For the first time in a quarter-century, Chicago Public Schools teachers are walking the picket line, striking over an unfair contract and devaluing procedures and expectations ushered in with this year’s extended day program. I am watching the politics, press and negotiations carefully. I am not only a parent of a child in CPS, I graduated from the school system and am the daughter of CPS teacher.
I made a conscious choice to send my child to Chicago Public Schools because I believe that, despite there being many broken joints in the system, there are gifted and committed teachers, principals, support services and programming there as well. I feel called to help make the system better by contributing to my son’s school and community with my time, talents, dollars and care. It is not all nostalgic and pretty. There are broken stairs to step over. There are gaping holes in the budget to work around. There are some inadequate teachers and there is too much violence, poor nutrition and cuts in enriching classes.
Those fissures do not detract from what happens in the classroom. Last year, I watched my son, then in first grade, reeling with excitement about researching the macaroni penguin as a part of a wider-class Antarctica project. It was one moment of thousands that fired synapses in his developing brain, grew his heart, sparked his curiosity, pulled him into new friendships and working relationships with other kids in the class. He’s a kid who loves to learn. But that? That project, that inspiration, that guidance to invest in the written word, the group dynamic, science, and the earth? That was all his teacher.
I cannot participate in a conversation where teachers like this one are demonized. I cannot support a city or board who thinks it is OK to ask workers like her to extend their hours while stripping away professional development, time for staff meetings and parent conferences and lesson planning, and promised pay increases, all while adding more kids to their roster and standardized test scores as an evaluative tool. I cannot ask teachers to do what they do every day in the classroom for my child and others and ignore the terms of the proposed contract, just as I would never advise a friend to abstain from negotiating pay, workload, job responsibilities and professional development.
I want my son to be in second grade today. I want him to be settling in to independent reading time, to be running the track in PE, to be sketching shapes in perspective in art, to be doing character studies in drama, to be learning lyrics and tapping out rhythms in music, to be starting a new research project that will light him up as much as the macaroni penguins did last year. I want him to be with his friends. I want him to be sitting at his desk. I want him to be learning from his teachers.
I have spoken to his teachers, and I know they want the same thing. They are called, too. And they want to be in the classroom teaching our kids.
But I support pressing pause on that for the greater good of fair working conditions and expectations for the teachers. What serves them, serves my son. And your kids. And our community. And us.
Until this is all worked out, and I hope that is soon, my boy will be learning from a different teacher — my mom. Instead of grammar school, he will be in Grandma School (he thinks this is hilarious). Some days, he will be in Mommy Camp. There will be liberal recess but there will also be assignments. One of them is to talk about why protesting and strikes are a privilege of freedom. Another is to walk alongside teachers on the picket line and to honk for them as we drive by schools where they are gathered.
My signs are held high. I don’t expect all of the parents on the playground or friends or readers to agree with me. That’s OK. But we have to have the conversation about what we each hold. We have to write out our own signs and we have to sit in this discomfort on the other side of locked school doors because standing up for ourselves is a more important life lesson than what my own child would be learning in math this week.
Especially since this contract and this treatment of teachers is a fraction of what it needs to be.
One last thing; Here’s what I posted on Facebook on the first day of the strike. Not everyone who commented agreed with me. But this is how I am centering and where I am beginning.
Strikes are hard. They are hard for the kids. They are hard for parents. And they are hard for teachers. Many teachers are parents, too, compounding the crisis. And that’s what this is — a crisis.
I am thinking of Christmases my parents had to tell us we wouldn’t have much and years the budget was very tight because my mom was on strike with CPS. It was stressful. And necessary.
I am also thinking of the freedom to protest. The importance of standing up to those in power who are unjust in how they treat their employees. The lesson of how labor does work and can work in this country.