It’s bad enough how much trouble the general public seems to have in grasping all the things that can be functioning poorly in a school district. The anti-union–actually, anti-teacher–rhetoric that virtually all major media outlets are outputting with regard to the current strike in Chicago is utterly despicable. But what is actually unfathomable to me is the other TEACHERS who think that coming down against those striking in Chicago at the moment makes them somehow morally superior, as though they care more about children, or are willing to sacrifice more for our nation’s children.
First things first. The school year in Chicago will almost certainly extend to cover the logistical cost of teachers striking for one or two weeks at the beginning of the year. So that argument can go completely out the window, in my opinion.
But secondly, and more importantly, an issue that I, too, have experienced, when thinking about my school’s (NCLB-mandated) obsession with good attendance: Who cares if the students are there, when they’re not learning, either way.** What the teachers in Chicago are trying to tell the general public through the act of striking is that the conditions in their schools are so bad, so reprehensible, and so dangerous, that the teachers cannot do their jobs unless something changes. This is not a matter of “suck it up, deal with it, do your job, get over it.” This is a matter of something drastic needing to change. Striking is a last resort. And I commend the Chicago Teachers Union and the teachers behind it who are trying to do something about it.
Baltimore faces a lot of similar problems to Chicago, from what I’ve been able to glean from my own research into the strike. We don’t have art teachers, nurses, or wraparound services. We have unqualified or completely absent “social workers” (and speech pathologists, and special educators, etc.) with 1,000 student caseloads per person. We have incredibly dangerous, dysfunctional, defunct working conditions. We have a city that is utterly enamored with the charter school movement, at the expense of its general enrollment schools (such as the one I work at). We have crappy, city-backed curricula. We have enormous class sizes and no paras. We have all kinds of problems. (We also have a superintendent whose driver makes more money than the governor, for example.)
One divergence Baltimore can claim from Chicago is that we’re not in a wage-war, per se, but the union has had to fight with the district headquarters about raise and AU denials already this year. And as for the issues in Chicago centered around teacher pay, and all the people naysaying the strike over it being a symptom of greed or gluttony on behalf of teachers: So what? Even if the strike were just about money, I would STILL support it, because there’s no one in this entire country who honestly believes that public school teachers make TOO much money, right? It’s easy to latch onto that issue and claim it as the only reason the teachers are “taking off work,” but any casual research into the topic and Rahm Emanuel’s history can clearly see that teacher wages are just a thin layer of the toxic school environments he has ensured through his governmental tenure. Yes, I agree that a strike–and all out closing of schools–would be a bit overkill if the issue were JUST over teacher compensation, but I vehemently disagree that teachers should not be permitted to protest our crappy salaries, especially in working conditions such as the ones Rahm Emanuel has provided for his employees. I could draw one thousand parallels, but suffice it to say, teachers have just as much of a right as anyone to protest the amount of money they make. At the moment, for what the job entails, it’s not enough.
What truly disturbs me about this strike is the way the general public, including much of the teacher population of the United States, has reacted to it. How dare these greedy teachers stand up and demand better working conditions, better salaries, and, I don’t know, air conditioning? If you have worked inside a school, you can surely attest to the fact that things like access to nurses/social workers/special educators, safe hallways, air conditioning, and so on and so forth, have absolutely everything to do with the wellbeing of the children in the school. To criticize teachers for being selfish or greedy and not prioritizing the children is laughable. Like I said, if you force children to go to school in a place that doesn’t meet their physical, intellectual, or emotional needs, then they are, honestly, just as well off at home, or on the street. And yes, even as someone who teaches pre-K on the westside of Baltimore, I truly believe this.**
I stand in solidarity with the teachers of Chicago who have banded together to say: Enough is enough. I wish, wholeheartedly, that other school districts could stand with them in a true show of solidarity. To the public who is concerned with the lack of childcare, schooling, and support that the children of Chicago are currently being subjected to, I suggest you take this is a very clear, very loud message: America may hate its teachers (that much, based on political propaganda, from both sides, especially recently, is virtually guaranteed, at this point), but America also needs its teachers. If you are horrified at a glimpse into a week without public school teachers in your city, respond to it by fighting against your government, not your teachers. Your government created this mess in the first place. Your teachers are brave enough to stand up against it, in an effort to fight for the conditions that your children deserve. If you write off this strike, and all of the political baggage that has led up to it, as being a mere symptom of greed on behalf of the teachers, then you must think your students don’t deserve the better conditions that the teachers are fighting for. And that is truly sad.
And to the teachers of America, who are insulting this strike and degrading the teachers standing behind it: It must be nice to be you. You clearly work in environments where you have nurses, art teachers, safety protocol, ensured salaries/raises, and fair, equitable systems of teacher evaluation. Your job clearly isn’t constantly being threatened by arbitrary, unfair evaluations, race-based teacher layoffs, and the burgeoning charter movement that threatens the very foundation of public services for Americans. That must be nice. But you may as well be on a different planet from inner city school teachers who don’t have access to these things and security from the barrage of political tools and rhetoric that is always nipping at public school teachers’ heels.
**- Perhaps I should clarify this point. Yes, I think it is better for school-aged children to be in school rather than doing… whatever it is school-aged children do… all day, truant and without supervision. But I feel that people too often fall into the trap of assuming that school inherently MUST be a safer space for children in the inner city than their homes, or even their streets, are. I am here to say that this is not necessarily true. Students are subjected to bullying, poor supervision, little-to-no academic content, racism, sexism, homophobia, propaganda, violence, drugs, and a whole host of other horrible things in many inner city schools. Pretending that these schools are so-called “safe spaces” for anyone (or at least a better alternative than whatever else) can make governmental officials as well as teachers and parents fall into the trap of NOT fighting for better working/learning conditions because schools are at least “the lesser of two evils,” right? Wrong. When a school doesn’t even provide heating (such as mine) are you going to tell my pre-K students are physically more safe there than they would be at a head start program or community daycare service that provides heating and a safe physical environment for them? Ideally, yes, the children would be in school, obviously, hello, I AM A TEACHER, I BELIEVE IN SCHOOL, but if your city is not providing your children/students with the physical, emotional, and intellectual environment that is crucial to their physical/emotional safety and capacity to learn, then yes… there is a problem. A very, very big problem.