We're back to school in Chicago -- Now what?

See all posts
After deliberating with my coworkers, family, and friends throughout the week, I decided to allow my name to stand by the piece I wrote here previously about the CTU strike.  At the time, I didn't feel that I was well enough informed on all the issues surrounding the strike.  I was worried my opinions could ostracize me from my coworkers.  I now recognize that despite the solidarity among the teachers at my school and throughout the city of Chicago, everyone has his or her own perspective on the strike and the problems facing our public education system.  I learned more about the varying opinions surrounding the strike and the injustices inherent in the public education sector.  I felt that my point of view could serve as an avenue for opening further dialogue on how to improve education without compromising great teachers.  I hope I can be involved in bringing about constructive reforms to education that will serve great teachers and great schools and most of all serve the interests of our students.

I was filled with a sense of anxiety and relief upon learning that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike was finally over.  I knew I had to reinvest my students and help them readjust to our school schedule.  I wasn't sure how they would receive me.  Would I be a traitor who betrayed their best interests?  Would they still trust my dedication to providing them with an excellent educational experience?  I knew I had to communicate my commitment to their success.  Fortunately, my fourth graders were thrilled to be back in class.  Their attitude and enthusiasm made the transition back into the classroom much easier for all of us.  

Teachers at my school were divided on the decision to end the CTU strike.  The tentative agreement that the CTU 'won' did not reduce class size or student-teacher ratios, did not ensure climate-controlled classrooms for all schools, and did not guarantee sufficient student health professionals for all schools.  However, the contract did provide better job security for teachers and it sustained pay raise criteria predicated on graduate degrees and seniority.  Most teachers realized the contract would not address every grievance promulgated by the CTU, and they understood this was the best deal possible.  For the teachers who were satisfied with ending the strike, it was more a victory on principle than a victory of tangible rewards.

I am hoping CPS and the CTU can deliberate in a way which results in solutions benefiting all students in Chicago.  The CTU needs to invest in developing a teacher evaluation tool that is fair and can be used to increase the quality of Chicago schools.  The CTU needs to recommit to protecting jobs for high quality teachers, not protecting jobs of all teachers regardless of quality.  I believe CPS and the CTU can improve the quality of education for students in Chicago, and I hope that they can find a way to do so without another strike to bring attention to the issues that need to be resolved.

-- Jay Laughlin
Chicago Public School Teacher