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Why I love and respect teachers but hate this strike

Updated: September 18, 2012 11:45AM



I come from a long line of CPS teachers. My mother, aunt, mother-in-law, father-in-law (who taught high school for over 40 years), cousins and friends are all great CPS teachers. I should also mention that my father is a labor attorney who has been fighting for the working conditions and fair contracts for organized laborers for over 50 years. I myself am neither a teacher nor an attorney.

Truthfully, teaching was not a profession I was cut out for; it demands a certain level of patience and fortitude to manage a classroom of 30+ students, qualities that are not my strengths. So I leave teaching to the passionate and driven individuals who have chosen this profession because of their skill and love for children; because of their determination to make the classroom a place of creativity, insight, curiosity and excellence.

I think the teachers are fighting for some extremely valid reasons. As one parent said, “The teachers’ working conditions are our children’s learning conditions.” For that reason I support the fight for more human resources — the need for nurses and social workers at every school is just plain common sense. I support the fight for a dynamic and robust curriculum that includes art and music and drama and physical education and world language and technology and after school activities.

I support the fight for smaller class sizes, where teachers have the support of learning specialists, counselors and aids as well as the materials they need to teach effectively. I support the fight for minimizing standardized testing and not evaluating a student or a teacher’s success solely on this narrow measure. I support the fight for better neighborhood schools and higher standards and options for high schools. I support the fight for building improvements — playgrounds, libraries, cafeterias and yes, air conditioning (I imagine that if the A/C at city hall went out on a 95-degree day, those who work there would be sent home or to an alternate location). I also support fair compensation for the work that teachers do.

I support all of these things and yet, I don’t support this strike. Can it work both ways?

Perhaps not, but I’d like to think that these issues can and should be worked out while our children remain in the classroom. I believe these issues should have been worked out 10 months ago, when the negotiations began, three months ago when summer break started or, most certainly, two weeks ago before the majority of children arrived for their first day of school.

What I do know is that now is not the time. Regardless of the potential for gain, as this battle wages on, I believe all of the stakeholders are losing — the teachers, the district, the parents, the mayor and most importantly the children.

This strike has shed light on a lot of bigger picture issues, deficiencies and appalling inequities in our system. As a result, I hope CPS seriously addresses these issues and fixes them for the long term rather than with temporary band-aids.

But let’s face it, the fight for true education reform is one that won’t be resolved in a week or two (or three or four). True reform and fundamental changes require a good on-going working relationship, not to mention proper funding at the state and local levels.

Let’s get the teachers a fair contract now so they can get back to doing the work that they love. Let’s get our kids back in school. And let’s continue to fight with the same fervor and passion that has manifested during this strike, until all of these issues are resolved and Chicago students are afforded the world-class education that they deserve.

But CPS and CTU, hear this: our patience is running out.

Amy Smolensky is a Chicago Public Schools parent and on the board of the parent advocacy group, Raise Your Hand.



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