While the Chicago Teachers Union has been threatening to strike since last summer to protest changes in the school day, their pay metrics and the way their performance is evaluated, union president Karen Lewis said Monday that support for a walkout has never been stronger.
"At this point we need to understand where people are emotionally and where they are in terms of how they feel about the situation at hand, and what they know," Lewis said (See video above). "And the issue is, again, I have never, in my 22 years of teaching and being in the classroom, seen this kind of hostility and this disrespect for teachers."
Lewis told NBC Chicago that teachers at more than 200 schools supported a protest that included leaving the workforce in a series of "mock strike votes." At all schools that conducted mock votes, support for a strike registered at or above 80 percent, with many schools seing 95 percent or more of the teaching staff expressing interest in a protest.
Lewis noted as a caveat, as reported by CBS Chicago, that "teachers are not looking forward to a strike next year" but that "it is imperative that we are all prepared."
Among the CPS changes angering teachers is the new evaluation system that relies heavily on measures of student growth as indicators of teacher performance.
"Don't take away from your main mission. Your job, what the people of the city of Chicago, the parents, the taxpayers expect of you, which is to teach our children," the mayor said in a statement. "Any time away from that is time away from our children. And remember, what you're here for is to teach our children."
CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard told WBEZ that talk of a strike amidst ongoing negotiations crossed a line.
"We shouldn't be talking about the 'S-word,'" Brizard said Thursday, according to WBEZ. "Let's talk about finding a way to work together to improve a system that will benefit nearly a half million children."
The union has been debating a strike since the beginning of the school year. Last summer, after the state legislature passed a law cutting into teachers' abilities to negotiate their contracts, modifying tenure and opening the door for a longer school day and year with no guarantees of additional pay, Lewis commented that the chances of a strike were "very high."
Chicago teachers have not gone on strike since 1987. In order to do so this time around, the union will need to attain the support of 75 percent of union members -- rather than just half, as previously required -- and will also face a newly drawn-out strike timeline, the Chicago Tribune reports. The earliest the union could implement a strike is August.