Chicago teacher tells WW: ‘Enough is enough’

Chicago teachers rally. Photo: CTU Local 1

When asked by Eric Struch, a Chicago WW correspondent, what the issues that led the Chicago teachers to go out on strike are, Nathan Johnson, a teacher at Lakeview High School on the North Side, made the following statement:

Much of the reason why we are in the situation we are in boils down to one thing: respect. Mayor Emanuel, the board of education, the media, etc. have all painted a picture of us that simply isn’t true: that we are all lazy, that we are not doing our jobs, and that we can’t be trusted to know how to teach our own students. In essence, they act as if we the teachers are the problem — forget the overcrowded classrooms, the socioeconomic issues in many of our communities, the lack of resources in our schools.

The board is constantly micromanaging us, giving us new curriculum, standards, programs, and other such top-down initiatives year after year that are applied to many schools across the city, not taking into account the individual needs of each school. And year after year these initiatives fail and are replaced by a new crop that later fails and the cycle repeats ad nauseam. All of these initiatives are dreamed up by people in the ivory towers of academia. No one ever asks us, what resources would you like? You are obviously the expert since you are with your students 4.5 hours a day, 5 days a week, and have studied each student in front of you and assessed their strengths, weaknesses and needs. No, because teachers are not to be trusted, because they are all lazy and don’t know how to teach, remember?

This year, the push is for a longer school day, an initiative that in my opinion was chosen more because it made a great campaign promise — It is simple for the general public to understand and to get behind. More school equals more learning, right? — than it is actually good policy. Even assuming it is good policy, it was foolish of Rahm Emanuel to implement it in a year when the city is having a budget crisis and the contract with the teachers union is up for renewal. You can’t decree teachers to teach more for no extra money and expect there to be no blowback. But the powers that be had pressed for a law that required that 75 percent of all members vote to authorize a strike, and Emanuel thought that was impossible and figured he could do whatever he wanted.

Add to this disrespect the growing uncertainty among teachers, especially teachers who are working at the toughest schools in the city under the most trying and stressful circumstances, that their school may be closed at any time and replaced with a charter school. They closed my school despite a huge turnout of teachers, students and community members against the school closing as well as a finding from an independent arbiter that suggested they keep my school open.

They continue to use low test scores as a justification to close down neighborhood schools and then open charter schools in their place. Many charter schools end up doing everything in their power to avoid the old students that went to that school and kick/”counsel” them out if they end up applying, knowing damn well that the surest way to have better test scores is to avoid the most disadvantaged students. What is happening is a privatization of public education that is spearheaded by a bunch of arrogant, misguided millionaires that would never send their children to Chicago Public Schools, that have never consulted the teachers about what they feel would be the best way to improve student achievement, that hold educators in low regard, that are guided, it seems to me, only by their own ideology. And I hesitate to accuse, but I get the sense that some people see the public educational system and all of those tax dollars as something to be harvested for their own personal gain.

I worry that what we are going to end up with is a teacher force with no union, where teachers are shut out of the decisions that impact their classrooms, where talented people are discouraged from becoming teachers in Chicago, especially in tougher neighborhoods, due to low pay and deplorable teaching conditions. In the end, we’ll end up with a much worse public school system in Chicago, albeit a cheaper one. And the middle class will shrink ever smaller. Is that what is best for our students? Is that what’s best for our city?

Teachers are standing up now because they are tired of being disrespected, of being ignored, of being threatened, and of having our livelihood and the livelihood of our students being put in danger. I truly believe that this strike has implications that go far beyond Chicago, and I feel that it is absolutely imperative that we take a stand and say enough is enough!

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