Why the status quo is bad for Chicago: a response to the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board

6 mins read
Chicago Teachers strike in Edgewater on October 18, 2019. Photo courtesy of the author.

On Thursday, the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board began a “miniseries” blasting the Chicago Teachers Union Strike. Their first “episode” attempted to explain why the strike is bad for a group most affected: students.

Why the Editorial Board seems hellbent on repeatedly debasing the union is a separate issue. The concerns presented in their editorial make it abundantly clear that there is still work to be done to educate the City of Chicago (or at the least, the Chicago Tribune) on exactly what is at stake in this strike. Allow me to address their concerns.

The Editorial Board claims that a CTU strike disrupts student learning. What this Board omits is that student learning is disrupted every day due to the working conditions of teachers, the learning conditions of students, and the lack of resources available to schools.

Every time a student gets sick in class and has nowhere to go (no nurse’s office), learning is disrupted.

Every time a student facing unaddressed-trauma acts out in class, requiring the full attention of a teacher, learning is disrupted.

Every time we pack children into a classroom like sardines, expecting one teacher to handle 33, 37, or 40 students by herself, learning is disrupted.

Every time special education students miss their minutes with a special education teacher due to understaffing, their learning is disrupted.

The editorial goes further and says that the disruption of routine is most harmful to kids “on the bubble” and that students from “struggling communities with unstable home environments stand to lose the most, the longer the strike continues”.

In this questionable display of empathy, the Editorial Board seems to forget that teachers have their eye on the long-game for these students. Teachers are the ones fighting for mental health resources and affordable housing. According to the CPS Office of Students in Temporary Living Situations, there were nearly 18,000 homeless Chicago children and teens that attended CPS schools in the 2017–2018 school year. This certainly is a high number of students living “on the bubble”, and the Board seems to be okay with a solution that does nothing to advocate for their rights, insisting instead that business-as-usual is the way to go.

Pretending to be an advocate for our city’s most vulnerable children by condemning the strike shows a lack of integrity and a fundamental disregard for the comprehensive needs of our schools and communities.

The editorial also lists the many activities students will miss during the strike: “essays due and field trips planned and science experiments to complete.”

Once again, the Editorial Board is negligent not to acknowledge that all of these activities are planned on the backs of teachers’ free labor. In my 6 years of teaching in CPS, I’ve never been given a science curriculum or a budget for science experiments. Anything I’ve ever had in my class for this subject has come out of my own pocket. Furthermore, many non-teachers are surprised to learn that the majority of CPS elementary schools have no literacy curriculum. So, those essays the editorial refers to would be part of a unit that teachers have designed on their own time or purchased on their own dime. And finally: field trips. Field trips require many errands for teachers, in addition to their regular workload. First, it requires recruiting chaperones (either parent or community members — which is harder than it sounds — many parents can’t or don’t actually want to spend a whole day with 30 children) and second, it means making sure each has completed a background check. Finally, it requires verifying that fees are covered by the field trip’s destination since CPS generally doesn’t have money for field trip busses. Often, teachers or principals will cover costs out of their own pocket for students who couldn’t otherwise afford to go. It amazes me that the Editorial Board would imply that students are missing out on opportunities because teachers are just being selfish. (The closing line of the editorial reads, “CTU, enough.”)

This editorial does not mention CTU’s advocacy of a class-size cap of 28 students. But this, too, is for the benefit of student achievement. Effective teaching is built on relationships. With upwards of 33 students in a classroom, it becomes nearly impossible to fully understand and address the needs of each student.

It also becomes nearly impossible to provide students with differentiated, individualized feedback, something that is paramount to student growth. A previous Tribune editorial praised CPS’s agreement to commit $3 million to reducing class sizes in grades 4–12. This sounds impressive until you do the math and realize this only amounts to 60 teachers, district-wide, if they are all brand-new teachers with no Masters degree. Hiring highly-qualified, experienced teachers would mean significantly fewer than 60 classrooms would reduce in size.

Know what’s worse than a teacher’s strike? Continuing to ignore the comprehensive needs of our city’s children.

Defenders of the status quo, enough.

Originally posted on Medium. Re-posted with permission.

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