Q & A: Wyoming County Teacher Claims Place in W.Va. History

Mar 9, 2018

Wyoming County was one of the first school systems to decide to walk off the job during the recent statewide teacher strike, essentially starting what some are calling a labor movement. West Virginia Education Assocation President Dale Lee says Wyoming along with Logan, Mingo and McDowell made the first move.

For about two weeks, teachers from across the state held signs and led chants inside the Capitol. Inside Appalachia host Jessica Lilly caught up with one of those teachers, Nina Tunstalle, on her way up to Charleston.

Tunstalle, who teaches fourth-graders at Mullens Elementary, grew up in southern West Virginia. She recalled the meeting with union leaders when they first made the decision to stop coming to work.

"Immediately, the tone of the meeting turned into, We have to do something," Tunstalle recalled.

Tunstalle said the meeting got a little chaotic as teachers debated whether or not to walk off the job. There was concern about losing pay.

"At that point, it was just, 'Well, we're just going to try and wait around see what happens and see what everybody else is doing,' and just for Wyoming County, that wasn't an option," Tunstalle said.

Tunstalle works three jobs: She's a full-time teacher, part-time social worker, and part-time bartender. She's said she works those jobs so she can help her parents and try to get ahead, which isn't easy as a single mom.

In the meeting with union leaders, she began to think about how Wyoming County has been at the bottom of most state education rankings. She stood up and quoted the Christian Bible saying, "Those that are last shall be first, and that's just the tone that we set from early on."

"I teach history," Tunstalle said. "This is a present-day history lesson. I'm not telling my kids to open up the page to page 15, and let's read [about] the people who are fed up the people who are being treated unfairly. We are talking about today. We are talking about Ms. Tunstalle's fourth-grade class."

Editor's note: This story has been modified to reflect the cluster of southern counties in West Virginia that first went on strike including Wyoming County.