When 20,000 West Virginia teachers staged a rare statewide walkout, questions of pay and benefits dominated the headlines. But those concerns could not fully account for the teachers’ ferocious resolve. After all, stagnant wages and receding benefits have been an issue for workers for decades.
The missing variable appears to have been anxiety about their status as professionals.
Fred Albert, a math teacher and local union official in the Charleston area, said many felt that the Legislature had devalued their training and certification by proposing to let people teach a subject they hadn’t studied and had no experience in.
“If someone really wants to be a teacher, if they feel the call to be in the classroom with students, they need to go through the same programs we went through,” he said.
In that sense, Mr. Albert and his colleagues were in the mainstream of recent labor history. From doctors and nurses to government workers and journalists, some of the most aggressive and successful labor actions in recent years have erupted when professionals felt their judgment, expertise and autonomy were under assault.