My View: The Chicago teachers’ strike from an ambivalent union member’s perspective
September 18th, 2012
02:52 PM ET

My View: The Chicago teachers’ strike from an ambivalent union member’s perspective

Courtesy Kelli Rushekby Gina Caneva, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Gina Caneva is an eight-year veteran high school English teacher in Chicago Public Schools. Caneva is a Nationally Board Certified teacher at Lindblom Math and Science Academy and was recently awarded a fellowship with Teach Plus. She can be found on Twitter at @GinaCaneva.

(Chicago) - On day one of the Chicago teachers strike, I picketed with my fellow teachers outside of Lindblom Math and Science Academy in the Englewood community. Across the street, an African-American family sat outside a dilapidated black-and-white flat. Three school-aged boys played in the yard while we stood in red T-shirts.

Statistically speaking, if public education does not change these boys won’t make it through college. Only 2% of African-American males graduate on time from a university after graduating from Chicago Public Schools.

Statistically speaking, if public education does not change these boys won’t get into Lindblom Academy, a selective enrollment school now ranked 20th in Illinois, even though they live across the street. Only 11% of Lindblom’s population resides in Englewood.

I couldn’t help but think that the strike was both for them and not for them, that the terms discussed in the media—minor raises in pay, a freeze on healthcare, the percentage of teacher evaluations based on standardized tests—largely ignored them. Reforms for stronger teacher education programs and processes for retaining our strongest teachers not just our most experienced have not been central to this very public debate.

But then we walked to the busy corners of 63rd and Damen and later to 63rd and Ashland, in the most dangerous neighborhood in Chicago, a place where the media often report on violence but quickly disappear until the next shooting occurs. I was expecting to be booed in this area, especially in a recession. But we received the opposite reception.

Police officers, fire fighters and CTA workers honked for us. Truckers strong-armed their horns, parents with kids in their back seats waved in support, and parents taking their kids to charter schools gave us thumbs up. People on the streets of Englewood listened intently when we spoke about some elementary school classrooms having upwards of 40 students with few resources, and they told us to keep up the good fight.

The South Side where I have taught for the past eight years, the South Side where I have attended countless funerals for my students and their families, the South Side where my daughter will attend a CPS elementary school, has embraced me.

As I pumped my fist, I participated in this strike for social justice. The boisterous South Side reminded me of America’s need for a worker’s voice—a voice the baby booming generation once championed, a voice to challenge both political parties.

I remembered that the Chicago Teachers Union was created to fight social justice issues, particularly women’s rights. In a vocation filled with women, it gave female teachers equal pay to their male counterparts while many other American professions did not. It still does, and it also ensures equality in pay against racial lines. In other vocations in this country, there is still a huge wage gap linked implicitly with race and/or gender, but so many of us have stopped fighting to change it.

I thought of my family members who silently watched their pensions turn into 401(k)s and of close friends who pay unimaginably high premiums for health care. They all felt powerless to change these circumstances. Why? Because as individuals, the fight is too big to take on alone.

If I did not have my union, I could have never fought for my salary, benefits and protection against a revolving door of under-qualified and over-burdened principals, let alone a better classroom for my students. I have my union to thank for all of this.

But as an eight-year veteran teacher, I’m also ambivalent because of my students’ rights. I must challenge the traditional step and lane pay scale even though I’ll receive the soon-to-be negotiated raise. At my last school, which served students primarily on free and reduced lunch, I was a department chair at the age of 28, and respected by my colleagues and administrators as one of the school’s best. I made close to $20,000 less than a teacher who had 15 years on the job, who struggled with classroom management, who received repeated unsatisfactory ratings, and who was eventually removed through a process that took more than a year. The low-performing teacher was teaching students who needed more than what she was providing for too long, and she was making more money than she deserved. My union did that, too, and I can’t deny that.

As we look to the future, teachers’ unions must play a role in building a sustainable, dedicated teaching force, rather than a profession built of teachers who will come and go quickly because of low respect and poor working conditions. Workers’ rights are a part of social justice. But fighting for social justice also means fighting for our children’s rights in the terms of ensuring teacher quality. In order to improve public education, unions must fight for teachers’ rights in the form of better working conditions, and for students’ rights by looking critically at teacher performance alongside seniority in hiring practices and pay scales.

As we return to our classrooms, I stand in solidarity for students’ rights, for workers’ rights, and for my rights. I stand with my union. But I hope that in four years when my daughter is old enough to enter her Chicago Public Schools kindergarten classroom, the teacher standing in front is the strongest teacher possible, thanks to a union that upholds workers’ rights and students’ rights. I have the same hopes for the boys in Englewood and for all of the children of Chicago.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gina Caneva.

Posted by
Filed under: Policy • Practice • teacher unions • Teachers • TeachPlus.org • Voices
soundoff (104 Responses)
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    October 1, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  2. Jack

    Only a teacher would describe a 17% increase in pay as "minor. And yet that is what Chicago teachers will get over four years, though they are already the highest paid teachers in the country producing one of the lowest (60%) graduation rates.

