As Chicago has had to endure a week long teacher’s strike, many in our community have been affected. Kids have had no place to go during the day,  and friends and colleagues have joined in striking along with other Chicago Public School (CPS) Teachers. No matter where you’re from, this is a difficult issue for everyone. I have invited two people in the McCormick Community, Jamie Wasowski (Recruitment and Admissions Associate) and Katie Hartwell (3rd year M.Div student), to share their perspectives on the strike and CPS in general. Their stories are only part of the larger body of stories, but we felt it was important that they be allowed to have a voice. Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below. Please keep the teachers and children of CPS in your prayers, that they may soon find a solution to this issue so that teachers can go back to teaching and kids can go back to learning, and that the school remains a safe environment for all.

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Jamie: As the wife of a Chicago Public School teacher, I stand in solidarity with my husband and all other teachers.

My husband and I have found it to be very difficult to turn on the news each day and hear some of the negativity portrayed by the media, particularly the propaganda commercials that have portrayed our teachers as heartless and uncompassionate. My husband and his colleagues are not heartless nor uncompassionate.  In fact, they are quite the opposite which is why they are striking.  This is not a “strike of choice” as Mayor Rahm Emanuel claims.  In fact, it is a necessary, last resort took the teachers can use to stand up for better education for all of Chicago’s children.

The Chicago Teachers Union, under the leadership of Karen Lewis, and the Chicago Public School Board led by David Vitale and Jean-Claude Brizzard, have been at the table negotiating since the walk out on September 10th. The teachers, however, have been marching.

To help you understand who is at the negotiation table, let me explain: All leadership in the CTU are elected by CPS union teachers - which constitutes 90% of CPS teachers. Parents in the local school councils (LSC) are also asked for their input when it comes to school matters and considered a teammate by the CTU. And, though the media has portrayed Lewis as a power hungry vicious pit bull, I believe she and her team of negotiators is in full support of parents and kids, not just teachers.

The Board of Education, on the other hand, is appointed by the Mayor and most members do not have backgrounds in the field of Education. Most members of the Board of Education come from the big-business world and their methods, seemingly, do not take into account the poverty and/or special needs of many of students. Their methods involve privatization, or charter schools. Charter schools are public schools, but instead of being operated by the Board they are operated by private corporations that have a contract or ‘charter’ to operate a school within CPS.

The problem breaks down to what our society cares about most: does it care about for-profit schools that are in the pockets of politicians? Or does it care about providing free public education to all of America’s children?

Here’s what’s on the table:
1. More compensation for longer school days (Would you work a longer day without being compensated for the extra work?)

2. Smaller class sizes: Studies have shown for years that smaller class sizes (20-25 students/class max) facilitate learning better than larger class sizes. Currently, classes have ballooned to 35-45 students per classroom.

3. Rehiring teachers that have been laid off: particularly in areas such as art, music, and PE.

4. A more fair way of evaluating teacher performance instead of basing it on standardized test scores. (Tests that do not help the confidence of special needs students or students that do not test well). Basically, if your school has a poor average on the ACT then no raises will be granted and newer non-tenured teachers could be cut. A more fair way of evaluation would provide greater job protection plus increased morale for students and teachers alike.

5. Above everything else the CTU is trying to save a profession that is a calling! Teaching is not something that many who are striking do for no reason or because they failed at some other career.  They teach because they WANT TO!!!! Why else would they have attended so much college, taken out student loans or served in the military to pay for teacher education?

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Katie: I was a teacher in Chicago Public Schools for 4 years before I came to McCormick. In my four years as a CPS teacher I was displaced a total of three times.

The first time I was displaced, it was the last day of the school year.   Over the summer, I was told by my principal that they were working to hire me back. However, after being a sub for nearly three months the following academic year, I was hired back in November.

The second time, I was displaced was a year later, in the following October. School was in session for six weeks before the District decided we did not have enough students to justify the number of teachers in the building. They took all five of my classes and shuffled them into other classes. Some of the classrooms then had 40 students in them and only 35 desks. Students were sitting at the teacher’s desk, sharing desks with other students or writing on their laps. I was able to find a full-time teaching position in November at another school and stayed there for the duration of the school year.

The timing of these layoffs were difficult for me, but it was especially difficult for students. When teachers are moved around, replaced, or simply not there for three months, there is a negative impact upon students and their learning. Many schools are faced with layoffs after the 20th school day and this situation is not unique.

Teachers are on the picket line, right now, advocating for students to be put first by CPS. Yes, you can give students a place to go during the day claiming that you are putting ‘Children First’ but, teachers know there is more to it. If CPS cares about their students they should want stability in their lives. Our students do not always come from safe places. School should be a place where they see the same smiling faces and develop healthy relationships with teachers and staff. Student growth cannot happen when teachers are coming and going the first three months of the academic year. Students will never learn the benefits of trust if their beloved teachers and the arts are taken away from them.

I am in solidarity with the teachers in Chicago Public Schools as a former teacher, but also as a Christian. Our responsibility as faithful disciples of Christ is to care for the least in our society. The children of Chicago need our support, not only during a strike, but everyday they enter the classroom doors. Students need the love and compassion of teachers who will guide them to their destiny. By standing in solidarity with the teachers, I believe I am serving the risen Lord. Alleluia. Amen.

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