Windy City site of latest teachers’ union battle

Teachers strike for right reasons

Luis Aranda | Guest Writer

The Chicago teachers union had been on strike for more than a week, displacing 350,000 Chicago public school students from their classrooms. The strike has brought the third largest school district in the country to a halt, sending teachers to the picket lines, forcing administrators to scramble to staff alternative programs for students and forcing parents to make accommodations for their children. The teachers have every right to strike because the actions, and inactions, of the Chicago public schools administration and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

A young girl holds up a sign in support of striking Chicago school teachers during a rally Saturday, Sept. 15, in Chicago.

A young girl holds up a sign in support of striking Chicago school teachers during a rally Saturday, Sept. 15, in Chicago.

I am a native Chicagoan; I was born and raised in the city’s south side. I am not a product of the Chicago public school system, but I did attend a small parochial school in similar settings to those of our public school peers. In addition, I have friends and family members who are CPS teachers.
Media coverage has focused on the compensation part of the negotiations between CPS and the teachers’ union. On Sept. 12, The Washington Post reported that the median salary for a Chicago public school teacher is $71,017, far more than the city’s median household income of $46,877. The backlash on Facebook, Twitter and other avenues was predictable. However, money is not the main issue.

The teachers are due fair compensation. Under the previous contract the union had with the CPS, the teachers were supposed to received a raise, but Emanuel indicated that there was not enough money in the budget to accommodate a contractually stipulated increase. Considering the state of the economy, the mayor was not making an unfair request. However, this was coupled with a request to lengthen the school day and year without additional compensation. So, teachers were being asked to work more hours for free. The sentiment is that the mayor intervened and broke a contractual agreement.
Another reason the teachers are justified in striking is the learning environment they have to work in. The union has brought to light a number of issues with the physical infrastructure of Chicago public schools. Many schools do not have air conditioning in the classrooms, yet the main office of the CPS does. A longer school year means students are being forced to learn in an environment that would be too hot and uncomfortable, which would adversely affect their performance.
Teachers are concerned with the longer school days because they have to figure out what to add to the curriculum, especially when funding isn’t always there for subjects like the arts or technology. Spending more time in a classroom doesn’t always mean students are learning more, especially if adequate resources are not available.
Teachers are going to be evaluated based on their students’ performance on standardized tests. However, the union does not feel that this is an adequate measure of a teacher’s performance.
To use one day of testing to measure a year’s worth of lesson plans and curriculum is insulting to teachers. Factor in that standardized testing are inherently skewed negatively against students in the inner city. How is this a fair way to evaluate teachers?
Imagine being a doctor, and your performance is based on your patients’ mortality rate. Forget the care they received or how responsive you are to your patient. All that matters is if that person survived. This form of evaluation will not yield an adequate assessment of a teacher’s performance.
My sister-in-law has taught in the Chicago public schools for almost a decade. Year after year, her class size grows because her supervisors believe she can handle a bigger classroom. For some, it can be viewed as an honor to be entrusted with this responsibility, but who ends up suffering? When there are more students in a classroom, she can’t focus her attention on every student as much as she would want.
Increasing class sizes is also a disservice to students who require individualized education programs (IEPs). In addition, her area serves a predominantly Latino community, which translates to having students who have varied understandings of English. She doesn’t have a teachers aide, so how is she supposed to handle a classroom of 35 or more students, while knowing that more can be added at any time? How is it fair to spread a teacher’s attention so thin?
The union is also asking for an increase in funding for nurses, counselors and social workers. In some schools, students cannot see a nurse except during the one or two times a week they are scheduled to be there. These vital members of the school communities are asked to spread themselves among dozens of schools so they can provide crucial services that could affect the outcome of their students’ performance. If they were given more resources, the students can get the individual attention they deserve.
Chicago teachers want to go back to the classroom, but they want changes. Yes, those changes are for the sake of their livelihood. But don’t forget that their livelihood doesn’t revolve around money. No, their livelihood centers on the students they are fighting for.

Luis Aranda is an area coordinator for university housing.

Understandable reasons, irresponsible actions

Ryan Pittsenbarger | Guest Writer

When I heard about the teachers strike in Chicago, I knew what the teachers wanted. They wanted an increase in their salary, better resources for their students and the degree to which student performance is linked to teacher evaluations to be decreased. I can understand the reasoning behind the strike, but the way they went about it was irresponsible.
The teachers strike put a large number of students out of school for a week. If I were a parent, I would be furious at having to find a place for my child to go while hurrying to get to work on time. As an education major, I also know that the lost week with students was significant. Teachers cannot afford to lose that much instruction time considering the importance of state-mandated testing.
I understand that the teachers are trying to make a point, but the teachers neglected the students. Can you imagine how confused the kids were when they got to school that morning and wondered why no one was there? Kids, especially in the primary grades are not going to understand that they did not have school because their teachers are walking in the streets, yelling for change.
There are alternatives ways to communicate demands to the school district. Marching in the streets and yelling is not a professional way to bring about change. As teachers, our students look up to us and try to act as we do. When they see teachers yelling in the streets, they are learning that they can throw a fit until someone gives in to get what they want.
We should be teaching our students that if you want something bad enough, then you should fight for it— but fight for it in a more effective and professional way. Teaching students manners and professionalism begins in elementary school. Now is a good time to show our students how to act in a time of reform.

Ryan Pittsenbarger is a senior in elementary education.

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