Chicago Teachers Strike: What Happened to the ‘City That Works’?

red ribbons

Chicago teachers strike.

I was watching the news last night and was ashamed of my City.  In the midst of what is obviously a heated situation, I saw Karen Lewis yell at reporters and chide one who dared to bump her with a microphone.  I saw Mayor Emanuel, the candidate that got my vote, face the cameras and call out the Chicago Teachers Union time and again.  He was backed by a bevy of City big wigs representing schools, police, negotiators, and the Board of Education.

Between 10 PM and midnight, there was much casting of blame, much discussion of text messages, and a lot of work trying to curry the favor of Chicagoans from both sides.

I support labor.  I come from a long line of union workers.  My Mom’s uncle was shot in Chicago’s Memorial Day Massacre around striking steel mill workers.  My sister, a PhD labor historian, just published her first book about the labor movement, Eyes on Labor.  There is a lot of union blood that runs through my veins.

But still, I was not happy with everything I saw.  When adults choose to bicker through the media about who is sending whom text messages, I shake my head on behalf of all of Chicago’s children.  When the CTU puts out a letter condemning the City’s contingency plan as a “train wreck,” I’ve got to wonder.  If the CTU believes Chicago’s children are unsafe in said contingency plan, then stay at the table.  If they think the kids will be cared for in a ‘good enough’ fashion, then don’t put out alarmist rhetoric.

As for the contingency plan, the irony of administrators highlighting that there would be one adult for every 25 children just made me angry.  If a 1:25 ratio is valued and of importance, then why are teachers expected to work with numbers that far exceed that ratio?  What is good for the goose must be good for the gander.  For our children to succeed, not only do our kids need more time in school, they need to be in schools that are conducive to learning.  And, yes, that includes air conditioning.

I heard David Vitale, president of the Board of Education, this morning, hemming and hawing on NPR that the BoE wants air conditioning for all Chicago public schools, too, but if they pay for air conditioning, they can’t pay for people.  No joke.  This is 2012, Mr. Vitale, and your boss is pushing for school year round.  A/C is as necessary in Chicago as heat is in January and February.  You can thank global warming for that.  And my guess is that the BoE offices are nice and temperate year round.  Again, if it’s good for the goose, it must be good for the gander.

Last Friday I was named an “Our Town, Our Hero” by GM.  I got a cool plaque and a nice Visa gift card, and the use of a pretty sweet Buick for a week.  GM asked some supporters of our charity, Donna’s Good Things, to help support me at the official passing of the keys, if you will.  A bona fide first photo op.  Well, I am not much for photo ops, but I reached out to Katie, the Director/Owner of the dance studio where we fund scholarships, and she went to town for me.  At the award ceremony, Katie had arranged for not only the Alderman to be there (nice to meet you, Ms. Silverstein), but invited the teachers of Rogers Elementary School to support me.

Rogers Elementary is the Chicago public school where Donna’s Good Things is funding weekly dance education for every student for the 2012-2013 school year.  The administrator has been fantastic to work with on this initiative.  The faculty has been so supportive that every single one came out last Friday to support me and DGT at the GM ceremony.  This was Friday at 3:30 PM, just as their strike was looming.


I had never met these teachers before and they don’t know me, Donna, or my family from Adam, but there they were.  They are an enthusiastic crowd.  I chatted with many and none wanted to strike.  Their wish was to be in the classroom this morning.  But on a Friday afternoon, long after they could have gone home for the day, there they were, supporting a stranger who is working to support their classroom kids.

I was moved beyond belief.

Those are the teachers I support.  Those teachers who are invested in the education their classroom kids receive.  Those teachers who want very much to be back in the classroom, doing their jobs.  Those teachers who don’t get a hell of a lot of support from the Board of Education or the Mayor.  Those teachers who are responsible for the next generation of Chicagoans.  I support those teachers.  All of them.

Now let’s get them back to work.

And as for Rahm and Karen Lewis?  Well those two both got to get it together.  Their egos are MASSIVE.  Huge, bullying individuals, both of ’em.  They need to stop thinking about who will win and who will lose in this negotiation.  They need to work together, modeling behavior for the students they both profess to worry over, and get it done.  No more cheap shots.  No more sparring through the media.  Just get it done, do their jobs, and prove that Chicago is still the City that works.

