Posted tagged ‘Chicago Teacher’s Union’

Rahm vs. The Chicago Teachers

August 26, 2011

It’s been nearly a year since I posted to this blog.  I frankly considered it done.  I continued to leave it up for those who found previous postings useful while I used satire to comment on education elsewhere.   Satire is something I’m good at, but it doesn’t do a great job of encapsulating all my feelings at this particular moment.

What I really want to do is teach.  I got into education after working nearly 10 years in the private sector.  I got a bachelor’s degree in history and made the rather unusual jump to broadcasting.   I got into teaching  just before programs like Teach for America hit, so I moved back home for 2 years and took classes in education while taking a huge pay cut to work at a comic book store because the hours worked around my schedule.   It also gave me the opportunity to look after my dad as he suffered through the Alzheimer’s Disease that finally took his life.  I point this out because for some reason I feel the need to justify that I know what hard work is.

The Chicago Public Schools were supposed to give their teachers a 4% raise this year.  This was an agreement that was negotiated 5 years ago.  We got a decent pay raise, but we made other concessions that made me vote against the contract at the time.  When the raises were not granted, the city didn’t even pretend that it was because of a budget shortfall.  Instead, they actually said teachers really didn’t deserve the raise that we had negotiated with in good faith.  At the very same meeting that we were denied a raise, the top brass were granted large pay raises.

Chicago now wants to expand the school day 90 minutes and the school year 2 weeks.  They want us to take their word that this time will be well spent and in exchange for working 29% more hours, we will be paid 2% more salary.  I really don’t care about the money.  Frankly, the $3.50 an hour or so I’d make comes to less than I spend in my classroom on a yearly basis.  What I care about is that I believe the city’s big idea is to use its teachers as wardens.

As I read press releases from city hall, the big push seems to be keeping these students off the street where they cause crime.  That is so wrong headed, maybe I shouldn’t be the most insulted by this plan.  My students have a right to be far angrier than I do.  Is it so much to ask that this time be used for quality and that teachers be fairly compensated.  Our day is short, but that is because in the 70s teachers agreed to not take their 45 minute lunch and instead get out 45 minutes early.  We actually have more instructional time than New York or Los Angeles, but we have no planning time.  I would be happy to stay an extra 45 minutes if it gave me more planning time.   I am less enthused about the extra two weeks when classrooms are over 90 degrees in summer and most are not air conditioned.

I urge the city to show us a plan that is for quality time.  I currently use my time after school for tutoring, planning, and two days a week I do an after school improvisational comedy class.  If this is being replaced by more drill and kill, there is no point.  I just want to teach.  I am not unreasonable, but quantity isn’t the same as quality.


CTU Election 5/21

May 19, 2010

We’re down to the final two days before the Chicago teachers get to choose between business as usual union politics where we throw money at politicians and hope they save us and movement style union politics where we save ourselves.   If you have been following my sporadic postings since October you know that I took Howard Zinn’s advice and joined up with a social movement.   As a teacher, the thing that was most important to me was education and naturally that’s where I went.  I can’t tell you how CORE has impressed me in this time.   While the other caucuses seem exactly one person deep–maybe two—CORE has 20 or 30.

I talk about CORE a bit differently than most.   You see, since I didn’t join until October I was able to pick a caucus that felt like they would take the union where it needed to go.   Since, I joined I’ve seen CORE’s partnerships with Teachers for Social Justice, Chicago Youth Initiating Change, and a host of community organizations.   We have something developing here and I’d ordinarily be quite content if we lost the election to sit back and continue to let the movement germinate, but who knows what will be left of the union or the city’s schools if another caucus wins—especially UPC.

The CORE Slate

Karen Lewis – She’s a firebrand.   She reminds me a bit of my sister.   Most of the time she’s pretty laid back and easygoing, but let her talk about education and she lights up.   She makes such an eloquent spokesperson for the teachers and students of the Chicago Public Schools.   It’s about time we had a CTU President that we can watch on Chicago Tonight without cringing.

Jesse Sharkey – He’s the perfect counterpoint to Karen.  I see him at CORE meetings with his young son and I see not only a great feather, but also a guy who really knows how to organize his time.   He’s a very effective speaker as well who was quite effective during the city council hearing on school turnarounds.

Kristine Mayle – I blogged about Kristine on the last day before going into work this year.   I was shocked to find out the next day that she would be working with me.  She reminds me of a turn of the 20th century labor leader.  She is so polished and well-spoken.  She also seems to be a font of endless stamina.  She made it to every school closing hearing 2 years ago and most of them this year.

