When I began teaching at the tender age of 22, something incredible happened overnight: I became an adult. There is no responsibility, as I am sure any parent can tell you, quite like that of caring for a child. This responsibility humbled me. This responsibility carried me through difficult days. Most of all, this responsibility made me realize how precious our children's lives are. As the Chicago Teachers Union begins their strike today, I can empathize with some of their demands. However, I do not believe the solution is to abandon our responsbility to our children.
Of all the demands, the discontent with the teacher evaluation system is the most puzzling. The new evaluation system, opposed by the Chicago Teachers Union, allows standardized test scores to account for a fourth of teacher evaluations -- a change now mandated by Illinois law. CTU President Karen Lewis explained her opposition to the evaluation system by recounting the outside factors that affect student performance such as "poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger..." As a teacher in a low-income school, I certainly understand the difficulties associated with such issues, but it has been proven that great schools and great teachers can overcome them. It is damaging to the teaching profession to suggest that "there is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator" -- not to mention false. Great educators produce great results. Using challenging social factors as an excuse, as a crutch, as a reason to say our children cannot perform on standardized tests is shameful. Karen Lewis is using these challenges as a scapegoat for the failures of the public education system.
Among the other issues preventing Chicago students from learning today are teacher pay and benefits -- two concessions that Chicago Public schools has already made. They offered a 16 percent increase in teacher pay over the next four years, as well as other benefits. At a time when the budget of CPS is stretched to its breaking point, this appears to be an act of good faith. The average teacher salary in CPS is already greater than $70,000 annually. Based on teacher salary statistics from the National Education Association, Illinois teachers live quite comfortably on their salaries -- relatively, they are the third most comfortable in the United States. At some point, CTU must accept that money and resources are limited, and that the strike will only further harm the budget of CPS. Discontent with an average salary topping $80,000 in the next four years is no reason to leave Chicago's children on the streets today.
While the CTU may be pressuring CPS, they have broken their commitments to students and families. The union labeled the last-minute plan to place children in community centers and local nonprofits during school hours a "train wreck," seemingly forgetting it was a train wreck that they themselves caused. Parents across the city worried about the outcomes of the strike for their children, and called for both parties to return to the negotiating table. Pride must be swallowed; concessions must be made. CPS and CTU can be champions for education reform if they band together to advocate for what is best for students, and they must. Our children deserve a quality education -- not a train wreck.
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