A CPS Teacher’s Voice To Share

As some of you know, my beloved has been a high school English teacher when she is working for pay (and hopefully will be again), so we have a lot of friends who teach here in Chicago. One of her former colleagues wrote to his friends and family about the impending strike, asking us to consider his views on it. I asked him if I could share his email here because it had information in it that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The author is a person of the very highest integrity–intellectual and otherwise–and I would bet all I had on the veracity of anything that he put in writing. Given all of that, I thought I should share his email here in case you have friends or family or neighbors who think the strike is just about money or that the teachers are lazy or whatever. Maybe you can share this with them. Here it is:

Dear friends and neighbors,

I write to you because of the possibility that my colleagues and I in the Chicago Teachers Union may go on strike one week from today. I want to share with you why I support this strike, and I hope that you will consider my words as you sort through the media coverage and other perspectives you hear about the regrettable impasse that the Board of Education and the CTU have reached. Please feel free to respond to me, to engage me in conversation personally, and to forward my message to other people you know in Chicago who may be interested.

I have been a public school teacher ever since I graduated from college. I’ve spent the last 10 years of my career in Chicago, and the last 6 with the Chicago Public Schools. Wherever I’ve taught, I’ve been one of the first teachers to arrive in the morning and, until parenthood forced me to be reasonable, one of the last to leave. I approach my career more as a calling — a democratic obligation to help level the playing field of our unequal society by working with young people to create opportunities for themselves. I tell you this to clarify up front that I am not a member of a union in order to work less, shield myself from negative evaluations, or otherwise meet my own needs at the expense of my students, as Mayor Emanuel might allege. I am a union member because I believe that the union, more than the Board of Education, will best protect a contract and working conditions likely to attract and retain a teaching force in Chicago that can live up to my democratic aspirations.

While there are numerous issues still on the negotiating table, I want to focus on something that has not received attention in the media. I’d be happy to discuss the other issues with you as well, but I won’t address them in this message. Please know that I don’t agree with everything that my union leadership is asking for, and I don’t claim to speak for all of my colleagues either.

Learning and working conditions

While a strike would be extraordinarily inconvenient and frustrating for all parties involved, the district’s current contract proposals are not calculated to retain or attract good teachers or maintain classroom conditions conducive to learning. In the long run, the district’s proposed contract would thus be more harmful to public education in Chicago than the brief disturbance of a strike. State law does not allow us to bargain with the Board about a whole range of educational issues (like class size and number of courses taught, for example). So when the Board proposes a contract that makes absolutely no guarantees about anything besides compensation and evaluation (which are controversial enough by themselves), the door is left open to unmanageable, unrealistic learning and working conditions. Since the Board refuses to negotiate these issues, the only way the Union can prevent such measures from becoming part of the contract is to strike.

Here’s the language proposed by the Board about their authority; I’ve highlighted the parts that most concern me:

“Employer Authority. The Board retains the exclusive right, authority and responsibility to manage its operations, develop its policies, determine the scope of its operations, adopt a budget and decide the manner in which it exercises its constitutional and statutory functions and otherwise fulfills its legal responsibilities. Except as may be restrained or limited by a specific and express provision of this Agreement, the Board shall not be required to bargain collectively over matters of inherent managerial policy as defined by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act or the Illinois School Code, including, but not limited to, the following areas of discretion: (a) the functions of the Board; (b) the Board’s overall budget; (c) the Board’s organizational structure, including the creation, modification or elimination of departments, divisions, offices, sections and positions and the allocation or reallocation of the work to be performed therein; (d) decisions to eliminate work or relocate, subcontract, contract out or transfer work to a third party for one or more services otherwise performed by bargaining unit employees and the procedures for obtaining such contract or the identity of the third party; (e) decisions regarding the implementation of new technologies and methods of operation and decisions concerning the use of technology to deliver educational programs and services and staffing to provide the technology; (f) the retention of consultants, specialists and other skilled professionals on a contract or project basis; (g) the size and composition of the work force; (h) the selection, examination and classification of new employees and the establishment of hiring standards; (i) the hiring, evaluation, transfer, promotion, demotion, layoff or reduction-in-force, reappointment or recall, discipline and discharge of employees; (j) the educational or training programs provided to employees; (k) the direction and scheduling of employees; (l) the assignment of work to employees whether on a straight-time or overtime basis; (m) production and quality standards, standards of service and performance expectations of employees; (n) the development and implementation of rules, regulations, policies and procedures governing employee conduct, job performance and other conditions of employment; (o) decisions to determine class size, class staffing and assignment, class schedules, the academic calendar, the length of the work and school day, the length of the work and school year, hours and places of instruction or pupil assessment policies; and (p) decisions concerning the use and staffing of experimental or pilot programs.”