Michael Brunson – Michael is fun.  He’s a former boxer and a second career teacher who is extremely gentle and charming, but like you might expect there’s a fighter there.   He’ll be smiling and you never see the jab coming.

I could go on and on.   This is an organization that is passionate about public education.   Check us out at   If you are a Chicago Public Schools teacher I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to tell you educate yourself and make up your own mind.   I’m looking forward to Friday when the votes are cast, but I’m also nervous as all get out.

A Funny Thing Happened On the way to the Blog

April 15, 2010

I’ve missed a lot.   Charlie Crist did the right thing today in Florida and proved that just as not all Democrats are on our side, all Republicans are not the devil incarnate.  In Washington DC, there have been some very funny things going on with the books.  I haven’t covered either of these because election season has come to the Chicago Teacher’s Union and I’m running with CORE.   Ron Huberman and his cronies have been using faulty books and fake math to drum up a budget crisis in order to get teacher’s to make concessions while still claiming hefty raises for themselves.

Something has to be done and I’m absolutely certain that CORE is the best hope for the teachers and students of Chicago.   There’s a mentality that has gotten into several teacher’s unions like the City of Chicago that the way to change things is to send in your union dues and endorse and contribute to politicians.  That gets us nowhere.   We’ve endorsed some of the very politicians who have passed the worst legislation against us.   CORE is decidedly more active.  We saved Chicago schools by speaking, picketing, protesting, and supporting parents.  I personally took a personal day to speak at the Board of Education to stop turnarounds.  I was nervous, but also really proud to have exercised my rights.

There’s a war against teachers going on nationwide.   I’m willing to do my part in Chicago and I hope other teachers that agree with me will do what they can in their cities.  Democrat doesn’t necessarily mean progressive and progressives are what we need right now.   There’s a lot to do and we’re on a short timetable.   There is hope though and to paraphrase a President that I want to believe in despite his insistence of governing like a moderate Republican, “we are the change we have been waiting for.”  Teachers need to be included in education reform decision making and not simply dictated to.      This blog is not dead, just don’t expect a ton of activity for the next month.

The Malcolm X Forum – Standing Up Together

January 11, 2010

On Saturday at Malcolm X College in Chicago, 400 people turned out in the cold and the snow to join together against the privatization of the Chicago public schools.  I was one of those people, but far from the most important.  I promoted the event and I wrote an article for the newsletter that CORE passed out, but on the day of the event, I sat back and watched as the amazing coalition of teachers, parents, activists, and students did the real work.

The privatization of education is new to much of the United States, but in Chicago we’ve had it for 15 years since Illinois gave Chicago’s Mayor Daley total control of the city’s public schools and began turning them over one by one to private interests.   Under the ambitious Renaissance 2010 plan (ambitious the way Mao’s Cultural Revolution was), 74 schools have been closed with more to come.   The city has done it using a divide and conquer strategy.  Hundreds of angry parents come out to fight to keep their own school open, but then they go away and the board moves on to the next school.   The schools and the families they serve have begun to reallize that the only way to fight city hall and it’s business interests is to join together.

The conference opened with a handful of keynote speeches.   For me the highlight was high school student activist Kellina Mojica who was moving and persuasive demanding, “we have a voice and want to be heard…whether you like it or not.”

I don’t know what that girl’s test scores are, but she is definitely an advertisement that the CPS students aren’t the problem.   CORE’s Lois Ashford introduced the caucus’s officer candidates for the May union elections.   With Karen Lewis, Jackson Potter, Kristine Mayle, and Michael Brunson on our slate, I feel really confident that we have the people who can lead our union.

After the keynotes, we broke off into action workshops.   I wanted to be at all of them, but I went to the one for the union.   There were also seminars for students, fighting school closures with a positive plan, tests, and empowering LSCs.  After a lively discussion about the ways we could fight city hall.   Overall, the forum was a great success, but the real work goes on.   The most dramatic moment is when the city sent out the boot truck, but when they saw Substance’s George Schmidt taking photographs of the truck for his newspaper, they beat it.

At the summit, I enjoyed talking to WBEZ education reporter Linda Lutton.  She interviewed me about my opinions on Renaissance 2010 and she was extremely charming.   I worked with a lot of reporters back when I was working in television, but she really had a talent for listening and asking follow up questions that felt like a real conversation instead of showing off her research or knowledge

This feels like the calm before the storm.  There is going to be a lot of work to do in Chicago and in the rest of this country this year if we want to keep public education alive and healthy.  I think we’re ready for the fight.