    "

    September 22, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  3. Medicated

    *put not "out"

    September 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  4. Medicated

    I want to thank all the excellent teachers who taught me to learn well, use the skills I already brought to the table to achieve even higher success, and whose influence on me enabled me to reach the level of Masters Degree - though that doesn't guarantee a salary that some teachers make.

    Whatever I lost out on was due to maybe 1-2 lamer teachers (including one who I snogged on a regular basis during HS) in my years in the NYC public school system plus my abusive home - school helped tremendously bc I graduated then got the heck out of that house for good.

    Now I hope I can still out my knowing how to learn n thirst for knowledge to further use by not being too afraid to tackle eventually homeschooling my baby since we live in one of the worst school districts in the country.

    September 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  5. NorCalMojo

    Education doesn't seem to be on the top ten list of Chicago values, anyway.

    This story will be forgotten the next time one of their teams plays a game.

    September 20, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  6. pyramidia

    Gee, where did all these expert brilliant commenters go to school? Where did all the Wall St. Banksters, lobbyists, and politicians go to school? Where did all your/their parents go to school? How many countries in the world allow all their children the opportunity to go to school? How much of our imported products are made by children and adults who never went to school, and who reaps the profits from them? Who has the audacity to close the door on others after they supposedly "made it?"

    September 20, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  7. Larry D

    Good teachers are underpaid.... Bad teachers are overpaid ..... The traditional seniority based pay/tenure/retention system doesn't work – but nobody has the guts to change it. You can't have it both ways! You can't reward the best and the worst. Unions have to get out of a factory based seniority system and management has to too! Evaluation is easy – go to peer review – everybody in a school knows who the best teachers are and who the worst teachers are.

    September 20, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  8. fiftyfive55

    It's going to be interesting to see where they get the money for these out of line pay raises when Chicago cant pay pay their current bills.

    September 20, 2012 at 7:10 am |
  9. The_Mick

    I would point out that you can't put all the blame on the schools. There should be criminal laws for parents who cause kids to fail. We teachers often get kids who are devils in the morning and angels in the afternoon because the only meal they eat many days is their free school lunch, and it's all they can think about in the mornings. I taught gifted and talented classes and on parent night had standing room only in my classrooms. My colleagues who taught low-level kids were lucky if they saw one parent the entire evening. Guess why those kids are low-level? There's a saying among teachers that you know you're a teacher when you have a guidance meeting with a kids parents and 30 seconds after meeting them you realize why the kid's messed up. Chicago schools are so difficult to teach there's a shortage of teachers most years and the school system spends thousands of dollars recruiting teachers from 3rd world countries. If Chicago's teachers are so well paid, why can't they find enough Americans to teach there? Answer: they're not well paid for what they have to do.

    September 20, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • fiftyfive55

      be careful here,Chicago schools are mainly minority

      September 20, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  10. oldschool

    All of this contract talks and profe

    A simple question for teahers who claim to be professionals, if you have standards how can you pass on a student to the next grade who has not met your standars and ultimately graduates without being to read or write?

    September 19, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • Mark

      Unions are the downfall of the working class. They have served their purpose. Done!

      September 19, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
      • fiftyfive55

        You fool,unions ARE the working class,without them you'd be the equivalent of a Chinaman or an illegal alien.

        September 20, 2012 at 7:11 am |
      • stambo

        you fool, unionists represent barely 11% of the workforce. They most certainly do NOT represent the majority of workers at all in any way, shape or form. If they had they would have fought for wage equality for ALL and not just the concern of whatever particular 'local' they're in. IF they represented ALL workers people could not be denied entry into the unions which ARE closed societies. IF they had represented ALL workers they would not have funnelled all those union dues to ONE political party.

        September 20, 2012 at 9:25 am |
      • The Voice of Reason AL

        The unions have served their purpose except for political power. most unions, because they have the backing and the money of the workers are constantly wooed by politicians. The worker/labor laws that congress has already pasted is the new protection of workers, not unions. Plus unions are consistently run by the union bosses and not by the people, where it should be run.

        September 24, 2012 at 10:58 am |
      • The Voice of Reason AL

        sorry passed

        September 24, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • failing students

      overcrowding and under funded schools. holding all those kids who dont meet standards back over crowds classrooms and schools. what do you do when a student fails to meet standards after two years because they came to school 50% of the time?

      September 22, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • James

      Because teacher doesn't have as much power of their education as people might think. A teacher wants to fail a kid? One call to a superattendent or board and that teach HAS to pass that student. Teacher don't get to choose what or how they teach. I think what would help our students is if we allow those who teach to decide how teaching will be done AND put the respondsibility BACK onto the student. A student can pass nearly any teachers class, so most of the failures are on the student.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  11. Mary

    Bad union workers are the result of bad non-union managers. The union can't get you your job back if the firing is justified. If you are fired by the rules, applied to everyone equally, then you stay fired. You can't fire an employee for not following the rules if you are not following them (the rules) as a manager. And what is "low performing"? Test scores? Not working off the clock? Not joining a union? Joining a union? Not kissing the boss's a**? Not doing the boss's work? Using too much sick leave? I'm not saying unions are perfect but mangement is far from perfect in many instances as well.

