Chicago public schools are in the middle of their second week without school due to the ongoing Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) strikes that began Sunday, Sept. 9.
Senior Kristin Trease, along with the other 13 student teachers enrolled in the Chicago Semester have been discussing the teacher strikes in their seminar sessions. Each student teacher was asked to write about the pros and cons of the strike and reflect on how the strike has impacted them personally.
“We are looking at this as a learning experience, as are most of the teachers we are working with,” Trease said. “It’s been 25 years since the last strike, so there is a lot of unfamiliar ground.”
The teacher strike was announced one week into the school year, after CTU delegates and school administrators failed to reach a contract agreement despite 10 months of previous ongoing negotiations. The next day, teachers affiliated with the union began managing picket lines instead of their classrooms. Monday’s picketing activated the first teacher strike the city has had since 1987.
“This is a stressful time for [student teachers] as they were ready to teach and jump into their schools, but on their first days there were already talks of strike,” said Lisa Hensey, Ph.D., the student teaching program coordinator of Chicago semester.
Compensation, health care benefits and job security are the key issues surrounding the strike. CTU teachers want their existing health benefits and salary increases preserved and want additional job security, especially in light of the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system.
This new system has the potential to pull as many as 6,000 teachers from their jobs as the system proposed by the Chicago school district wants 40 percent of teacher evaluation to be based on their students’ standardized test scores.
The teacher strike has also caused education majors on campus to think about their futures as teachers.
“It is ridiculous that a teacher’s evaluation is so highly impacted by student standardized test scores,” said junior Becca Rens.
Junior Kiersten Van Wyhe is also concerned about the teacher evaluation criteria.
“I think it is good that we are trying to hold our teachers accountable and giving districts a way to weed out bad teachers, but I don’t like that good teachers are worried about their job security,” Van Wyhe said.
The CTU strike has left 350,000 students without schools to attend causing parents to scramble to arrange alternative daytime plans for their children. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has expanded its activity offerings to comply with the lengthened strike.
CPS students are being served by the Children First Plan, which can serve over 160,000 students at over 450 sites in neighborhoods across the city. These sites provide full-day opportunities for children and are being held in school sites, parks, libraries and community and faith centers across the city.
Trease has been reassigned from her original student teaching placement to a day camp for high school students.
“I have a special assignment with a program called Language for Scholars Camp, where students are learning public speaking skills, business English and social cues,” Trease said.
The last teacher strike in 1987 lasted 19 school days. Hensey is hopeful that this one will not go on for that long.