By Politically Inclined
Today, thousands of Chicago Public School students went back to school after their teachers finally called their strike to a close. In a settlement Mayor Rahm Emmanuel called an “honest compromise,” teachers will – for the first time – be evaluated in part by student test scores and be subject to layoffs based on performance, while still giving preference to tenured teachers.
Additionally, Emmanual agreed, despite prior refusal, to conditions that make it difficult to fire teachers who receive poor evaluations and to limit the ability of principals to make their own staffing decisions. The teachers’ union made no progress on issues like reducing class sizes.
While this strike sent Chicago reeling, it also had an impact on teachers belonging to Generation Y who watched as a fellow school district was put on hold for seven school days. Politically Inclined talked to one past, one present and one future teacher – all of whom have varied opinions on the subject.
Matt Baumann – Former teacher at an inner-city Dallas Charter School and member of Teach for America
Being born and raised in the South and especially God-Blessed-Texas, I was taught to always be suspicious of unions. Working in an inner-city, all-minority, Title I school has made me alot more liberal on a lot of issues. But education unions will never, ever be one of them.
I’ll be the first to tell you that teachers don’t make nearly enough, and there is plenty that can and should be done to equalize pay and opportunity with other professions. But the biggest problem I see with education unions in particular is that they try to operate like a regular union, completely forgetting what’s at stake. When you strike and picket line “the man” or “the machine”, the bottom line is DOLLARS. When your strike means that thousands of kids—in particular kids who, by any measure, need MORE school hours, not less!—the bottom line is education of a CHILD (in the short term) and the skewing of their trajectory (in the long term).
If teachers were striking and picketing for better pay and benefits, this might be, on a much more limited scale, somewhat acceptable. But when you are short-changing kids for the protection of the lowest performing teachers around you, you have completely missed the point, and I urge you to remember why you ever got in this career in the first place. I can never tolerate putting the egos and prides of low-performing teachers ahead of the interests of a child. And if you can, you shouldn’t be teaching – and at least not to kids this much in need of good teaching.
Jessica Huseman Ehmke – Current teacher at an inner-city Newark charter school
I work at an inner city charter school in Newark that achieves amazing results. Our students are 100 percent economically disadvantaged, 100 percent minority and a startling amount come from backgrounds that typically restrict their education to high school – if they actually graduate. Instead, 100 percent of our students go to a four year college.
So that’s why it infuriates me that a main mantra of the Chicago public school teachers was that the proposed evaluation system relied too heavily on test scores and didn’t take into account factors that affect student performance like violence, poverty and homelessness. Well, let me tell you something Chicago: The SAT doesn’t give a damn about violence, poverty and homelessness.
Instead of demanding help in learning how to teach students from these backgrounds more effectively, they say they just shouldn’t be held accountable for their performance and rob them of another week of precious education. Why is that so counter-intuitive? Because receiving a good education would push these kids out of those choice characteristics they deem so problematic to learning.
Katherine Harrell – Future teacher, and current experiential education Masters student at Minnesota State University
As a child of a career educator and as a graduate student in Minnesota State University- Mankato’s Experiential Education Master’s program, I have been keeping a close eye on Chicago lately.
Through all of the picketing chants and signs, one situation has stuck with me: The children who are out of school. For many families this means an additional burden of having to find child care and pay for additional meals for their child, for as long as schools are closed, so are the cafeterias who serve free and reduced lunches.
A few students, however, have parent(s) who teach in Chicago schools. I find myself relating to these individuals the most. These kids live off the salary that serves as a source of contention. It is their livelihood that depends on the current system of performance evaluation that leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union and Rahm Emanuel fight over.
Through all of the striking, it is also these students who are getting a better education in civics than any textbook driven 8th Grade Social Studies class could ever dream of providing. They are marching the picket lines and seeing first hand how government influences their daily lives. These students are following Mom to the news conference outside of the Mayor’s office as they themselves become an activist for the cause. If not today, then in the future they will realize and remember the power they have in democracy.
Even though students missing school for so long may not be ideal, education in Chicago continues to take place. (In my field we call this EXPERIENTIAL Education!) Eventually families need to resume life as usual for the sake of their well being, but a few days’ media attention on the issue of teacher’s rights is not too much. Especially when you consider for how long and how many teachers wake up everyday and teach America’s youth all in the name of creating a more educated nation.
What do you think? Was the strike wrong – like Matt thinks, ill conceived – like Jessica thinks, or justified – like Katherine thinks? The comment section is all yours.