Whether in class or on strike, they’re making sacrifices for my education

By Makena Cioni

Venice High junior Makena Cioni joined her teachers on the picket line
Photos by Kirsten Farrell

The author is junior class president of Venice High School, where she is also a captain of the girls’ volleyball team and president of the Interact Club (Rotary International). Last year she was a leader of the Venice High walkout for gun control legislation.

As the skies opened above our heads in downtown Los Angeles on the first day of the LAUSD teachers’ strike, educators, parents, students and community members marched under dripping umbrellas in the tens of thousands.

“Tell me what democracy looks like!” bullhorns echoed off the towering skyscrapers.

“This is what democracy looks like!” we shouted in response.

I am proud to be a product of public education. A product of weekend study sessions — voluntary both for the students and the teachers — and of bad cafeteria lunches made slightly better by the hot sauce my teacher brought for us.

My public education has taken me far: I’ve surpassed the scores of private school students on standardized tests. I’ve been recognized as a top volleyball player among Westside schools, trained by coaches paid a lot less than their private-school counterparts. I’ve directed local and international service projects through Girl Scouts & Rotary International, thanks to the leadership skills I’ve learned in public schools. All this isn’t to brag, but to attest to the value of public education.

Yet with everything I’ve learned through public education, I’ve learned to see its flaws as well.

I’ve seen classes teeming with so many students that on days with perfect attendance a student has to sit at the teacher’s desk for lack of seats.

I’ve seen big, beautiful libraries — rows of computers and open desks, shelf after shelf of books — sitting untouched because the school can’t afford a librarian to keep it open.

I’ve sat in an office with a sprained ankle for hours because it’s Tuesday, which means the school nurse isn’t on campus, and administrators couldn’t hunt down an ice pack.

That’s why two Mondays ago, despite fears of black marks on our attendance records and the temptation to stay warm and dry at home, many students chose to join our teachers on the picket lines.

I stand with my teachers because they are what drive my education forward. They put our interests above their own, coming to school at 6 a.m. to help with homework, giving up their lunch breaks to sponsor our clubs, coaching our sports for the laughable stipend of 70 cents an hour. And when politicians and school board members made their jobs harder — raising class sizes, cutting resources, stagnating salaries — my teachers only worked harder.

Some people argue that teachers are being irresponsible for leaving their classrooms to strike. They say that teachers are damaging my education just so they can get raises, and that teachers are selfish for leaving all us students displaced by their actions. But I don’t think that’s true at all.

Our teachers are fighting to save public education, one of the pillars this country was built on. They’ve sacrificed their own incomes for the benefit of the children of Los Angeles. They’re striking because they love their jobs and, more so, who their jobs are for.

It is a humbling experience to see 34,000 teachers prioritize my education over their own paychecks. We’re constantly told that we are the future. But to see my teachers risk missing their car payments, not paying their rent, and not contributing to their own children’s college funds — for us— is something
I will never forget.

People say one can never stop learning. I think a teacher can never stop teaching. During the strike, my teachers have taught sacrifice, bravery and altruism.
I have never been more proud to be their student than when they left their classrooms.

Teachers called out “We’re here for you!” as my friends and I weaved through the throngs of red and umbrellas in Grand Park. They cheered, heartened to see us supporting them, just as they have always done for us.