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My Parents Were Chicago Public School Teachers

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Most of us are aware the Chicago teachers' strike was about far more than an annual salary increase. However, in the comments section of news reports ranging from The Huffington Post to Reuters, there is always some wiseacre who is focused on the $75k average that the cities' teachers make. Their disdain speaks volumes. These commenters think it's abysmal that we pay public school teachers well, and thus find it inconceivable that we would ever want to pay them more. They have no problem expressing disgust with the fact teachers have the audacity to even ask.

My mother and father were Chicago public school teachers for the entirety of their 30-year careers. My father was a biology teacher at George Washington High School on Chicago's South side, where he met my mother, an English teacher. To speak of their long tenure in the Chicago public school system is to speak of dwindling resources, expanding classroom sizes and increasingly ambivalent students.

Currently, I am a college professor that gets paid too well to teach my students with expensive camera equipment and show them clips of Pulp Fiction for a few hours each day. You couldn't get a more posh teaching job, and yet a single yawn or bored gaze can make my work a depressing endeavor. The politics of academia can be unbearable. A minor bureaucratic struggle feels like a Sisyphean task.

Therefore, it's hard for me to imagine what working a full day would be like on Chicago's South side. George Washington High School, like most Chicago public schools, is a place where lacking resources, intransigent bureaucracy and obstinate students are the norm, not the exception.

But this article is not about that. This article is about what my parents did with the money they made. The money most commenters suggest should be cut in half and given to all of those hypothetical "dedicated teachers" who want to make $35k while dealing with the misery of the public school system.

My parents paid off their modest home in the south suburbs of Chicago. They each owned a Ford car, which they replaced every 10 years. I couldn't read the blackboard by age eight, so every year their health insurance paid for one new pair of glasses, which I needed to make last a full 365 days before getting a new pair. My parents paid for all three of their children to attend state universities: University of Illinois and Indiana University. Then they paid for my sister to get her Doctor of Pharmacy from UIC, and helped me earn my M.F.A. from Northwestern.

Since then, my eldest sister has adopted two children and fostered many others. My middle sister worked as a clinical pharmacist at a veterans' hospital before focusing her attention on infectious disease medication, HIV and Hepatitis C specifically, at a pharmaceutical company. I became a teacher and a tither (with the money that I didn't have to put toward my education.)

I only wish each of these commenters who feels so offended by the suggestion teachers should get paid well could spend one day in a public school teacher's shoes. And I wonder how anyone can suggest it is not worth paying our public servants a living wage that will help them raise their own family to be contributing members of society.

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Glimpse of a Chicago Public School Teacher's Family
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