CPS strike: Up close engagement

Date: 
10/25/2019
LSMonumeht

The Eagle looked down from its 70-foot perch at a swarm of singing, chanting, marching, drum banging and sign waving Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers and their strike supporters Tuesday morning. They were shoulder to shoulder around the Illinois Centennial Monument surrounded by Milwaukee, Kedzie Avenues and Logan Boulevard. A few of the teachers were willing to share their thoughts on education in Chicago and working conditions.

DrumsandStrikers

In her 27th year as a teacher and 18th year as a mom, Megan Fennelly is in her 20th year as a teacher in James Monroe Elementary School, 3651 W. Schubert. It is the neighborhood school district in which Mayor Lori Lightfoot lives. 

"I think this is going to be a long strike," says Fennelly. "This was unexpected by CPS because we've been taken advantage of for such a long time. 

"They [CPS and Mayor Lightfoot] have become out of touch with what is happening in the classroom because they have been out of the classroom for so long. 

FennellySlade

Megan Hennelly talks with fellow teacher Shannon Slade

"They were not present at all the negotiations all summer. They don't understand that we are just done." 

When Lightfoot was first sworn in, Fennelly gave her a break. "But, she did not make herself available for the entire spring and fall bargaining sessions. She was telling some of the CPS staff to not attend the bargaining sessions when the CTU (Chicago Teachers Union) people were prepared and ready. Now they realize we are serious and they are putting things out into the press that are flat out lies. 

RainShine

Signs addressed environment as well as strike issues

"We've been ready since January, so I'm not cutting her any slack because I don't respect somebody who has not been available and then presents themselves as though they were. Everything she said in the letter to CTU's President Jesse Sharkey this week is an illustration of how out of touch she is. She doesn't seem to understand how serious this is!" 

Fennelly went on to talk about the teachers' conundrum of becoming more educated.  

"I would say that most CPS teachers are completely over qualified. You have to do your 120 development hours to keep your certificate in Illinois every 5 years but many of us have higher [Masters, PhD] degrees. 

Sax

Protest was expressed in words and notes

"We have to keep ourselves current and educated but we are not rewarded for it or respected for it." 

Worse yet, she points out that teachers are being punished for pursuing higher education because they become more "expensive." With school compensation being based on each student, higher educated teachers make them less desirable to the school's bottom line. 

OhThePlaces

"Fifteen years ago, it wasn't like that. You'd be hired based on your qualifications and work ethic. 

"If you are 25 and don't have a family and you're going to commit yourself 24/7…maybe for a few years. But they [CPS] want it to be a revolving door so that they can keep costs down. That is not what is best for our kids and city. 

"I have my Masters and a veteran teacher. Now it's is used against me. I am too expensive because of student based staffing." 

MeehanLantz

Erin Meehan and Hannah Lantz have an animated conversation about school conditions

Two teachers from Cameron Elementary, 1234 N Monticello Ave., added to the issues around the strike. Erin Meehan, a special education teacher, has been in education for 12 years. Teaching has been Hannah Lantz's profession for three years. 

ClassSizMatters

Class size is a primary issue in the strike. Meehan has the impression that non educators think that "we are doing this [strike] for greedy, selfish reasons. In fact, everyone is out here for our kids and better conditions for them." 

"People don't know what it is like and what the lack of level of resources are, especially in the neighborhoods of higher poverty and frequent trauma. They don't know how hard it is to work in those conditions  We are just trying to get better working conditions for the kids," explains Lantz. 

"On the west side of Chicago," says Meehan, "I have kids who not only have special needs but come in with a lot of baggage…a lot of trauma. 

SpecEd

"When one or more of them have a meltdown or behavioral problem, I don't have a counselor or someone to send them to. I have to deal with that in the classroom. That takes away from instructional time for everyone in the class." 

Adding to that, Lantz says, "If a kid throws up or gets sick, there is no 'Oh, I'll go to the nurse.' You deal with it in the classroom. 

"You see people in the suburbs…if they are having a problem like that, they can bring someone else in to the classroom. I don't know why our kids can't have the same." 

While there are some 16,000 CPS students who are homeless and many teachers struggle to afford living in the City, the topic of affordable housing being in the contract is not a contract deal breaker for them. Both teachers explain that the issue of homelessness impacts the classroom and that it needs to be talked about. However, they do not see that as needing to be addressed in these contract negotiations. 

Everyone in the crowd appeared focused on getting the more than 32,000 teachers and staff back on the job to provide education for the approximate 73,000 students.

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