I have 34 students in Honors American Literature 2nd hour. I have 31 desks. I have 29 copies of The Crucible. The math does not add up.
For the past 3 days I have woken up at 5am. And instead of getting dressed in my favorite business casual attire to go to my cozy classroom on the Westside of Chicago, I have donned a red t-shirt, jeans and flip flops and walked the picket line with the 3rd largest teacher's union in the country. I am a Chicago Public School teacher, and I am on strike. For the record, let me be very clear that I do not always agree with the Chicago Teacher's Union. I have seen the Union protect and reinstate teachers whom I believe to be some of the most destructive human beings to grace a classroom. I don't even know 100% if I believe in having a teacher's union in 2012--is it really necessary? Should we be providing teachers with tenure and protection simply because they have shown up to work for three years consistently? The Union, believe me, is no where near perfect. However, despite the shortcomings of the Union, I do believe in teaching and I believe in my students. I have taught in Chicago for 6 years--I am one of the lucky teachers--I have worked at two schools with fabulous administrators, great supplies, amazing co-workers and, most importantly, the best students any teacher could ever ask for--students who are critical minded thinkers, students who care about their future and about their communities. I haven't dealt with what many CPS teachers have--but I have friends who haven't been as fortunate and it is for them that I need to stand up to this mayor and to this school board. The fact is, public education is under attack in America and that is no more evident than in Chicago. Nearly every week there is yet another article in the Tribune about a school that the mayor is shutting down or, as he likes to phrase it, "turning around". These turn-around schools wipe out the original staff, often displace students across gang lines and are run like corporations. The fight is not about wage increases--trust me, I make enough money, I am not asking for more. Sure, I have multiple degrees and years of service and who wouldn't want to earn a little more, but at the end of the day, I am comfortable and peaceful with my salary. What this strike is about are the little things that anyone who has not taught a day in their lives would not realize are absolutely vital to a classroom. Things like books and desks. Air-conditioning on 100+ days. We're asking to not spend 25 calendar school days testing students using standardized tests. We're asking for the simple comfort of knowing that our school will be open in a month and not become the victim of yet another turnaround. Public education is a challenging place--but it is critical that it remain public. I do not dislike those who work at charter schools--I worked at one in Michigan--at the end of the day, a job is a job, and I do not fault a teacher who finds a job in a charter school--kids need teachers wherever they teach. But we must have the support from our charter school colleagues because they could easily be next. Charter schools privatize the world of education--they take in only the students they prefer, kick out any who are not on a college track, and are run like a corporation, hiring the least experienced teachers with the lowest salaries. Public education needs to remain public for without public education, our society will not function--it is already getting to the point where public schools are the butt of late night jokes and, as a teacher who serves the public, this is beyond disheartening. We're asking to be respected by being evaluated on our skill and our craft rather than on the backgrounds of our students.
"Get back to work! It's about the kids!"
As someone who has taught an extra class for free for the past 3 years, consistently gets a paycheck with 60 hours clocked, but only 40 hours paid, coaches an extracurricular that brings me intense joy but no financial reward, I understand "it's about the kids." As someone who has driven students home because they were scared to cross gang lines and has taken phone calls at 11pm when a girl's father starting hitting her once he found out she was pregnant, I understand "it's about the kids." As someone who has stayed at school until 9pm to get a Louder than a Bomb piece ready for performance and then watch as the poets absolutely blow the audience away, I fully understand "it's about the kids." As someone who makes more than $35,000 less than most of my friends who work in the private sector yet have the same or even less education than me, I can assure you, I understand fully that "It's about the kids."
Here's the deal--I support my students. Every single day. I did not become a teacher to be a victim or to be a savior. I work in CPS because I live in CPS. I know CPS is a challenging district and I do not expect a red carpet treatment. But I do expect to be treated with respect--I have 1.5 Masters degrees, I am a Nationally Board Certified teacher, I have been teaching for 9 years and I have successfully taught students to pass the AP English Literature exam--I'm pretty darn good.
And striking is not what I want to be doing--I am born to be a teacher and to be in the classroom. But I have to stand up for what I believe is right--and providing students with materials, an access to equal educational opportunities, arts and music for everyone and a classroom with enough desks is right. I humbly ask that you reach out to me with questions--the media is spinning this as a wage hike, trying to convey that CPS teachers average $75,000 salary--believe me when I tell you that is not true. Talk to us--the teachers who serve the classroom every single day--hear from us what this fight is really about. Rahm Emmanuel sends his students to a private school in Hyde Park (where, I might note, I was offered a job 6 years ago...that I TURNED DOWN to work for CPS)--his kids have art everyday. They have air conditioning every day. They have high quality textbooks. They have access to field trips. And, just like in CPS, Rahm's children have teachers with amazing skill, unparralled passion and truly dedicated belief in the power of education.