What's at Stake?

September 10, 2012

I am reprinting David  Sieber's Op-Ed on Gapers Block just because I think it is so good. David is a CPS teacher, and is currently completing a Masters degree in Urban Education Policy Studies.

Op-Ed Fri Sep 07 2012 

What's At Stake for Chicago Public Educators? 

By David Stieber 

You have undoubtedly heard the news reports, radio attack ads, CPS representatives, the "CEO" of Chicago Public Schools, and the Mayor saying how teachers are walking out on the students if we strike. Parents, students, residents of this city, as a teacher let me tell you, comments like that rip teachers to our core. As cliché as it sounds teaching is a calling. It's not as if one day we just said, "I guess I'll just be a teacher." It takes skill and dedication to stand in front of 30 (sometimes more) young people in a classroom and truly care and be able to teach every one of them. It is not possible to just be mediocre when it comes to teaching students. A young person is the first to let you know if you aren't doing a good job at teaching the lesson, not getting graded work passed back quickly enough, heck, they will even let you know if you look bad that day. 

Teachers just can't punch in, start thinking about kids then punch out and stop. Teachers are always trying to improve our lesson plans, grade, figure out ways to reach the students who are withdrawn, quiet, confrontational or disrupting class. We just can't shut our students out of our lives when the bell rings. 

Unless you are a teacher you have no idea the pain, frustration and intrinsic anger we feel when some paid radio ad claims, that "teachers are walking out on students." Some days after teaching, I honestly wish I could walk out on my students and never come back. But no matter how frustrating our day may have been, it is the kids that always bring us back. Teachers spend our lunch periods, before and after school helping, coaching, and listening to our students. 

After days of teaching, we spend nights in grad school, trying to make ourselves better teachers. We raise children and think about how we want our own child to be like __(insert name here)__ who we taught a few years back. 

There is nothing about our careers, our schools, and our students that we take lightly. 
So please understand, teachers are trying to teach you that our careers and professions are under attack. Please understand we are trying to teach you about how your child's education is under attack. 

You may find this dramatic, but education is at a crossroads in our country and our neighborhood, our city is right at the intersection of these crossroads. There is an attempt to make schooling privatized, charter-ized, and more inequitable than it already is. There is an attempt to get rid of experienced teachers who have built relationships with families, who truly know how to teach and replace them with less expensive, inexperienced teachers who likely will only be at the school for two years. 

There is an attempt to teach through testing, to make your child so bored in school from over-standardized testing that students aren't excited for school anymore. There is an attempt to further cut librarians, counselors, nurses, PE, World Language, Art and now classroom teachers, in order to "save" money. A budget is a political document, not a financial one, it's about priorities. Some priorities obviously need to be re-evaluated. 

Teachers in no way shape or form want to strike, we want to be working with and educating your children. The CTU, which represents and is elected by 26,000 educators across this city has had over 50 negotiation meetings with CPS since November 2011. In all of that time "CEO" Brizard has attended zero of those meetings, which means there was no one from CPS at the bargaining table with any educational experience. 

So I ask, how do you bargain on what is best for students with people who have never taught students? 

At stake is way more than pay. At stake for us is doing what is right for our community, our city, and yes our students, because as teachers it is always about the kids. ~*~

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Mike Klonsky

Mike Klonsky is an educator, writer, school reform activist, and director of the Small Schools Workshop (http://www.blogger.com/profile/02017021676773731024).