BY: LIZ KEIPER
Congrats, fellow West Virginians! If you’re anything like me, the past few weeks have been the craziest weeks of your professional career, hands down.
It’s been a rollercoaster of anger, sadness, desperation, discouragement, hope, pride, love, and everything in between.
I couldn’t be prouder of the victory for education that teachers in our beautiful state have won. And the world was watching, West Virginia. The world was watching. As I saw the world turn its attention to our often-overlooked state, I decided that I wanted to share this with my students.
Oklahoma teachers have now set down an ultimatum for their state legislature: fix our systemic problems in state funding for education, or OK teachers will go the way of WV teachers. Do y’all want to go through the pressure that the West Virginia legislators went through during the strike? No? THEN FIX THIS NOW. Arizona teachers are similarly organizing as well.
I began to realize the national, and even international impact of the strike when friends from all over the country began messaging me saying things like, “You teachers in West Virginia are taking a stand and making waves. We’re proud of you, and we stand with you. Stay strong, and keep doing what you’re doing!”
Along with teaching English 9, English 9 Honors, and Yearbook, I also teach my school’s Newspaper Journalism class. And, of course, the journalism teacher in me couldn’t ignore the exponentially growing media attention towards the strike as it continued.
During the first few days of the strike, only local or West Virginia-based news organizations were picking up the story, which to me was frustrating. Here was the potential for a monumental news story, and no major journalists were picking it up. I mean, WE SHUT DOWN THE STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA’S EDUCATION SYSTEM FOR DAYS. I would be willing to wager that if most other states had a strike and every student in the state was out of school for days on end, it would have gotten almost immediate national attention. The problem is our national blinders for the region of Appalachia. We here in Appalachia have a sense that the rest of the nation views us as insignificant and expendable, and sometimes their actions confirm that.
However, that very sentiment was turned upon its head when national attention slowly but surely did begin to turn to West Virginia. Two days into the strike, The Hill published a poignant Op Ed on the social action taking place in our state. During the beginning of the next week, West Virginia began to pop up in many national news sources such as NPR, CNN, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Fox News.
Why is national coverage of this event so important? First, it put more pressure on the legislators to get their acts together and come to a compromise that would get us back to school. However, I think that the greater advantage is that it has opened up the national conversation about the value of people from Appalachia. When does our state get the chance to be featured on the national stage for something other than poverty or drug abuse? Not nearly as often as the beautiful people of this state deserve. The nation now knows that West Virginia teachers passionately and articulately love our state, love our students, and love their future, and that we are willing to fight for all of those things.
I decided that upon returning to school, I would spend some time with my newspaper students examining the developing coverage of the West Virginia strike in the national news.
I began by discussing the importance of citizen journalism with my students. The power of social media has opened up the ability for people outside of our geographically secluded region to get information on what is happening here, if they choose to take note. Our social media hashtags #55strong, #55united, and #55ignited helped journalists outside of our state find information on what was happening here and where to go for upcoming rallies, large gatherings, and for potential interview leads.
I then had my students read some exemplar articles from national news outlets and answer the following questions about them:
1) What do you like about the lead? Is it effective? Why or why not?
2) Write out your favorite sentence from the article. Why did it catch your attention? What is good about it?
3) Evaluate the author’s use of quotes. Which quote(s) were the most effective, and why?
4) What is the “angle” of this article? This was a massive issue that couldn’t all be covered in one article. What issue(s) did the author shine the spotlight on? Why do you think they focused on that angle?
5) How did this article help to add overall to the national conversation about education, teacher pay, Appalachia, West Virginia, or student needs?
6) As journalists, what should be our takeaway from the past two weeks?
This could be a powerful lesson for the English classroom as well. The past few weeks have shown the power of words and of social action. This would be a great tie-in for any story with themes such as civil rights, civil disobedience, revolution, the power of language, or the value of education.
As more states continue to follow our lead in taking a stand for the future of education in this nation, remember where this revolution started: right here in the hills of Appalachia. Let’s help our students see the value of voices united in creating change.
Liz Keiper is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not dressing up in togas or running around her classroom with foam swords reenacting Shakespeare, she can be found enjoying the great outdoors, playing guitar, or adding to her rather out-of-control rubber duck collection. You can follow her on Twitter @KeiperET1.
WVCTE is wondering…
- How have you capitalized on events during the strike to connect to your ELA curriculum and enhance your students’ learning?
- How do you see this making waves in West Virginia education?
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