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Matt Farmer

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Teachers Don't Like Bullies

Posted: 05/10/2012 4:24 pm

A couple of voices from Mayor Emanuel's "education reform" choir are up in arms because some public school teachers are now talking seriously about the possibility of a teachers' strike in Chicago later this summer.

The mayor's folks are outraged by such talk -- and by recent reports of mock strike votes in schools across the city -- because they believe it distracts teachers from their primary mission, which is educating kids.

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Becky Carroll called news of recent mock strike votes "a disservice to our children." Charter school advocate Rebeca Nieves Huffman upped the ante, saying the Chicago Teachers Union was recklessly "playing the strike card" and would likely rely on "thuggery and intimidation" to get its way.

Give me a break.

It's not as if the city's teachers are suddenly asking their bright-eyed students to paint color-by-number portraits of Eugene Debs and Albert Shanker during their (likely non-existent) art classes. And no one, to date, has accused any CPS teachers of shaking down kids in the cafeteria for contributions to a CTU strike fund.

Teachers and their union representatives are simply gearing up -- outside of the classroom, mind you -- to fight for their professional lives this summer, and I'm glad they're finally getting engaged.

I say that both as a longtime CPS parent and as a local school council member.  I talk to a lot of teachers around the city, and from Rogers Park to Gage Park they're angry.

They're tired of being made scapegoats for the devastating effects of the generational urban poverty that Emanuel and his aides would rather not talk about. They're tired of having their students used as over-tested lab rats by an ever-changing cast of out-of-touch, out-of-town "reformers" who specialize in "public education by press release." But what really angers the teachers I've talked to is the absolute lack of respect that this mayor and his hand-picked team have shown them during the last year.

In fact, I'd fear for my fourth-grade daughter's next eight years in the CPS system if her teachers were not mentally and emotionally invested in the ongoing contract negotiation process.

Make no mistake -- I want my kid in class next September. But if her teachers ultimately vote to go on strike, my daughter will know why.

She may not have a deep understanding of tenure issues, pension contributions, or "step and lane" increases, but (like most kids I know) she has a solid grasp on the basic concept of "fairness."

Even a 10-year-old can understand that if 75 percent of the CTU's membership ultimately concludes that our charter-school-loving mayor is trying to give them (as Emanuel might say) "the shaft," then those teachers need to stand up and fight, not only for their individual jobs and their profession, but also for the well-being of the kids in the classrooms in which they now teach.

The deck is undeniably stacked against the teachers in their current negotiations with the Board of Education, and a strike vote is the only leverage teachers have to secure a fair contract.

You want to call mock strike votes a scare tactic, be my guest.  But don't forget to call out Emanuel and his high-priced media machine the next time the mayor starts talking about putting 55 kids in a classroom, or complaining that CPS teachers enriched themselves for years while "cheating our children," whom, he claims, teachers effectively "left on the side of the road."

It's easy, I suppose, to make a habit of dumping on CPS teachers if the only parent-teacher conferences you ever have to attend take place at a private school.

 

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