the looming Chicago teacher strike, part 1

what does it have to do with you?

think back to a time when you were at school and things weren’t going your way. were you struggling with pulling up a grade? were you feeling disengaged because you weren’t really learning anything new? were you feeling lonely or left out by friends — who were pretty obviously being mean to you? were you dreading school because of that one kid, or those several kids, who — sure — were funny and joked around a lot in class, but were actually pretty out of control and managed to keep the teacher flustered and everyone else from learning?

as a one-time kid, i’ve experienced all those situations to one extent or another, and i bet you, dear reader, have as well. you may have even felt them more extremely that i did, maybe even failing a class or an entire year and having to repeat a class in summer school — or even repeat a grade. you may have started faking stomach aches or straight up started cutting classes or skipping school altogether to avoid the mean kids or the boredom or the general chaos of school. and who could have helped you pull through all that, if they weren’t already trying? your family and friends, sure, but also the teachers in your life. not all teachers are perfect, and i’m not saying that a teacher would have or could have saved you the discomfort and pain that comes with growing up, but i feel pretty confident that your teachers went into teaching to help their students learn and to support their growth. many times, as with all humans, things just get in the way.

and i’m here to explain that the contract the Chicago Teachers Union is fighting for this fall is one that can help with those things that get in the way, that keep teachers from reaching their students and creating that safe and meaningful school environment.

the contract that teachers are fighting for is one that advocates — no, demands — that the school setting is one that everyone deserves and that as many learning roadblocks are pushed out of the way as possible.

teachers are fighting for what every kid and every teacher in Chicago deserves. let’s take a look.

Issue #1:  Pay & Benefits

at first glance, this may cause some questions. how does a teacher’s salary make a student’s life better? how does that make a student’s experience safer, more comfortable? well, if teachers are worried about how they’re going to pay their rent or mortgage, their student loans, how they’re going to cover the rising cost of living, then how can they come into the classroom ready to lead a group of students through the vibrant process of learning? i don’t know about you, but whenever i’ve been worried about money i’m not my most creative, positive, patient, risk-taking self. and aren’t those the characteristics you want most in a teacher?

also, the school system is running into a staffing shortage, particularly in specialized areas like bilingual education, special education, social workers, and school nurses. one of the best ways to attract high-quality candidates is to offer a competitive — and stable — pay and benefits package.

Issue #2:  Class Size

from the outside looking in it may appear that these first two demands, more pay and less students, is obvious evidence that teachers aren’t demanding this for the betterment of the school system, it’s that they’re trying to make their jobs easier. but to a seasoned teacher, or even a beginner, teachers know that teaching isn’t about pouring facts into a child’s head. teaching is about relationships. the masters among us can, and often do, cultivate relationships with 32, 35, 38 kids per class, but it takes a toll. to listen to all those stories, to think about what books each child might like to read, their language development, ways to build their confidence and push them to grow — that takes a lot out of a person. it’s not impossible, but think about the possibilities if a teacher had only 22, 24, 27 kids in a room. think how much more your favorite teacher could have gotten to know you (happy sigh!), and how many more chances your least favorite could have gotten to see the real you, had there been fewer kids and more time to see you, to listen to you, and to be with you.

that’s where the magic of teaching lies, in the relationships. and teachers need to have less kids in front of them so they have the chance to get to know each child more, build trusting relationships with each child, and at the heart of it, support that child as they learn and grow.

Issue #3:  Staffing

pretty simple. hey if there’s a school library, why not staff it with a full-time librarian? since kids have social-emotional needs — growing up is hard! — then why not staff a school with the recommended number of social workers? how about school counselors? how about school nurses? this demand for full school staffing goes back to creating a safe and comfortable environment where children are able to learn and where they can get the supportive services they need. it’s a no-brainer.

teachers are preparing to use their ultimate weapon — withholding their labor — in order to demand what schools across Chicago need in order to be safe and comfortable learning environments. if a strike is what it will take, then the members of the Chicago Teachers Union are ready.

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