Why I Voted to Authorize the Chicago Teachers' Strike
Photo Credit: John Kershner via Shutterstock.com
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Earlier this month, members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) voted by a nearly 90 percent majority to give the union authorization to call a strike.
Actually, around 8.5 percent of the union membership didn't vote, so they were counted as "no" votes. So among CTU members who voted, 98 percent said "yes" to strike authorization: That's 23,780 yes to 482 no.
The overwhelming support for strike authorization seemed to confuse the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, who likes to assure us that he loves and respects teachers as he destroys our schools and degrades our union. But the vote didn't come as a surprise to me.
Here's why I voted, along with the vast majority my brothers and sisters in the CTU, an enthusiastic "yes" to strike authorization.
Reason No. 1: As has happened to me every spring since 2008, I was warned by my boss in March that my preschool teaching position was threatened for the following school year due to budget cuts. As I have done every spring since 2008, I spent countless hours readying my resume and my teaching portfolio, combing the want ads, and annoying my colleagues looking for another job for this coming fall.
With a son, a mortgage, very little savings and a job that I love and would grieve to loose, I tried to muster the enthusiasm necessary to hunt for another job while simultaneously remaining the kind of "super-teacher" that we're expected to be in order to maintain an evaluation rating that would allow us to be hired by another principal.
In May, I was informed my job was safe, but my assistant teacher's wasn't. Due to budget cuts, she's being replaced with a cheaper, part-time version.
Reason No. 2: May is supposed to be a wonderful month for preschool teachers: We ready our student's yearlong work portfolios and bask in the glow of their progress and reminisce about how far we've come. We go on field trips and have culminating projects that we enjoy sharing with our students and families. We look forward to summer break. We begin to say goodbye to the little people we've nurtured and loved and taught for the proceeding nine months.
This May, I spent the entire month, as I have for the past three years, conducting a standardized test on my 4- and 5-year-old students to determine their "kindergarten readiness."
It used to be that by virtue of turning 5 years old, you were deemed "kindergarten ready." Those days are over. In the name of accountability (which always seems to mean accountability for those with the least say-so), we have turned our schools into test-taking factories, with no child too young to be tested.
Reason No. 3: The day before the strike vote, my school clerk stopped me in the hallway. He had an emergency letter from Jean-Claude Brizard that we had to distribute to parents informing them of why the strike vote was wrong thing for teachers to do and insulting our collective intelligence by claiming that our leadership hadn't informed us of what was at stake in our contract negotiations.
The attempt by Brizard to turn parents against teachers was expected, his condescending tone familiar, but what was unheard-of was that the letter was translated into Spanish, Mandarin, Polish and Arabic. As a teacher of English Language Learners, I was dumbfounded. We can never--I repeat, NEVER!--get materials or information translated into our students' home languages without doing it ourselves.
Was this the proverbial final straw? No, I had already made up my mind to vote "yes" because I want dignity, respect and resources for what I do and for the students I teach. But it did underline to me that if they can so easily find the resources to drag us down, then they can be forced to find the resources to build up public education.