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“To really understand what is going on in the schools, you need to come to the schools”

Julie Reyes Oda, president of HSTA Leeward, delivered this speech at last week's teacher rally in Kapolei.

Special to The Hawaii Independent

During this pandemic, our teachers have been speaking out and that has to be acknowledged. I want to thank UniServs ‘Ilima Long, Justin Jansen, and Jonathan Leibowitz, the Leeward teachers, and others who came to support us. ‘O Julie Reyes Oda ko’u inoa. He kumu ha’aheo wau. My name is Julie Reyes Oda. I am a proud teacher and I am proud to be the HSTA Leeward President.

We need to be direct and clear about our Day of Action. We have a right “to share in the decision-making process affecting wages and working conditions.” Not just because it’s right, but as teachers, we provide a safeguard for our students as well. We use our voice because our students don’t have a voice in this.

We are being denied the right to share in the decision-making process because the Superintendent is using this pandemic as an opportunity to unilaterally make changes. This means there are no checks and balances and it’s the vulnerable students who suffer the most.

My speech is inspired by a 2006 article called “On Being Hawaiian.” I think someone here may know that one.

Are teachers better off today than they were a year ago? A year ago we operated under a memorandum of understanding signed on June 26, 2020. Was it perfect? No. Let’s look at how much things have changed from a year ago. Last year, we agreed to COVID response meetings at each school, limiting class size, and that lunch supervision needs to be compliant with duty-free lunch periods. We were able to discuss communication, contingency plans, support for teachers, and continuity of learning. Now the rules under which we currently operate make no sense. The rules make no sense because they are made by people who do not represent us. To really understand what is going on in the schools, you need to come to the schools and to the classrooms. What the Superintendent is saying to the BOE and to legislators is not true. They have not been in a classroom in years.

Jon Osorio talks about confusion and how one can be rendered powerless by their own choices. He says the confusion is over what the choices are and what they mean, not the choices themselves. We need to think about what the future is that we envision for our profession, what choices we need to make as teachers to make that happen, and how willing we are to be committed to those ideals. We are not here saying we don’t believe in our principals, our schools, or our students. We are here because we want to be part of the solution. So when I asked if teachers are better off today than they were a year ago, the answer is…hell no.

Without the courage of people like you, it would never be possible to get our voices heard. This is not over. Stay the course, teachers. I need you to give testimony to the BOE on Thursday and come meet me on Zoom on September 28 @ 3:30p at the Leeward RA to figure out what our next steps are. I am with you. We choose to be teachers and nothing else. We are HSTA.