The teachers, parents, and students of Chicago are waiting.  Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.


You see what I did there?

11 Replies to “Chicago Teachers Strike: What Happened to the ‘City That Works’?”

  1. Well put. There has been a lot of horrible rhetoric coming from both sides. The one I hate most is the “if you’re against the strike, you’re against the teachers.” I’m not against the teachers, but I feel that the heads of both the CTU and CPS might be. Both sides have valid and important concerns, but blaming each other isn’t going to solve anything. Congress has demonstrated that.


    1. YES, Kim. I totally agree. Rahm is obviously not union friendly. He came into office with an agenda. We all know that. I don’t like his tactics. I don’t like the tactics of Karen Lewis all the time, either, despite being pro-union myself.

      And, yes, this negotiation has reminded me of our pols in DC and that dysfunction, too. The two factions seem intent on “winning” rather than collaboration and cooperation.

      I fear for all the messages our kids get from the adults in power that surround them.

      Thanks for reading. MTM.


  2. I am not anti- union. I am not anti- teachers. I am anti whatever occured to make this group of individuals(teachers) think that they are entitled to an obscene amount of money(12% raises over what 4 years?), and to make these individuals think that they should not be held accountable for their job performance! Unions were created to protect employed inviduals from unfair the practices of their employers. But what if the Employees(these teachers) are being unfair in their demands! I havent gotten a raise in 5 years. I work hard 12 months a year in healthcare…….I am profoundly insulted by these public employees’ demands at the expense of the education of these young people.


    1. Katie, it is complicated, isn’t it?

      The fact is that teachers and other public laborers (police, fire fighters, civil servants) have found themselves in the cross hairs the past few election seasons. It has become a partisan issue. I find that a shame.

      There is no question that there is corruption in government and unions alike. Puffed up salaries hours before retirement to pad a pension, cronies getting kick backs, etc. Chicago is notorious for these things.

      But think about what you’re saying. Do we really think teachers are living like the 1%? Do we really think they are pulling home an obscene amount of money for what they are responsible for? I don’t.

      I do, though, believe there needs to be a better assessment of teacher quality and weeding out of the tenured bad apples. I do not believe that should be tied to test scores. That only encourages ‘teaching to the test,’ which is what No Child Left Behind encouraged. NO ONE wins with that mentality.

      It is not as simple as the rhetoric would lead us to believe. Teachers are not the enemies. The union system is flawed, admittedly, but so is government and so is the Board of Education. Parents need to keep at all parties until a mutually agreeable solution is found that will get kids back where they belong.

      I look at the teachers at the photo above, and I don’t see anyone that looks like they make obscene amounts of money. I don’t see an enemy amongst them.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. MTM.


    2. Katie,

      12% raises in over 4 years …. what’s the average teacher’s salary? And how many hours does a teacher work on average per week? While 12% in 4 years might sound like a lot, I don’t think it is. And I’d much rather see my child’s teacher get a raise than see Congress padding their pockets. When you look at all of the extra things teachers do, and the actual hours they put in, I don’t think it’s unfair to ask for raises.


    3. Katie,

      I felt compelled to comment on your comment. I am a new teacher; this is my second year. I teach in an inner city school in Rockford, IL. I teach in what is probably the toughest building in our district. Many of my students are gang members. They are homeless. They have no food at home. Their parents are in jail, addicts, or abusive (emotionally, physically, and sexually). Many of my students come from situations that most of us can’t even imagine. They live in neighborhoods where shootings occur daily, prostitutes work on the corner (or in their home), and drug dealers live next door. This is the norm for many of them. I have students that only eat the free breakfast and lunch at school, and that is all they eat all week.

      I do my best to give my students all they need to be successful students. I feed them. I give them supplies. I pay, out of pocket, for an enormous amount of material that I use daily. This is only tax deductible at $250 a year. Trust me, I spend at least 4 times that.

