So, I posted this on my Facebook, but I thought I’d post it here too since it’s something that is very important to me, and the more who reads it the better. Feel free to share it with others as well.
So I received the following message from a friend, and I’m including my reply.
While I completely respect you, Dion, and your position as a teacher, I hope you do realize that you have friends on FB with somewhat opposing feelings. I do agree that the city is not playing a really great game either, but I think it is time for everyone to be the respectable adults that they are and let the negotiators continue their thing at the table and for you valuable teachers to return to the classroom. Again, not to disrespect, but didn’t u just take a job with CPS a few weeks ago agreeing to all of the terms of the job? I didn’t want to start “public” FB drama. But felt compelled by your posts in the last few days to send u message. -Anonymous
Oh, I know there are quite a few with somewhat opposing feelings. I’ve been involved in union and labor happenings for years. I stood in support with the CIW when they came to Chicago to battle with McDonald’s. As a social scientist, politics have fascinated me for some time. I also knew that this strike was coming when I applied for and accepted the job in Chicago.
At this juncture, I have a classroom that has 2 air conditioners that don’t work. On the second week of school, when temperatures reached 97 degrees, my room exceeded the external temperature, and although my students complained, they did the work we had to do, while we all sweated it out. Coworkers have already told me of the joys that await me in my room once winter hits. I currently have no textbooks, because textbooks are not ordered prior to the start of the school year. Finally, I have such a large range of students, I have students that I feel will be prime for any Ivy League school in the nation…and an alarming amount of students who either have parole officers, or are on house arrest. Basing my future compensation on the high stakes testing scores of my students, some of which I only see once a week, is downright nonsensical, and even the principal of the private school that Rahm Emanuel’s children go to expressed that view. There are too many variables that go into what makes a student successful.
The issues that stand now are not new. These negotiations have been going on for over a year, and the mayor and CPS board refuse to be reasonable. I also knew this before I accepted the job. I never take my eye off Chicago politics, no matter where I live.
Are you familiar with the Little Village High School Hunger Strike? If not, take a read:
The city of Chicago has a long history of short changing it’s students, parents, and teachers, particularly those who live in impoverished and underserved neighborhoods. His solution ultimately is to turn all of these schools into charter schools, which would privatize them and make them someone else’s problem.
Unfortunately, a federal study by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. DOE found that charter schools are often no more effective than public schools.
So, I explained to my students what would happen in the event of a strike. They asked me if I would strike, and I told them that I saw it as a situation of social justice, (I’m a proud member of the book “Teaching for Social Justice”). I explained to them what that meant from my perspective. I then asked them 2 simple questions:
“How do you all feel?”
“Hot as all get out Mr. McGill” one girl said, and everyone replied in agreement.
“Should you all have working air conditioners in this room?”
“Hell yeah” another student said.
“Then I guess I’m going on strike if an agreement isn’t made by Monday.”
My students deserve better. They, and I, deserve to have all the tools at our disposal that more affluent schools in the city have. Not to mention more support staff, like special ed. teachers, and aides, etc.
I understand that there are many people who may not agree with the strike, or even the reasons behind it. However, I invite any of those people, including yourself, to come and visit my school and spend even 3 hours in my classroom during a school day. I’d also invite them to come over on a saturday and/or sunday afternoon to witness lesson planning, paper grading, research, and all of the other activities that are required, of my free time, to make sure that my students receive the education they deserve.
I have no shame in admitting that I am really good at what I do. Damn good. I am also vastly under-appreciated by the school board, and the “let’s just privatize them into oblivion” mayor of Chicago. I don’t want to work at a charter. I hear very few good things about them, even from former and current workers. I also have no shame in admitting that I am grossly underpaid for what I do. In a charter school, I would definitely make less. That is a non-tenable situation.
Chicago teachers have been bullied, unappreciated, and underpaid long before I was hired. However, now this is my fight. While I understand people may not agree, that is not my concern. My concern is the students and parents that I serve, and I will stand strong on the picket line until they get all that they are due.
Most of my students come from low-income homes, from poor and under-served communities. Over 90% of our student body qualifies for free lunches. Standing up for them and myself is the greatest lesson I can ever teach them. Stand up for what is right, even in the face of great adversity.
A student came up to me today and said “Mr. McGill, they are dogging you all on TV.” My reply:
“The only true enemy I have is within. If there is peace within, the enemies outside can do me no harm.”
“Hater’s gonna hate.”
The city made their choice to ignore the reasonable demands of the Chicago teachers. We deserve everything for which we are asking. Now, we stand in solidarity until the board are ready to be reasonable, and negotiate in a fair manner.