoma City, I initially thought I had little to give. Then I realized that I did have something to contribute. I can fast. I ate my last meal on Sunday, the day before the walkout. Five days later, I am filled with energy knowing that my hunger strike has brought attention to the plight of public education.
This week, I learned that you don’t need to be a senator, a millionaire or a celebrity to make a difference; you just have to give what you can. No gift is too small and no voice is too weak. On Monday, legislators said that we wouldn’t come back. On Tuesday they told us they could just wait us out. Now, five days in, they have partially funded an education bill and plan on giving even more. As we look to the end of the week, our resolve is in knowing that by doing what we could, we were able to make a difference for our students.