Today was my first real-time CTU strike rally! The only reason I could make the rally today was because my husband, partner, and greatest supporter could escort me, as I’ve been on medical leave recovering from surgery in May. Although I have been actively participating in virtual time all week, as well as when I first began this blog last fall, I had to wait for my escort to ensure I’d have help if I needed assistance. Ut’s a good thing I waited after hours of standing in the sun cheering and waving my home-made poster, I needed to hold his hand to make my way through the crowd walking to the car.
In my opinion, I could be a poster ‘child’ for why this strike is being held: after having brain surgery on May 15, the principal of the school, where I have taught for the past four years, changed my “Excellent” rating – she herself had given me the previous three years – was changed to “Unsatisfactory” after just four months in a new teaching position while I was on medical leave. That’s right, three years of excellence as a first grade teacher, which I had years of experience teaching, were eliminated after a mere four months teaching middle school language arts, a subject I am certified to teach but a subject I had never taught before.
The past three years I observed teacher after teacher at the school leave and most felt they were forced to leave. All were experienced and most near retirement, thus more expensive, and like me, transferred into classrooms with curriculums they had never taught. All of us were immediately expected to continue teaching like experienced teachers although we had never taught the grade levels or curriculum we were transferred into and were not given the opportunity to get up to speed by the administration before being observed countless times each week and evaluated before we had time to acclimate to our new teaching positions. The reason given were: you are experienced teachers you should be able to teach anything at the drop of a hat! The principal might as well have said “Off with their heads!” and eventually she did.
At the school I taught at previously, the principal dismissed all the untenured teachers, all of whom had masters degrees, including myself, the year before we would have been given tenure. Then, the following year, the principal re-hired only first year, inexperienced, much less expensive teachers. because her budget had been cut due to the exodus of 30% of students at the school who left to attend an Uno charter school nearby.
How could this happen, excellent teachers being dismissed in order to hire less expensive teachers? The reasons are complex, yet ultimately they are because of reductions in school budgets based upon student enrollment. Principals now control their own budgets, at one time they did not, but principal’s do not now control teacher salaries. Get the picture? Cost cutting means teacher cutting, even if the teacher is an excellent one.
In addition, this is also trickle down from politics: this is Illinois, the state where politicians work the system in unjust ways and the city of Chicago is well known for doing the same, of course such shenanigans at a state and city level trickle down into the way the Chicago Public Schools are managed. I mean come on, how else do you think Mayor Daley, Rahm’s predecessor, was able to finagle state permission to have an unelected school board: it was all about the money it takes to run the third largest school board in the country
Until I talked with my union representative at CTU in January, I had no idea teachers all across Chicago teachers are regularly transferred to areas they have never taught, given no professional development to teach, nor given time to adjust to, before their classroom observations are increased, their ratings are lowered and principals file T3 paperwork to have them dismissed. The union rep stated this seemed to be strategy to reduce the number of tenured teachers at CPS and a retired administrator echoed that saying “Downtown CPS officials were always pointing out what a drain tenured teachers were, even if those teachers were some of our best teachers and we were encouraged to find a way to reduce the number of tenured teachers!”
Today, inspired yesterday by colleagues from my school, whom I drove by to see yesterday after one of my twice weekly acupuncturist appointments, I held my husbands hand and joined the throngs of people at Union Park and had my day of rallying for fair education for all students in Chicago and fairer treatment for teachers who teach them.