Last week, I began the 2012-2013 school year and without a contract. Like most Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers, I sat around, wringing my hands wondering if I would strike and if so, what would happen as a result. I mostly wondered what that would mean for my family and the families of my colleagues. If I strike Monday morning, I will not be paid and risk losing all my benefits, depending on the length of the strike. Currently, I am the sole provider of healthcare benefits in my family. This means that because, after more than 45 negotiation meetings where Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has not budged despite findings from independent arbitrators and support from a study by the University of Illinois, all of which back the union and its requests, my husband and I would have no healthcare coverage and half our income would disappear completely. That is a very scary thought. It would be even scarier if we had children.
Six years ago, I went back to school to get my graduate degree in education. I graduated with a 4.0 and worked hard to prepare myself for the world of education. I wanted to be the best teacher I could be. I wanted to work in Chicago’s public schools because I attended a public K-8 school (as well as undergraduate college!) and it profoundly affected who I am as a person. Midway through my first year of teaching I realized nothing could prepare me for the world of education.
Each year I teach five sections of high school English. That’s thirty (or more!) students in a room. That means that in my short career, I’ve already influenced almost 500 people directly! This doesn’t even include students I’ve taught in summer or night school, students who I mentor, have in my after-school club, or just smile at in the hall on a day when no one else did. Being a teacher is the most challenging thing I have done in my life; it is also the most rewarding. I can’t even fully describe it. Everyone always points to the moment when the kids “get it,” but it’s so much more than that. Kids teach you, too. They teach you how to be better parents, because you parent them when their parents don’t. They teach you how to be accountants, when you dig into your own pocketbook to buy them supplies or give them money for lunch. They teach you how to be lawyers, when you defend them to their peers or the school because they had a bad day unlike any bad day you or I will ever have. They teach you how to be doctors, too, when they come to you and tell you their most personal medical problems (seriously, that happens) and you have to decipher the level of care they will need (and often how they will get it). Sometimes, they even teach you how to be a MMA fighter when you have to break up a fight. And yet, the one thing they don’t teach you, the one thing my students haven’t taught me is why, despite the fact that I am all of those things to all of those students, I am mistreated by my district and the mayor of the city I was born and raised in and in which I work as a public servant. They can’t teach this to me because they don’t understand it either. As a teacher, I am vilified and my profession is denigrated by the mayor and his office’s media tactics. Last year, as my husband can verify, I cried more than I ever did. You have no idea what it’s like to work until 5 or 6 or later at night, come home with a pile of work that there aren’t even enough hours in the day to get done, watch the news and hear that you don’t work a “full” school day.
As a child, I had amazing veteran teachers all of whom worked incredibly hard and taught me to be a creative, critical thinker who continues to love learning. That is an extraordinary feat! Some of those teachers are still teaching and still inspiring students daily. Did you have a teacher like that? Someone who inspired you and changed you in far-reaching ways? I’d like to believe I am that teacher for some students. I know some of you are that teacher for your own students. Imagine what our world would be like if teachers like that weren’t around. What happens in this fight for a fair contract could very well make that decision for future generations. When we settle for less than we are worth and less than we deserve, we send a message to future generations of teachers that this is not a profession worth entering. That this is not some place where you will be treated fairly in a job that already demands so much of your body, mind, and soul. Ask yourself if you would want the children in your life to have that as their future.
I know not everyone is pro-union. Perhaps your ideologies and political beliefs do not align with that of a labor union. However, this fight is about more than unions. It’s about the future of public education in this country. It’s about the slow and steady eradication of a working middle-class. It’s about the dismantling of a public education system and neighborhood schools in particular. It’s about the dirty not-so-big-a-secret that labor unions no longer have a political party. It’s about the world we live in and the world we want to have for our children and their children. What we do matters. And support for the Chicago Teachers Union is paramount right now.
If you have a Facebook account, I am urging you to post this image on your account. And if you don’t have a Facebook account (like me), please forward the link to this post to those you know that do. Tweet about our struggle with the hashtag #insolidarity. Tell people to read the facts. Explain to people that this isn’t about money, that’s the only thing we have left to strike about, but we’re using that as leverage for other things that our students need: smaller class sizes, more resources, art classes, music classes, physical education, and experienced teachers. We need to send a clear message to the world that teaching matters, that teachers matter, and that a public education is worth saving.
I also urge you to explore the issue of teacher pay and its effect on the state of education in our country, the turnover rate within the profession, and the problems it is creating with recruiting teachers for future generations by watching the film, American Teacher (a movie I would see). If you have Netflix instant watch, it’s free! It is the ONLY movie I’ve ever seen that accurately portrays what teaching is like. Except for Dangerous Minds. That’s true, too. : )
(Support the CTU Facebook designed by Martin Ritter via Fred Klonsky)