I’m having a hard time understanding the Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers strike. Since Monday, the union teachers have traded their lesson plans and business casual attire for picket signs and red T-shirts while they demand a more favored deal from CPS despite 10 months of arguing.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis negotiates with CPS.
The union’s president, Karen Lewis, has been soapboxing for higher pay, better benefits and dependable job security. And teachers should have those things. There have been complaints from teachers—and the union—to parents, the district and the mayor about a lack of necessary supplies like quality books, teacher training, air-conditioning in the classrooms and toilet paper. And teachers should have those things, too. So should the students.
Teachers are important—knowledge is power and all that—and for a majority of the calendar year, for most of the days in that year and for most of the hours in those days, teachers are responsible for filling our kids’ heads with useful information that will hopefully turn them into well adjusted, functioning, intelligent adults who will make the world a better place to live. Sadly, teachers are hard pressed to do this because of faulty programs like No Child Left Behind, being forced to teach to the test and not being able to wipe themselves after using the bathroom.
As it stands, CPS has offered what sounds like a pretty sweet deal. Over the next four years, union members will receive a 16 percent pay increase, paid maternity leave, short-term disability coverage as well as freezing the rising cost of healthcare for two-thirds of the union’s members. The total proposal laid out by the district will cost around $400 million of taxpayer money. That’s a lot of dough to spend, especially for a district that can’t seem to spring for a decent HVAC system or a roll or two of Charmin.
Yeah, that’s a real good deal. A guaranteed raise of 4 percent every year for four years is a perk found in few other industries. Many, if not most industries, are barely giving cost of living increases to their employees, much less annual raises. Times are tight. When I worked for Clear Channel Radio, there were a few years when we didn’t get any cost of living bump. I did the math once. Because of a spike in sales taxes and gas, etc., it was literally costing me money to go to work. “Thanks, Lowry Mays, for the opportunity to have a job. The check is in the mail.” And that was back before the recession tossed the economic system on its ass.
According to the CPS annual financial report, the average salary for a teacher in the district in 2011 was over $67,000. Some reports are claiming it was over $76,000 during the 2011-2012 school year. They have received a 4 percent hike every year for the past eight years, which is alien to most other employed American workers. Like the deal on the table, that ain’t bad. So union teachers get a decent wage, a guaranteed bump every year and benefits with the possibility of their healthcare costs not going up, while the rest of us scramble to pay more. The Chicago Board of Education has even offered to work with the teachers to improve the way they are evaluated. So, really, there’s little to be upset about. And what there is to be upset about, certainly isn’t worth walking out over.
If teachers remain on strike, this little girl will grow up to work for the government.
I have many friends that are teachers. And they often gripe about the wretched conditions they have to work with; the terrible kids, the maniac parents, the moronic principals… Yeah, work sucks. We all have bad bosses and deal with waterbrains on a daily basis. That’s just the way it is. And we’d all like bulletproof assurances that our jobs are safe. But we’re not China and our empire is crumbling. Fear of losing our job has become a skill set for the resume.
Teachers get great vacations, too. Granted, they’re kind of restricted as to when they can run off to sandy beaches or hop a cruise line, but they get winter break, spring break and summer break. More or less anyway. (I know not all districts work like this, but the vast paid-vacation package is there.) My good friend Liese is a teacher in the western burbs and she takes at least one big trip with her husband every year. Recently, it was to Australia and New Zealand. How nice.
I haven’t had a proper two-week vacation since 2005. I’m not complaining. I’m not saying it’s unfair. You won’t hear me cry about it because I chose to be a self-employed writer. Like everyone else, I hustle and struggle for every dollar I make, but if I’m not working, I’m not earning. A paid vacation is not a luxury I can afford. And this is a choice I make every single day.
In 2007, when I first moved back to Chicago and was just beginning my near three-year stint of unemployment, I considered going back to school to become a teacher. I figured I would earn a bankable buck I could depend on and use my summers to write books and plays. I decided against it for no other reason than I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wanted to be a writer. That was, and continues to be my choice.
While 67 or 76 grand is nothing to scoff at, there’s no secret that being a teacher is not a fast track to becoming independently wealthy. Certainly not a teacher outside of a university system without a doctorate anyway. And most people that become teachers know this. They know they’re going to be dealing with horrible kids and awful parents and stupid bosses. And they choose to do it anyway. And they continue to choose it. Until they go on strike.
Early suggestion for the teachers strike uniform. Red T-shirts were eventually decided on instead.
And for what? The union is asking for preferential treatment above many other working-class drones. I’m anti-entitlement. I think most of the country is. Screw the 1 Percent. They take and take and then they go on lunch break before coming back to kill the afternoon robbing form the poor some more. That’s not right. For those evil Wall Street bastards, enough is never enough. And right now, I get that same feeling from the teachers union. They have an amazing deal before them. A deal most Americans would kill for. But instead of taking the deal, they’re stomping their feet screaming, “No. We deserve better. Because we said so.”
It is extremely unacceptable that students don’t have the proper books or best tools at their reach for learning. It’s not OK that classrooms are kilns in the early weeks of the school year. That’s a systemic problem within CPS. The city of Chicago and the State of Illinois seem to pride themselves on having no idea how to properly budget money. Chicago has the highest sales tax in the nation, we pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year in tolls for roads that are already paid for. We even pay an amusement tax in Chicago when we buy tickets for a play. What the hell is that? All of this money (and more) coming through the door and our kids and teachers still can’t find a damn roll of T.P. in the building. Obviously, there’s a problem.
Teachers, parents and unions need to be focusing on the source of that problem—the system. This requires more demands from elected officials and voting responsibly at the polls based on performance, not party or tradition like we did with Daley. Teachers, parents and unions need to remember that the kids, the students are the casualties of this faux friendly fire.
Still, the union strikes. Three days now. Parents are having to pull more money out of their already tight pockets for daycare. They’re having to adjust their work schedules because summer vacation isn’t over yet. This brings an unexpected additional expense to the household. Not only is the CPS budget screwed, but now thousands of family budgets are too because the teachers aren’t happy with their raise. And there are those families that can’t afford daycare while both (or the single) parents work two jobs just to scrape by. There’s a reason crime increases during the summer months.
In all my years of schooling, I can name one teacher that made a profound impact on my life. One. My creative writing professor in college at UNLV. He became my mentor and I learned a whole lot more from him than how to structure a narrative in a short story. What will these kids learn from their teachers on the picket lines today? How to bite the hand that feeds you? How to blame others for your own choices? How to be a cry baby and take your ball and go home when you don’t get your own way, right away? Teachers are meant to set an example for the students to follow. Instead, they are acting like cranky kindergartners in need of a nap.
What might happen is that these kids could grow up with a half-assed education after years in a hot, teacher-less classroom and end up working for CPS. Then history repeats itself because the deranged idiots are at the wheel again.
What does this strike mean? What is it going to do? The money they’re asking for isn’t there. The piggy bank is empty. CPS, while at fault for a great many things seems to be doing all it can. It’s not asking too much for teachers to show a little solidarity, good faith and responsibility, and continue mature negotiations while keeping our kids’ education as the main priority. Or they could just take the deal rather than turn the gift horse into glue.
I support teachers and their rights to a decent workplace, a proper living wage with benefits and raises and advancement opportunities. I support those rights for everyone. Right now, teachers need to go back to the classroom to brush up on the term Compromise.
But they should probably go to the bathroom at home first because the district can only do so much for them—wiping their asses is not something CPS is willing to bend on.