Passion and Politics

So, Day 6 and 7 of the Chicago Teachers Strike is approaching.  This evening, for the first time through this event, I did something I haven’t done before; I read all of the debate and comments floating around on Facebook and the news sites.  It’s hard to read about, and to keep calm and reasonable when standing on either side of such a passion-filled and volatile subject.  I understand that there are parents who don’t know what to do with their children in these times, and I also understand that the media has vilified us teachers, and made us all out to be $80,000 making greedy bastards, who are looking for more money and guarantees that we can never be fired.

However, I can assure you that 1) I definitely don’t make anywhere near the average $76,000 income that all of the news outlets have been reporting, even once my 3rd step kicks in, and 2) Under the current and any other tenure systems, bad teachers can be weeded out and fired.  However, I will admit the process could be streamlined, but we also want to be sure that good teachers can’t be fired simply because an administrator doesn’t like their ties, or,, they don’t like the “evolutionary” methods they use to get results.  I like to use Howard Zinn books in my classroom.  They are great additions to the curriculum, and to those lame text books, and offer an alternate perspective to what the text books teach.  There are administrators who would run me out of town on this basic fact alone.  Because I want to further educate my kids, and allow them to see both sides of an issue, and a whole picture perspective, I should be able to be fired by some kook who hasn’t been in a classroom since desks were bolted to the floors?

However, I digress.  As I read some of the comments concerning this issue, my immediate thoughts was:

None of you punk b****es would last 3 hours in my classroom.  Why?  Because my kids would rip your candy a** apart. Why?  Because you wouldn’t know what the hell you were doing. Why?  Because you can’t do what I do, and if you could, you’d be homeschooling your kid.

However, that’s not very diplomatic.  I can only speak from my perspective, and offer the things I have seen with my own eyes.  Having student taught in CPS for 16 weeks, and now, teaching as a full time CPS teacher for a mere 5 weeks (I’ve taught for 2 years outside of CPS), I’ve seen quite a bit.  For example:

  • Starting school on August 16th, and having 2 very broke air conditioners in my classroom.  Second week of school it was 97 degrees outside, and I can assure you it was much warmer than that in my classroom.
  • Not having books.  My class has a book, but that is not ordered prior to the start of school, and when we start back, which will officially be week 4, I still won’t have books.  In addition, I’ve been in schools where there weren’t enough books for students to take them home.  Instead, there was a classroom set of books. Let’s think about this for a moment…teaching a class where the kids CANNOT take the textbook home?  Do you see any issues with that?  However, in come cases, but not in all, an online textbook was available to students.  However, when you’re talking about a school where 98 percent of the students come from low-income homes…how many of those homes actually have computers?
  • Chipping paint, broken fixtures, etc, etc, etc.  It’s hard for students to take pride in an environment that looks like crap.
  • Lack of computers, old computers, broke computers.  I had an idea how good I had it in Alaska technology wise, but man, I’ve spent close to $100 on Post-It Note sticky boards already.  I can’t even remember prior to this school year the last time I used an easel pad.
  • Paying for all supplies in your classroom out of your own money.  While I will admit my school isn’t too bad on this (they’ve offered pens, paper, paper clips, etc), not all teachers in all schools are that lucky. I’ve met teachers at rallies who’ve had to buy their own toilet paper for them and students to use.  When was the last time you had to bring your own toilet paper into work?
  • So, the school day was extended, but no additional compensation has been given.  What would you say to your boss if he told you your work day was going to be an hour longer, but you would not see any bump in your pay check?  If you say “I’d go along with it” then I want you to come on over to my house and start cooking and cleaning, and I ain’t paying you s**t sucker!  The reality of life as we know it is that the reason we work jobs is so that we can receive monetary compensation so that we can pay our bills, and live in houses, and do the things we want to do.  I love teaching, and if I was a millionaire, sure, I’d continue to educate, although I will admit it probably wouldn’t be in a traditional classroom setting.  However, I enjoy my job immensely.  But, I’m no fool.  I won’t work for free, because I don’t want to be living in a van down by the river.
  • In addition to the above, this longer school day is a sham.  It’s supposed to be longer so that kids can have more time in the classroom, as well as art, and music, and all those wonderful things which are integral to a well rounded education.  However, the reality is that the kids’ lunch time was doubled, while instructional time increased about 4 minutes per class.  When kids come up to you as a teacher and say

“Mr. McGill, that lunch period is too long.  I just get bored sitting there.”

There is a problem…a serious problem.  Not to mention how you’re just asking for fights, shenanigans, and tomfoolery to ensue.

