Inside the Chicago Teachers Union Strike

Teachers respond to questions about their already high salaries and why they reject merit pay.

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.

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