On The Chicago Teachers’ Strike

11 Sep

As a lawyer, I’m the black sheep of my family. Of my four grandparents, three taught. My dad’s mother taught kindergarten. My mom’s mother taught 5th Grade. And my mom’s father was a civil engineer, and a professor at the University of Illinois.

My dad taught for years at a local high school, coaching the baseball team and terrorizing driver’s ed students. My mother taught special education at a high school in Wisconsin when she was first married, and she tutored kids in my third grade class, helping them learn to read.

Of my siblings, I’m the only one who doesn’t work in a school. My sister taught undergrads at U of I, same as my grandfather, while also teaching 3 year olds in the preschool, and continues to teach preschool. My brother taught at the same high school as my father, and coached track and cross country, and still teaches. My oldest sister provides occupational therapy services for a local school district.

Two of my cousins, two of my best friends, my aunt, and countless more friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, are teachers.

Specific to this strike, I have a lot of experience with Chicago’s public school system. My aunt taught in it for decades, my best friend teaches in it now, and I was educated in it for 8 years.

So although I’m not a teacher, this is important to me. I am stunned and hurt by the comments I’m seeing online, about how teachers are being greedy, teachers don’t really care about their kids, all they care about is getting a raise, and they should be grateful to have any job at all in this economy.

Where are these commenters coming from? How is it possible, when I know so many teachers, that they seem to know none? I have never, ever known a teacher to do it for the money. That statement is so ridiculous as to be laughable. A 16 percent raise over 4 years – simple math, which you should know by now- is a 4 percent raise per year. Is that more than most people get? Sure. But is it commensurate with the time put in? Hardly. Furthermore, every single teacher I know would willingly and gladly accept less, if it meant the money was used for their kids.

And CPS, make no mistake, is broken.

My aunt spent hours in and out of her CPS classroom. She was in a trailer on the blacktop of the school, with insufficient heating most winters. She went into the community and homes of her students to reach out to them and help them. She sacrificed a lot for her students. Most of them came from low income households, and she bought supplies for kids that couldn’t afford them. At night, she graded, planned, and oh yeah, got a Master’s Degree. (In fact, almost all of the teachers I know have Master’s degrees, in addition to their required continuing education.)

My best friend works at a CPS high school. Her class sizes have increased dramatically. She does not have sufficient resources to run a proper science lab. Her building has been declared unsafe. And she has no principal – no one seems to want this school. She stays after school to work with the kids, and has mentored on a one on one basis. She volunteers to supervise extracurricular activities. She buys her own supplies. And she is still considered one of the luckier ones.

In my own experience, I had one terrible teacher at CPS (Mrs McCabe, third grade, couldn’t spell the days of the week. Seriously.) But the rest? Inspiring, enthusiastic leaders who instilled a love of learning in me and several other kids. Mrs. Civik got me interested in Ancient History. Mr. Jacoby got me reading the daily newspaper. And Mrs. Whitler very, very patiently explained the nuances of Algebra to me, preparing me for high school.

These teachers, and teachers like them, should not be measured and evaluated by my standardized test scores. Those don’t show how my teachers inspired me to dig deeper and ask questions. Or how to properly write a paragraph (minimum of three sentences). Or how to use the scientific method. And they don’t show all the extra hours that are put in, everyday.

Maybe my experience was unique. Like every profession, I’m sure there are some greedy, incompetent ones. I’ve known my share, and yours, of greedy and incompetent lawyers. I’m not saying teachers are saints. But they deserve better than this. And so do the students.

It’s not about the money, though that is part of it. The teachers are being asked to do more with less resources. Class sizes are in the thirties. Facilities are in complete disrepair. Extra services, like counseling, are spread thinly throughout the district. I don’t think asking for basic school supplies is greedy.

If you want to talk to a greedy, selfish, incompetent teacher, I can’t help you. But I can introduce you to several selfless, hardworking, dedicated ones. Maybe then you’ll stop picking on them on the Internet.

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10 Responses to “On The Chicago Teachers’ Strike”

  1. Nancy Caddigan September 11, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    Bravo, well said. I personally was not educated by CPS – but my children were and I agree with you wholeheartedly!

  2. sohobbes September 11, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    Thanks, Nancy!!

  3. Joel Cunningham September 11, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    To be fair to Mrs. McCabe, “Wednesday” is a pretty tricky one.

  4. sohobbes September 11, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

    Yes, but Thurrsday is just wrong.

  5. Katie O'Kelly September 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    Thank you. The support is appreciated.

  6. Aimee September 11, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    Actually, 16 % over 4 years is less than a 4% a year raise. If you get 4%, the increase is geometric and you would havel almost $100 more per $10,000 in salary you started with.

    I I know that because of public school teachers. Rock on.

  7. dippeddelights September 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

    HI Sheilah!
    I came across your blog from a Facebook post about the strike–I have to agree with everything your wrote! Awesome post! But I also wanted to stop in to say I’m so sorry to hear all that you are going thru but am thankful that you are willing to share. You are a beautiful writer and it so clearly illustrates the struggles and heartbreak of fertility troubles. God bless you and your beautiful family!
    Katie Doyle

  8. sohobbes September 11, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    Awesome, thanks Aimee for the correct info. Despite Mrs. Whitler’s best efforts, math is still not my strong suit!

  9. sohobbes September 11, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Thanks Katie!

  10. Aimee September 11, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    Actually, 16 % over 4 years is less than a 4% a year raise. If you get 4%, the increase is geometric and you would have almost $100 more per $10,000 in salary you started with.

    I know that because of public school teachers. Rock on.

    **Edited for grammar, because teachers taught me that too.**

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