Lane Tech High School had a large number of striking teachers , and supporting students and parents outside the school on the first day of the strike. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: October 12, 2012 6:20AM
If you ask 100 different Chicago Teachers Union members why they’re on strike, you might get 100 different answers.
Among the reasons for striking I heard Monday on the picket lines outside three West Side schools within sight of the United Center:
Class sizes are too large, not enough social workers, not enough nurses, not enough counselors, not enough speech therapists, not enough computers, no new language-arts teachers to staff the longer school day.
Take a breath. No air conditioning, no place for students to play during recess, nobody to supervise recess, textbooks ordered and delivered too late, not enough music and art teachers, no respect.
And oh, yes, every now and then if prompted, I’d run across a teacher who would mention one of the two items that Mayor Rahm Emanuel contends are the only real issues left on the bargaining table: teacher evaluations and procedures for rehiring laid-off teachers.
As they took to the picket line for the first time in 25 years, Chicago teachers and support staff did so under the belief that the public has their back.
Indeed, most parents of public school students contacted by Sun-Times reporters on Monday either said they support the union or were neutral about whom to blame for the strike.
If CTU President Karen Lewis and her team expect to keep the public’s support as the strike moves forward, however, they are going to have to do a better job than they have so far of identifying and explaining their remaining issues.
In the days leading up to the strike, it was fine for both sides to maintain they weren’t going to negotiate in public. Once the teachers hit the streets, that genie left the bottle.
Now the teachers are not only competing at the bargaining table, they’re competing in the court of public opinion, where Emanuel has more experience, especially when it comes to crafting a campaign message.
“Everything here is down to two final issues, and it’s not air conditioning, OK,” an agitated Emanuel told reporters during a podium-thumping appearance at Maranatha Church in Gage Park, where a few dozen CPS students were taking refuge for the day. “It’s 71 degrees outside. We don’t go on strike for air conditioning.”
Actually, air conditioning really is important to a lot of teachers, especially those whose students are stuck in the classroom during summer months under the CPS-staggered calendar system.
Many union members mentioned it to me as I met them on the picket lines at William Brown Elementary School and Suder Montessori Magnet School — located on opposite ends of the United Center parking lots. That doesn’t mean it’s a serious element of contract negotiations at this late stage.
If the teachers are on strike for all the reasons they say they’re on strike, then it’s going to be a long one because I don’t even know how you negotiate some of these issues.
“It’s about so many things, because over the years, so many things have been taken from us,” explained Jerline Body, a veteran math teacher at Brown Elementary.
Nearby, a car stereo boomed out Michael Jackson’s “They Don’t Really Care About Us,” courtesy of the school’s part-time music teacher, while a CTA motorman on the Pink Line blasted his train whistle in solidarity.
It’s been a difficult year for CPS teachers after getting so much stuff rammed down their throats from performance evaluations tied to standardized tests to the longer school day to the introduction of a new core curriculum — all of it enacted in a blame-the-teachers environment.
Couple all that with the normal challenges of teaching in inner-city schools and it’s no wonder we’ve reached this point (although I predicted we wouldn’t).
“It’s just way too much,” said Karina Shimkos, one of the picketers across the street at Wilma Rudolph Learning Center. “There are a lot of issues that need to be hashed out.”
Trouble is, that doesn’t work well in collective bargaining. You just can’t have that many issues left on the table at the point you go on strike.
More likely, Emanuel’s version is closer to the truth, and the teachers are publicly sticking with the laundry list of classroom-related issues because each item on it motivates somebody.
Having looked into my crystal ball and incorrectly prognosticated there would be no strike, I’m certainly not going to try to predict how long this will last.
I do believe the teachers sincerely want to be back in the classroom just as much as the mayor wants them there.