  • The city says they don’t have the money to address the issues which the Chicago Teachers Union has brought up.  However, the city gives millions to open up and initially fund charter schools. Charter Schools are privately owned schools…why would we be giving public funds to them?  But the city does…whereas that money should be going to Public Schools…to…hmm…I don’t know, buy books?  or for maintenance?  or, hmm…God forbid, pay your employees?
  • Now, let me be clear!  I do not hate charter schools.  There are some that are fine schools.  However, a MAJORITY of them get no better results than what Chicago Public Schools get.  Oh’ve got those juggernaut charter schools like Urban Prep…100% college acceptance right!

“And then of course, there is the dismal achievement outcome of the majority of charter schools. Urban Prep brags about its 100 percent college-bound rate when the average ACT score of its student is only 16. Where are those students going to college?” Source:

This is not to mention the fact that because charter schools are private institutions, they do not have to take ALL students who come to their doors. So, those students whose neighborhood school was closed down, but they are not accepted into this brand new charter school…where are they supposed to go?  Across the city, sometimes crossing multiple gang territories, thus putting further stress on the student, their finances, and in some cases, their safety.  Great plan.  In addition, in the midst of this privatization, the teachers as a whole will see a cut in pay, ranging from minute to drastic in some cases, thus endangering the depth  of talent that you could likely pull.  “Why teach for peanuts in a charter school,  when I can get double the pay, better benefits, and less hassle in a suburban school?”  If I received a penny for every time I heard those words from classmates during my tenure at Saint Xavier University, I’d have a pretty nice savings account right now.

Finally, let me address the topic of evaluations.  Of course, we as teachers must be evaluated.  However, the issue is whether that evaluation should be based on test scores, AND what percentage of the evaluation will rest on those test scores.  The problem with evaluation based on test scores is this:

I have a student who’s a gang banger.  His grandparents bang, as do his parents.  He’s currently on probation, has a parole officer, and yet and still only comes to class a maximum of twice a week.  Representatives of our truancy intervention program visits the kid weekly, and yet his attendance doesn’t improve.  Come test day, the student shows up, takes the test, and I ask you how will that student fair? Will his test scores improve?  So when it comes time for my evaluation, what percentage of that students test scores should make up my evaluation?  Now, multiply that situation by 10 in a class of 38 students.  There is no way that I want that students scores to be a part of my evaluation, because I’m going to come up short every time, and so the city then wants my pay based upon that evaluation?

You are asking me to be the sole person responsible for a student, when there are so many other forces at work counteracting anything that I attempt to do.  Now, if you told me that once that student misses 10 days of school, his/her guardian will be standing tall in front of a judge, giving reason for the students truancy, and possibly facing jail time, sure I’m all for his test grades being a part of my evaluation, because at least 50 percent of those students will have their asses in the seat.  You get them in my class, I can work wonders.  I’m a magician, I can make magic happen, but I can’t do that if there is no student to work with, and that is what we see so often.  Or, when they do come, they’re tired because they couldn’t sleep in the homeless shelter they were at last night, or they couldn’t sleep because they couldn’t even make their way to a shelter.  Or, they were up all night babysitting.  Or, they were up late working.  Or, there was simply too much going on in their house to sleep.  Or, they can’t concentrate because they’re hungry.  Or, they’re late every day because they don’t have an alarm clock, and there’s no one else in the house to wake them up. And of course, you have those students who simply sat up all night being jerks or what have you and didn’t have an adult to make them do the right thing.

We have students who deal with so many things. Until everyone involved is held accountable for what happens to our youth, in their homes, and and in the streets, it is simply unfair, and unrealistic to heap all of that weight and burden on the teachers.  In addition to all that is asked of us, you want us to be the parent, and the parole officer, and the counselor…next will you mandate that we simply adopt a kid as part of our contract?

There are so many different avenues and perspectives to this situation.  However, I can assure you, I love teaching, and I love my kids.  I’m not greedy, but I do want to be able to make a comfortable living that will pay my bills (rent, car payment, cell phone, utilities) and not have to worry about making ends meet.  I’ve gone to school to get my Bachelors, and will be going back to get my Masters.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.  I am a damn professional, and I simply want to be regarded, and treated as such.

And as always, let me end by saying that once this strike business is over, any and all of you are invited to come into my classroom for a day and see what a day is like in the life of a CPS teacher.  Thanks.


One thought on “Passion and Politics

  1. This is excellent. Your point of view screams the truth that has not been portrayed through the media. I’m a sub for CPS, so the strike means no work nor money for me, but I support my profession, the strike, and all of the teachers everywhere making the same sacrifices as you. Well done! And welcome back home, too!

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