I don’t take a strike lightly. In my opinion a strike is the absolute last-of-last resorts when it comes to labor/management negotiations. That is doubly important when you are dealing with essential public services, like teaching. If you protest or picket or walk off of the job you are a taking an incredible risk of alienating the pubic and doing more harm than good to your cause.
However teachers have now become society’s target for blame for all its ills. They are being asked to do more with less, and with less respect from society, that at any time in modern history. The days of believing that Education is necessary for a thriving democracy have been lost in partisan bickering and a society that has turned the profit-motive into a cultural necessity. Eventually you can only beat on teachers so much. Eventually they need to take a genuine stand. It started in Wisconsin and now Chicago has become the next focal point.
Remember when you are reading this that I’m a teacher who believes that the best teachers should be paid more, that the worst teachers should be fired right now in totally unceremonious fashion, and that academic institutions should be the pride of the nation. None of that is going to be accomplished until society takes the education of its children seriously. One of the complaints of the strikers in Chicago was that a teacher had no air conditioning in their classroom. That’s a given. That’s not a negotiable item. And you don’t base the value of educators on one test. Ever. Period. If that’s the case then I’m never getting evaluated because the only students I have taking the State tests are my 30 Advanced Placement kids, and they are always proficient. Imagine that. Can’t say the same about teachers that deal with Special Day kids, Second Language Learners, Students with IEP’s, or those that just teach kids that are worried about eating, sleeping, or whether or not they will get beat by a drunk father when they get home. Testing evaluations are not a valid way to decide who is and is a not a good teacher.
But unions do need to jump on board and become part of the solution. Pressure bad teachers out of the profession and become an organ of Education, not necessarily an organ of Teachers. If Chicago teachers come out ahead in the current labor situation, they must take advantage of the opportunity to further the profession by helping remove the dead weight. Help create teacher evaluations and help create good teachers so that we don’t need to worry about evaluations so much.
In the mean time I wish those that the striking a strong will and clear mind in their decision to defend the rights of a historically important and currently under-valued profession. I wish them them the wisdom of using this time to start developing solutions to present to administrators, district leaders, and parents. I wish them the constitution to withstand the criticism that they don’t care about kids, even though every shred of past evidence points the contrary. And I hope that all Chicago teachers realize that educators all around the country are watching their stand and have earned our respect.