The Board’s assertion of “employer authority” threatens to make the teachers’ contract an empty shell of what it once was. It creates the possibility of a principal assigning me to teach, say, 7 high school classes instead of 5. It creates the possibility of a principal assigning me to 40 students per class, or any number at all. Such working conditions would, of course, be my students’ — and our children’s — learning conditions. It would be virtually impossible for a teacher to be effective under these conditions, given the demands of lesson preparation, photocopying, grading, and building relationships. It is equally difficult to imagine my own children achieving their potential under these circumstances.

I refuse to approve a contract that makes these conditions possible.

On this Labor Day, I hope you will take a moment to consider my perspective on the looming strike. One week from now, I hope to be at school, working with my students. But I will strike now if I have to so that I can protect my ability to work effectively with my future students as well.



4 thoughts on “A CPS Teacher’s Voice To Share

  1. Thanks for this. Andrew is wise. I’m sharing this with my wife, a 1st grade teacher, as we speak. This is an argument I needed to hear (er..read). I just hope that if it happens, it doesn’t occur for too long. Though I’m not Mr. Capitalism, I’m also not Mr. $bags sitting in Lane 2 (per 2008-2013 contract that is.) Moreover, I know that the Track E schools are starting to get into a groove. I’d hate to see that disrupted, even for good reason, since it can be tough to get students back on the train when it stops.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I’ve had more conversations about unions and contracts in the past week than I have had in my life. Education is power. Knowledge opens the doors for understanding. As a parent, I can understand the challenges a strike would bring. However, I am disgusted that the blame is placed on teachers. Neither side can reach a fair agreement. The Board is being unreasonable and the language in the letter you provided is horrifying. My children attend a CPS and their teachers are now working an extra 1.5 hours per day (in the classroom- I won’t even get into what this means for their work loads outside of the classroom). They should not add the possibility of larger class sizes to the mix. They deserve additional compensation for the extra work and, just like us, they deserve to have their steps preserved and with them the acknowledgement of their increasing experience. Our union agreed to a shell of a contract, which surrendered our rights and dignity as educators. Teachers are not rich, nor are we asking for millions. Why can’t “they” just leave us alone? I can’t seem to lose the feelings of defeat, depression, and disgust.

    I support the CTU and will understand their need to strike if a settlement is not reached by Monday. I applaud them for taking legal action when their step increases were removed from their current paychecks, before an agreement was made. I hope that their fight opens the eyes of the public. I will continue to explain the truth and clarify what our media twists and crumbles and calls journalism. I hope that all of you will do the same.

  3. Thanks for sharing, PhiloDave. Tell Andrew I said thank you for doing the same. He’s got a moral compass that our politicos are lacking.
    If the teachers strike, I will fully understand and will not be swayed by what the media will negatively say about them. (Like PhiloDave and mathissexy, Camp Realist has direct contact with three CPS teachers.)
    I’ve yet to read how unjust it was for the mayor to impose a longer school day without proper compensation. It was the equivalent of working in a corporate environment and being told you have to work an extra hour a day without pay. Why wasn’t that blasted by the media? Because the newspapers are also politically connected. Sad but true.

    It is grassroots movements like this posting that can, and will, help to level the bias imposed by local media outlets.
    I hope that we can continue to share what we know and that some CPS faculty share their thoughts directly on this blog.

    It’s funny how the media says that the teachers are “threatening” to strike. No they are not. They are using union tactics, fair and square, to get CPS admins to do their part. (Our police can’t strike, and there has been no real movement by our city, or mayor, to reach an agreement. They’re gettin’ screwed because they can’t “threaten” to strike. So much for keeping our city safe during NATO. This is how the mayor thanks them.)

    Stop blaming the teachers for the budget deficit. If I go back to my corporate environment example, it’s the equivalent of a boss who mismanaged the corporate account and now wants to blame the employees for his/her errors.
    The teachers didn’t bust the bank on this one. The admins responsible for balancing the budget did this. And to be fair, the union leaders who went to bed with administrators also had a hand in this mess.

    And to be really fair, the state politicians that “borrowed” from the employee retirement funds, and have yet to return the funds, are just as guilty for all of this. Will they be held accountable? Doesn’t look like it at the moment.

    Yet it’s the teachers that get the bad rap. It’s unfair and wrong.

  4. I am also connected to a CPS teacher and I back this defense of their profession (referring back to a wonderful earlier post on the Lounge). Non-educators ‘leading’ in education plus mis-management of funds led us here not ‘evil’ and greedy teachers. They are defending themselves and education. If they strike, I will find the time to also walk their line to support. I wish our union would be so strong. (And all of this is not denying that a strike will be difficult on all parties and the idea of the potential financial burden on my family and others is daunting, no doubt about that, but what is right is right but unfortunately not cheap or easy). Maybe our discussing the actual issues with our neighbors will help people hear beyond the political/media rhetoric.

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