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Kenzo Shibata Headshot

Unless the Board of Education Gets Serious, Chicago Educators May Need to Strike

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My years as a Chicago Public Schools teacher gave me a very unique view of the system. I plan on sending my child to CPS schools, but with some reservation. I know how abusive the system can be to its employees and how that can affect the overall school climate. Chicago is not unique in this problem. According to a report on a survey commissioned by Met Life last spring, morale among the nation's teachers is at its lowest point in more than 20 years. Also, roughly one in three said they were likely to leave the profession in the next five years. According to the report, just three years ago, the rate was one in four.

Met Life's results did not shock me. I often felt powerless as one teacher, advocating for the supports my students needed to succeed. In my first two years, not a week went by that I didn't consider changing careers and that had nothing to do with my students or their parents -- it was the system.

There may be only one way for educators to regain respect in the workplace -- a strike. This is something that has not happened in Chicago in 25 years.

The school board's priorities were never -- in my near decade in the system -- aligned with the reality of the classroom. This became evident during current negotiations between CPS and CTU over a new contract.

The two sides were -- and continue to be -- far apart over some major issues. I often felt far apart from my administrators in the classroom, who would not listen when I pled for reasonable class sizes and the resources necessary to best serve my students.

I could have left the system, but I would have just been replaced and the same policies would be implemented in my absence.

This collective feeling of powerlessness led CTU members to unite and authorize its leadership to call for a strike if the Board refuses to move on some important issues in negotiations.

The narrative of "greedy teacher" is being repeated over and over again by billionaire-backed outside groups hoping to influence the process. However, an independent arbitrator, agreed upon by both CPS and CTU, not only issued a report favorable to teachers, he said teachers deserve even more compensation than they proposed.

These outsider groups continue to attack educators in an attempt to weaken the public's opinion of CTU. Earlier in the year, the Chicago Tribune conducted a poll that stated that the public supported the CTU over the Mayor with a ratio of over two-to-one.

With the public, an independent arbitrator, and 25,000 members all on the same page, why won't the Chicago Public Schools take CTU's contract proposals seriously?

This is the same disrespect I felt as an educator, but on a system-wide scale.

I know as a parent, I want the people who directly work with my child to be shown respect by their employer.

Teachers and other school workers are ready to do what's necessary to improve our schools, but the top-down management style employed by the new crop of school administrators leave educators feeling frustrated, dejected and ready to throw in the towel. Educators need respect and may have to use the most powerful tool they have to get it -- a work stoppage.

Teachers at Beard Elementary unified to help a sick colleague who wanted to cast a ballot in CTU's strike authorization vote last June.

A strike will be hard on everyone. CTU is working with parents and community leaders to prepare everyone for the possible event.

The Board of Education is well aware of CTU's demands and the ball is in their court to do what's best for educators and the students they serve.

It appears that there's a great deal of misinformation circulating on the radio and the Internet involving the interim agreement between CTU and CPS.

The agreement was achieved to settle a contentious issue concerning the length of teacher work days due to a longer student day. The agreement provided that the extra hours each day would largely be filled by hiring over 500 new teachers rather than extending the hours worked by current teachers. By resolving this issue before any schools opened, it will not be necessary to make changes to teacher work schedules mid-year when the contract is finalized.

However, the contract is still not settled and there are many big issues that have not been addressed. That is why CTU members continue to prepare for a work stoppage this fall.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times:

The earliest teachers could strike would be Aug. 18, but first the union's House of Delegates must set a strike date and the union must give CPS a 10-day heads-up of its intent to strike. School starts for most CPS students on Sept. 4, the Tuesday after Labor Day.

Although there were theories that largely non-union and privately-run charter schools will weaken the power of strike, CPS CEO Brizard even admitted that he needed CTU members to open schools on time:

"You know, 500,000 students, 26,000 teachers, there's no way in the world that we can run schools without our teachers. We need them to be there."

Since CPS is now admitting that it needs its teachers, maybe it's time that they start showing us some respect.