Buncombe County teachers pay close attention to Denver teacher strike

Teachers wave placards during a strike rally on the west steps of the state Capitol, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in Denver. The strike is the first for teachers in Denver since 1994 and centers on base pay. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

More than half of the 4,700 public school teachers in Denver have walked off the job. It's just the latest show of nationwide activism over teacher pay, school funding, and crowded classrooms.

It's also the first teacher strike in the Mile High City in 25 years, as educators there follow the lead of other organized efforts nationwide. The most recent was in Los Angeles, a strike that ended in a pay raise, the promise of smaller class sizes, and more nurses and counselors.

Teachers everywhere are paying close attention to what is happening in Denver, and North Carolina educators are no exception -- and no strangers to speaking out.

In May 2018, about 20,000 teachers from across the Tar Heel state marched on the capital in Raleigh.

Front and center in that crowd was Paula Dinga, a third-grade teacher at Estes Elementary and president of the Buncombe County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

"This is a very uncomfortable position for teachers to be in, and I think it speaks to the passion that they have for what their message is," Dinga said of the Denver strike. "It's an important message that people need to see, how much teachers are willing to step out of their comfort zone and show what students need to be successful every other day of the school year."

There were picket lines in Denver, but schools stayed open with administrators and substitutes running the show.

"We don't want to see students or their families hurt by the actions taken by our colleagues across the country," Dinga said.

Much of the activism across the country may come with a price, but Dinga insists it's never just about better pay.

"Our schools and our students deserve the resources to make our children successful for the future and for our communities to thrive," she said. "No teacher that I know ever wants to be out of the classroom. But it seems like the more attention that you draw to a problem that I think affects our entire community, and our entire state, and, obviously, across the country, the more you're able to draw attention to those issues, the more people realize just how much these budget cuts are impacting the classroom."