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A day in the life of a Newton Public Schools teacher on strike

English+teacher+Sherri+Ziomek+listens+to+South+teacher+John+Curley+present+his+speech+at+the+Newton+Teachers+Association+%28NTA%29+rally%2C+Thursday%2C+Jan.+25.
English teacher Sherri Ziomek listens to South teacher John Curley present his speech at the Newton Teachers Association (NTA) rally, Thursday, Jan. 25.

A week ago, English teacher Sherri Ziomek was in her classroom teaching her freshmen Romeo and Juliet. Now, she is on the picket lines, protesting relentlessly for a fair contract among her fellow Newton Teachers Association (NTA) members.

Since the NTA strike began, Ziomek’s daily schedule has been turned upside down. A seemingly ordinary morning now begins with a teacher’s assembly outside North in which the daily plan is laid out by a Contract Action Team. This team also met the night before to discuss the best way to spread the NTA’s message. “It’s funny to see how the plan has evolved as the week has gone by,” said Ziomek. “We are always figuring out where we can be the most visible and put the most pressure on the school committee.”

On the foggy morning of Thursday, Jan. 25, the plan was three-fold. The majority of teachers, including Ziomek, continued to picket outside of schools and the education center while other groups of NTA members surrounded Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s office and traveled to the Massachusetts State House.

The North teachers joining Ziomek on the picket lines were split up into four groups which stood on the four corners of the Walnut and Washington intersection. The groups of teachers often compete to make the most noise. “We get competitive at corner two. Just trying to keep smiling,” said Ziomek. That seemed to be the mood of the day, keeping morale high. From the minute the teachers left North for their march across Newtonville, music was blasting, people were dancing, and air horns were blaring. However, behind the seemingly cheerful front, the teachers put up, it was clear that frustration was only growing. “Every day I wake up and hope it will be easier. We are all so disheartened,” said Ziomek.

Some NTA members, such as English teacher Kate Mannelly, took it upon themselves to be advocates of the union spirit. Mannelly could have been easily spotted in a crowd with her massive speaker, cheering proudly and uplifting teachers. “Every day that we are out here, it’s easy to feel defeated that the school committee is not making moves fast enough,” said Mannelly. “I hope that through the music, we can kind of keep that morale up, and remember what we are fighting for, and stay focused on that rather than how tired or frustrated we are.” Mannelly’s strategies seem to be working. “I just follow the music,” said biology teacher Naomi Berg.

As the teachers marched through Newtonville, the support from the community was palpable. Newtonville businesses and residents opened their doors to striking teachers who needed a break from the picket lines. Local encouragement was another driving factor that helped teachers endure. “It is so heartwarming to see how the community has been so supportive of us, whether it is through dropping things off for us, giving us food, giving us honks, showing up to rally with us, or even just giving a wave in the street,” said Mannelly. “There have been so many acts of care from the community that have been the biggest blessing.” Former North teachers also attended the protest to stand in solidarity with the union.

Mannelly, Ziomek, and other members of the so-called “corner two squad,” stood outside dancing and cheering for another half hour before continuing their march through Newtonville. Thursday’s strike schedule had been different from the previous days. According to Ziomek, most of the past week had been spent standing on street corners chanting, but today the majority of the morning would be spent walking laps around the Education Center. On the walk there from corner two, Ziomek stopped to admire the creative signs the teachers had designed. Ziomek’s own sign was a parody of the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers. It read, “I would strike for 500 hours and I would strike 500 more.” According to Ziomek, “I felt this was appropriate because it has been so long, and we will keep going.”

The teacher’s creativity did not stop at protest signs. Special education teacher Melynda Meszko-Cameron showed up to Thursday’s rally in a tiger onesie. “I am a fun teacher. This is what I would do in the classroom anyway, so I am just trying to maintain my creative energy in a positive outlet while still getting our message across,” said Meszko-Cameron. “I hope it brings a little bit more awareness and helps people take a minute to pay attention.” Yet, Meszko-Cameron’s frustration with the school committee continued to shine through. “I am almost out of sign ideas,” she said.

While walking laps around the education center, Ziomek commented that the reality of cheering for hours in sometimes harsh weather conditions had begun to affect the teachers. “When I get home from striking, I am just so tired. It is a different kind of exhaustion from teaching, it’s physical and emotional,” said Ziomek. Following the march around the education center, Ziomek met up with a few of her fellow teachers, one of whom was English teacher Krystal Powers, who was pregnant with her second child. On Thursday morning, Powers gave a speech on the importance of lengthy maternity leave. “I will not have the necessary sick days to take what every other employee in Massachusetts can take for their paid portion of their maternity leave,” she said.

At 11 a.m., NTA members in Ziomek’s group left the education center to get lunch. According to Ziomek, over the past week she had been getting lunch from local Newtonville businesses, but today, she ate lunch in the North parking lot. The lot was crowded by hordes of NTA members whose camaraderie with each other was apparent even through the cold. The teachers were sharing sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and hand warmers. 

Following lunch at around noon, the union members headed over to city hall to attend Thursday’s NTA rally. On the walk over, the teachers again presented high spirits. Teachers were using cowbells, bull horns, and make-shift drums to make noise to gather community support. Much like those who saw the march earlier in the morning, people who passed by the NTA honked and yelled along with teachers. “Look at all of these people supporting us,” said PEHW teacher Lauren Baugher. “We are not alone.”

Once the teachers arrived at City Hall, they took their place on the building’s steps, where a band of music teachers were playing encouraging music. The energy from an entire district of teachers dancing and scream-singing songs of unity was infectious. Following the musical performance, the NTA members listened to Thursday’s speakers which included both students and faculty. The teachers cheered along to messages of union strength and displayed their animosity towards Mayor Fuller. “To Mayor Fuller and everyone else speaking about excellence, put up or shut up,” said South teacher John Curley, during his speech. This statement was followed by roaring cheers from the audience of NTA members and supporters.

At around 2 p.m., the rally concluded, and NTA members were instructed to walk laps around city hall, in an effort to surround it. Ziomek and her fellow teachers began to march, screaming the chants that had resonated throughout the strike thus far. “Solidarity forever, the union makes us strong,” they chanted.

Ziomek returned to her home and eagerly awaited the news of whether there would be school the next day. “I have looked at my social media so much since this strike. I am constantly waiting for the next update,” said Ziomek.

With negotiations still underway that night, the strike was approved to continue. Friday, Jan. 26 would be yet another day of marching through the wintry New England air, waiting for progress. 

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About the Contributor
Leah Ziskin, Arts managing Editor
Leah Ziskin is currently a sophomore at Newton North. Outside of school she participates in plays and musicals and overall loves theater. She also enjoys baking, listening to Taylor Swift, and reading mystery novels. Leah also loves watching TV, movies, and musicals. Her favorite TV show is Anne with an E, her favorite movie is Knives Out, and her favorite musical is Wicked. Leah has had a passion for writing ever since she was very young. Her favorite school subjects are English and History. She is excited to be a part of the team for Volume 101 of the Newtonite!
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