Inside the Chicago Teachers Union Strike

After spending more than a decade in finance, Michael Volpe has worked as a freelance journalist since 2009. He's based in Chicago. Volpe published his first book in October 2012, titled "Prosecutors Gone Wild: The Inside Story of the Trial of Chuck Panici, John Gliottoni, and Louise Marshall." His new book, "The Definitive Dossier of PTSD in Whistleblowers," is now available.


Wednesday September 12, 2012, was day three of the Chicago teacher’s strike. While thousands of teachers were back in school, it wasn’t to teach. That’s because the Chicago Teacher’s Union organized three rallies all starting at 11:30AM local time at three different schools on the city’s south and west sides.  It’s the south and west side of the city that has seen the brunt of the most recent violence in Chicago.

 

The rallies were held at Walter H. Dyett High School on the city’s south side, John Marshall Metropolitan High School on the city’s west side and Thomas Kelly High School on the city southwest side.

Front Page Magazine tagged along and below is some of the most ostentatious signs.

In interviews with Front Page Magazine, the striking teachers reported on difficult working conditions and overcrowded classrooms. They said that class room sizes ranged from high twenties to forty, and they said that the optimum class size should be between fifteen and twenty-five.  The teachers described all sorts of difficulties managing kids.

Charlie Coltak is a literacy teacher at Bradwell Elementary School on the city’s south side and he said that last year he had at least three kids with serious psychiatric problems that make them extremely disruptive.

“I had at least three of my kids last year diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder.”

Someone with oppositional defiant disorder, said Coltak, is prone to refusing to stay seated, being aggressive with a teacher, and sometimes even worse.

“I had a kid threaten to put sugar in my gas tank.”

Here is Chicago Public Schools teacher Deborah Windham describing the living conditions of some of her students. Windham teaches at Bond Elementary School on the city’s south side.

The striking teachers also answered charges that Chicago teachers were already the highest paid, along with giving their thoughts on merit pay and education reforms.

Rochelle Harris is a special education teacher at Songhai Learning Institute on the city’s far south side.  She said that she’s taught as many as thirty nine kids in one eighth grade classroom. She dismissed the notion that Chicago Teachers are already among the highest paid in the country.

“(These are) the things that we have to deal with; the abuse, the cursing, the parents coming up and cussing you out.”

She struggled to responded when confronted with the fact that in New York City teachers have to deal with many of the same issues but are paid less.

“I’m talking about Chicago. I’m not talking about New York,” she continued, “we’re striking because of the fact that we have a voice.”

Harris doesn’t agree with merit pay because she said often teachers are set up for failure in such a system.

Coltak also said it was unfair to compare Chicago teachers to teachers in New York because he felt all teachers were underpaid.

Coltak said he’s only been teaching for three years. While he’s against the current proposal of merit pay, he said wouldn’t necessarily be against some sort of teacher evaluation system to help determine salaries and raises.

“I think there has to be accountability for your performance.” He continued that he’d like to see teacher performance be more determined by each principal, “I think the principals are responsible for the leadership in their school. They’re responsible for supporting the teachers in the their school. Part of the problem with the way CPS wants to run their system is that CPS is promoting class warfare in their system. They should be building leadership and teamwork in their schools.”

All the teachers that spoke with Front Page Magazine dismissed the notion that the Chicago Public School System is deep in debt and can’t afford the raises they ask for. They cite years of city budgets that were known for graft and budget gimmicks like Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) and say that the money is there.

After the rally ended at Dyett High School, on the city’s South Side, a wave of teachers continued marching to another location about a mile and a half away.

 

Ironically enough, this sign went up at William C. Revis Elementary School before the strike was official.

Meanwhile, not all Chicago area high school students could enjoy playing hooky. Here, at the Catholic High School De La Salle, the marching band is practicing on their football field.

Finally, here’s an unidentified teacher on how he’d like to see more “compassion” in the school system.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.

  • Leland64

    The performance of Chicago school students and their teachers is unbelievably poor. Will student performance change if the teachers remain on strike or return to the class room?

  • Omar

    I wonder why the Teacher's Union didn't invite Bill Ayers to the protests. Ayers was probably too busy giving radical lectures at universities on how to organize a communist revolution in America.

  • SCREW SOCIALISM

    Tell the teachers they have 24 hours to get back to school and "educating" their students according to State and City approved curriculum.

    Any worker who defies the order are suspended. Bring in new teachers. The new crop can only be better than the incompetent boobs there now.

    • Faith Mendes

      I honestly wonder why there is so many ignorant people that refuse to see why teachers and students are protesting. I was taught to never settle for less. Always aim for more and fight for it. Whoever doesn’t like it is probably because it’s a close minded person. Think outside the box!

    • Jim_C

      "Get back in that 100 degree classroom with 41 inner city students, peeling paint, and supplies you paid for out of your own pocket, and be thankful you have a job!"

  • cathnealon

    "That’s because the Chicago Teacher’s Union organized three rallies all starting at 11:30AM local time at three different schools on the city’s south and west sides. It’s the south and west side of the city that has seen the brunt of the most recent violence in Chicago."

    "These are the things that we have to deal with; the abuse, the cursing, the parents coming up and cussing you out.”

    These two go together.

    On the one hand many other anti-teacher sites are bemoaning the fact that kids are out of school in dangerous, violent neighborhoods but in the very next breath they blame the lousy test scores and illiteracy on the overpaid, incompetent lazy ass teachers. Not the MIA parents!

  • cathnealon

    Ok Mr. Emanuel fire all of them and send in the elitist clowns from TFA–who can barely make it through two years like Superwoman Rhee. But no big deal–their payoff comes when these mostly white ivy leaguers get cushy policy wonking, non-profiteering jobs in the public/private sector(didn't that used to be called fascism?)

    This whole strike is led by the usual communist suspects we all know that. But there are definitely good, hard-working honest teachers.

    Let's see any one of the teacher-bashing know-it-alls step one foot in an inner city classroom. Put the Obama girls in their southside public school or Duncan's kids or Rhee herself who went the private route. These hacks who know NOTHING about teaching are millionaires and they say the teachers need a better evlauation system and are overpaid? You've got to be kidding.

    I'll give you the first item that should be on a Chicago teacher evaluation:

    -Did anyone shoot, stab or choke another student to death in your classroom this semester?

    -If the answer's "No"-give them an extra $100,000.