Last September, the public-school teachers in Seattle, Washington, voted to go on strike on the first day of school. The most high-profile reason for striking was the teachers’ pay: Between 1999 and 2012, salaries for public-school teachers in Washington declined by 4.5 percent. Since the strike, they have successfully bargained on issues including pay, support and funding for special education, and removing standardized-testing scores from teacher evaluations.
Noam Gundle has taught biology and oceanography at Ballard High School in Seattle for more than 15 years, and was a participant in the strike. His interests in activism—from climate change to education reform—along with his desire to mentor led him to a career in education. For The Atlantic’s series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Gundle about his job, some major shifts in the world of education, and the impact he hopes to make on his students. The following transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Adrienne Green: How does your interest in the environment and your proximity to the ocean affect how you teach your students?
Noam Gundle: I do a lot of project-based learning. I've done a lot the last few years on the Elwha River recovery—which is a really amazing story about two dams being put in almost a hundred years ago that stopped all salmon migration, and created a bunch of natural lakes and sediment movement. They took out the dams through a long process: It took a lot of research, work, and collaboration from a lot of different people. It’s an example of what we can do in our society to make things better.