Lindsey Rohwer (Chicago‘06) has been teaching for seven years.
Editor's Note: This week, our hearts and minds are with the people of Chicago, who are experiencing the city’s first teachers' strike in 27 years. As Wendy wrote this summer , Pass The Chalk aspires to be a forum for "engaging in candid discussion and debate about the biggest issues surrounding education today." In that spirit, over the coming days we'll be featuring a range of perspectives on the strike and what it means for teachers, students and families in Chicago. We encourage you to join the dialogue on our Facebook page and on Twitter @PassTheChalk.
NO ONE wants to strike.
No teacher wants to interrupt the school year. No one wants students to not have a safe place to go. No parent wants to scramble to find childcare. This is the last resort.
But I also don't want a system where those who work in schools and know best what their students, families and neighborhoods need, are discounted as greedy, lazy, and incompetent.
We don’t want a mayoral-appointed billionaire school board with little to no experience in education criticizing teachers who work 70+ hour weeks, filling roles as counselors, librarians, nurses, and social workers (because their schools don’t fully staff these positions). We care for our students as we would our own children, making decisions based on their best interests. Because we don’t believe the board of education makes decisions this same way, we are striking.
Many ask why we are striking when we could have negotiated from the classroom. We did that last year, in overcrowded classrooms and understaffed schools, in buildings with no air conditioning and leaking roofs. And while we negotiated in good faith, the mayor and outside groups lobbied to enact laws that would make bargaining more difficult.
A teacher at my school worked every day and then spent hours at the negotiation table, while the CEO of Chicago Public Schools failed to attend even one bargaining session. We have testified at budget hearings and Board of Education meetings and gone to Springfield to address issues like school closures. We have exhausted every other avenue. The only option we have left is to strike—and we did NOT come to that decision hastily.
Others criticize our position on pay and evaluations. While I certainly do not earn the $71,236 figure we keep hearing, I also don’t think educators should have to take a vow of poverty. I should not have to choose between raising a family and raising a community through teaching. I also don't want a large percentage of my evaluation as a 12th grade Spanish teacher to be based on how well 9th-11th graders do on a standardized reading test—that doesn't reflect my professional work.
But what we’re most upset about is our students’ learning conditions. My students, who are 99% free/reduced lunch and live in one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, shouldn’t only be able to get sick on Fridays from 8-10am, because that's when we have a nurse, or only be able to see a social worker 1-2 days per week because we share him with two other schools.
New legislation restricts CTU’s bargaining rights, but we are not going to ignore issues like class size limits and collaboration time for teachers, which are needed to improve student learning. We strike to show the board that they must negotiate on these issues.
I miss my kids, but there is too much at stake not to stand up. I know what it might mean if students are out of school for another week, but I also know what it will mean to continue denying them the resources needed to provide the education they deserve. None of us is taking this lightly. I believe to my very core that the strike is necessary to make a change for our kids in Chicago.
Lindsey Rohwer is a seven-year veteran of Chicago Public Schools, and has also worked as an advisor and school director at Teach For America’s Summer Institute in Chicago. She teaches 12th grade Spanish at TEAM Englewood High School.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Teach For America, its staff, and/or any/all contributors to this blog.