After a civil and frank discussion, the House of Delegates voted NOT to suspend the strike, but to allow two more days for delegates to take the information back to the picket lines and hold discussions with the union’s more than 26,000 members throughout Chicago. Teachers and school staff will return to the picket lines of the schools at which they teach at 7:30 a.m. Monday and, after picketing together, will meet to share and discuss the proposal. (http://www.teachersforjustice.org/)
When I look at this picture I see striking teachers and staff, but I also see mothers, grandmothers, fathers, aunties, workers just out of college, homeowners, community members, taxpayers, etc. When I look at this image I see folks that look like the parents and children that are most effected by the strike and have been most impacted by high stakes testing policies. To be clear, these policies have not produced significant gains for poor, working poor, and working class students of color in Chicago or nationally, but they are doing other types of political, social, and economic work. Unionized workers have less political voice, schools are largely re-segregated (public/private), and testing is big business.
I recently spoke with a friend who used to teach in Atlanta Public Schools, which has been devastated by test cheating scandals and subsequent school closings( largely in black communities). She now works at a Kipp charter school. When I asked if there was a significant difference in administrative support for her as a teacher her response was, “Not really.” But now she works from 7:30am-5:30pm. I keep hearing the “whatever it takes” mantra often from male administrators in elected office, charter management companies, and school officials. What I do not hear is any recognition that my friend may want to have children or that many teachers do have children which should not decrease their ability to be teachers.
My experience working in labor taught me that I had to look at the whole person. A teacher is not just a worker, then a parent, then a spouse, then a daughter, then a grad student, then an active church member, then an involved member of the polity, then a block captain for her street. She is all of those things at once. A ten hour work day, with impromptu mandatory meetings at 5:30pm, or an Open House at 6pm after the ten hour day is exactly what unions should be fighting against. The lions share of the burden for improving our children’s education can not rest on the shoulders of women. Teachers need protections and they must have the ability to exercise their voice to fight for the rights of children in the classroom, and to protect the best interests of their households as members of Chicago communities.
26,000 teachers and staff made a decision to strike in a Chicago climate where youth violence has been horrific, a housing crisis has wrecked communities, and the financial “crises” have destroyed households. There is so much more to the story of Chicago education woes. I have to believe that recent college graduates who choose to go into this profession and veterans who choose to stay in this profession, knowing that all the difficulties the city experiences show up in the classroom everyday; I have to believe that they are bargaining for long-term investments not only in our children, but our collective future as a nation.
For more than a decade now teachers have been vilified as the reason for poor educations standards. In this moment they are making themselves visible and speaking back in a collective voice. I for one, as a parent, am listening.
For more on the Chicago teacher’s strike check out the following links: