The Meaning of Our Struggle: The Chicago Teacher’s Strike
By Tony Rawker, high school teacher
A little over 10 years ago, as a high school student myself, I decided to pursue teaching as my career.
I chose this as my career path because I was bored out of my mind most of the time and found the entire process of schooling alienating. By the time I finished, my love for reading and questioning had been sucked dry. A little time away from the rigid structures of syllabi and classrooms cured that quickly, but unfortunately, not everyone can say the same thing.
Now, as a teacher entering my seventh year in the classroom, it has become much harder to plan activities, lessons and projects that will spark my students’ curiosity for knowledge. Due to Mayor Rahm’s initiatives, I now have significantly less time to collaborate with colleagues to create engaging lessons, numerous restrictions placed on my curriculum and larger class sizes that limit the amount of individual attention I can provide.
Worse, my students are forced to take ACT prep class, study hall and advisory (which forces teachers to provide unqualified counseling services because our district is so understaffed) to fill up the time because the mayor won’t provide the funds to make a longer day actually better.
Never mind that he just found $25 million for emergency strike preparations and $55 million to build a park in honor of Maggie Daley, one block east of Millennium Park—and that’s a few months after he spent more than $60 million to bring NATO to town. He clearly has no intention of providing Chicago’s mostly minority public school students with the type of education they deserve.
I now understand why I was so bored in school as a student, and it had nothing to do with my teachers. Rather, it was a direct result of the poor working conditions of my teachers, and thus my poor learning conditions. That’s what is most at stake in this struggle.
If Mayor Rahm has his way, bureaucrats with MBAs and very little to no learning experience will dictate every decision made about my classroom, school and profession. They will decide if I have earned a merit pay bonus, what material I must cover in my curriculum, if my students need to take remedial classes instead of electives, and ultimately, if my school will stay open based on some data points that I see as complex, three-dimensional, teenage human beings.
To top it all off, they will scream in the media that I must work harder after putting in a 55-hour workweek. Ultimately, this underfunded, terrible plan will burn out teachers, alienate more students and not make public schools better. But that will be the cover as school is slowly privatized and one of the few remaining good public services is dismantled.
We are in a struggle to keep alive one of the founding pillars of any great democracy—a great free education for every human being no matter their race, income or background. We must fight back.
Chicago teachers began their strike today at midnight.