      I work 50 – 65 hours a week. The students are in school 35 hours a week. I work late every day and I work all day on Sunday.

      I didn’t go into teaching to become wealthy. I became a teacher because I want to make a difference in my students lives. I choose to work at an inner city school because these are the kids that need good teachers the most.

      Last year when I started in my building, I was called names I would never have considered calling my worst enemy. It took a lot of effort to return day after day. It took about a semester, but eventually my students figured out that I was like a second mom. I loved them. I fought for them. I cared about their grades and their lives. I never stopped believing they could be great students and responsible people. They responded to that by doing their very best for me. By the end of the year, my students performed better than almost every other student in Rockford on common district assessments. I’m very proud of that.

      However, this is unusual. When students have to overcome the obstacles that I’ve described, the last thing they care about is doing well on a test. They worry about food, shelter, being hit, being shot… To judge a teacher solely on a test score is not appropriate. Yes, they should be evaluated based on their performance, but not on the outcome of all of their students. Students need to be responsible for their own grades and teachers need to be responsible for teaching to the best of their ability. In what is sometimes some VERY difficult situations.

      I’m sorry your salary has been frozen, but as a new teacher last year, my salary was $32,500. Considering the hours I worked, I averaged under $15 an hour. That means that even though I have 2 college degrees, I’m paid about the same as someone who works at McDonald’s in downtown Chicago. That’s is a sad situation.


  3. April – my kid goes to a CPS school. Here are just a few of the salaries of teachers at his school:

    $56,414 – Pre K
    $68,681 – Kindergarten
    $80,845 – 1st grade
    $69,219 – 2nd grade
    $83,300 – 3rd grade
    $95,992 – 4th grade
    $61,461 – 5th grade
    $89,519 – 6th grade
    $81,524 – 7th grade
    $91,720 – 8th grade
    $126,288 – Asst. Principal

    $155,963 – Principal

    Those sure don’t look like low salaries to me. In fact, three quarters of them are more than mine (I’m a college grad, been working full time for 30+ years). I work way more than 40 hours per week (and I do it 50 weeks a year). I haven’t had a raise in 2 years (and probably won’t get one this year). True, it’s not the teachers fault that the City of Chicago is broke, but c’mon…..they certainly aren’t hurting for money. As for the evaluation system that they are b!tching about, why should they be exempt from either performing their job properly, and if not, they lose their job? That’s the way it works in the world.

    Lastly, here’s a link where you can check ALL the salaries of any public school teacher in Illinois. Take a peek….you’ll be completely surprised at what you find.


    1. We are in “downstate” IL. Our teachers are working. My dh works as a correctional officer “prison guard” for the state of IL. He hasn’t gotten a raise in 5 years. The state HAS raised our pension contributions, raised the retirement age, raised our insurance premiums and by default raised our insurance copays. When his union AFSCME lost that battle you know what group wasn’t affected by those changes? Teachers. Why do they get the right to lower insurance, their raises, lower pension contributions. Do they work in dangerous, overcrowded, understaffed environments every single day? I am sick and tired of hearing about the poor teachers. I am thankful every day for good teachers, just as I am thankful every day for good police officers, firefighters, doctors, librarians, correctional officers and bank tellers. If you are doing your job, and doing it well, you should get rewarded. And they should get their butts back to work like everyone else.


    2. Rozee,

      As a second year teacher, I can tell you that without a doubt, these salaries belong to individuals who have years of experience and most likely have multiple degrees. In my district, Rockford, IL, we top out at $85,000 a year as a teacher. That is assuming you’ve worked at least 20 years and have more than 1 master’s degree. That’s a lot of education and a lot of experience.


  4. No one is entitled to their job forever. If you screw up you should be held accountable. I think there are a lot of great teachers but I am sure there are also lazy ass ones that are trying to hide behind this nonsence.
    As for the air conditioning, my family currently lives in a Chicago suburb and my kids go to public schools. The high school where two of my kids go has never had air conditioning until a newer wing was added a few years back and that it the only place that has it. We are talking about a small hallway with a few classrooms. The rest of the classrooms have giant fans. Do I agree with it, no but Chicago is not the only place.


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