    September 19, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • NorCalMojo

      The management are union, too. They supported the teachers union.

      September 20, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  12. Kate

    It amazes me that there are so many people that hate teachers and hate unions. Why don't the haters ever talk about the management that signed contracts for all the demands that are now so "unreasonable"? A Union is about negotiating as a group. Management always comes to the negotiation table as a group what is wrong with workers coming together as a group? If the demands the group wants are truly unreasonable, say NO. Make whatever it is a sticking point until a fairer compromise can be reached. OK. tenure is now a problem but would anyone really be surprised if tenure rules were eliminated then every 50 year-old with higher medical insurance costs and a higher salary would be fired?

    September 19, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • m123

      Yes, mgmt is also corrupt
      Along with govt unions
      And no one hates teachers
      They hate the incompetent teachers being protected by govt unions
      Teachers are paid servants of the people, you don't like the job
      Find another
      Plenty of potential teachers lurking about.

      September 19, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
      • Mary

        Incompetent teachers with incompetent managers. Fire the managers, too. Doubt that will go over too well. : )

        September 19, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Amused

      Hate unions and teachers?

      Well, we know two things are true.

      Bad teachers hurt our kids.

      Good teachers pay union dues which are used to ensure that bad teachers can never be fired.
      (Some of them do no like to admit that, but it is true)

      If you kids, have grand kids, ever plan on having kids, or just happen to like kids. ALL school teachers that belong to unions – hurt the kids! They are not your friend. They are not your kid's friend.

      September 19, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  13. xfiler93

    That union only cares for one thing...themselves.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Mark

      Amen!

      September 19, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  14. DP

    Cry me a river. If this is about not having resources, then give up the raises, pay more into your benefits, let the school fire under performing teachers, and use the money saved on these to fund the resources. Every dollar that goes into teacher raises and benefits by the school district eliminates additional funding that can be used for resources in the classroom.

    September 19, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • mark

      yeah, then who is going to want to work 12 hour days for 50k and not be able to feed their families, while at the same time being told they are s****t by an ignorant 10% of the population that doesnt really understand the education system,. but makes comments and acts like they do, yup that is definitely the way to get better teachers in, cuttting salary and increasing health benefits, great call

      September 19, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
      • iammeyouareyou

        12 hour days at $50,000? I do that right now. Whats the problem with you?

        September 19, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
      • Tom

        Really Mark? Do you really think that teachers work 12 hour days? I've read some who claim they work as much as 15 hours per day. In the next few weeks, I challenge you to drive through the parking lots of several schools in your neighborhood whenever you think 11 or 12 hous have passed of course, don't do it during the more than three months teachers don't work You know, the same three months you have off with pay, unless I support you, as teachers do and count the number of cars in the faculty lot. Please teachers spare me all the "I work countless hours at home. And, maybe they should given their contractual six hor twenty minute day. Then median base salary is almost 67,000 per year despite the BS you read but, the almost 18 percent raise they got this round will help a little. Thank goodness they have gone back to work but, they didn't get anything by way of resources for the kidsn. You know, the kids they are fighting for? Well, maybe next time huh? Understand this. Unions are a very big business. Companies sell the products they make. Unions sell union cards

        September 19, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  15. SokrMom

    It's impossible to evaluate a statistic like the one cited in this article without any comparative information, like the relevant percentage for the State as a whole.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  16. Ray Montgomery

    It is sad that such a dedicated, honest and self-sacrificing teacher as Ms Caneva cannot see that the problem is public education. We need unions to counter the effects of heavy government involvement. But that is a lose-lose situation. All the issues mentioned here (pay-for performance, student rights, etc.) are best addressed by a free market in education. Centralized control will never get it right, especially in our rapidly changing world.
    Ray Montgomery
    Currently teaching in Afghanistan

    September 19, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • irunner

      A "free market in education" would absolutely favor students and schools in wealthy communities, and the teachers who teach in those schools. Being anti-government does not solve every problem.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
      • Lee

        But irunner consider a slight change to your statement: "A "Public Education" would absolutely favor students and schools in wealthy communities, and the teachers who teach in those schools. Being Pro-government does not solve every problem." You are bascially arguing that we can't have a choice in education because we will get what we already have (but atleast it will be cheaper).

        September 19, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • mark

      pay for performance has already been tried in multiple places, fail miserably, so please enlighten us with another great idea

      September 19, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
      • Tom Duncan

        Pay for performance doesn't work. Sure works at my office! Works everywhere else I have ever worked. No performance, no pay. Pretty simple concept. Do you perform or, do you just not bother to work. The latter would be my guess.

        September 19, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
      • Amused

        pay for performance has already been tried in multiple places, fail miserably....

        Really, multiple places like...
        Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Ford, Three M, McDonald's, the US Military (through promotion), GE, Harvard, Yale, etc.

        But, you are right! It just does not work public employee union goons!

        September 19, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  17. Jerry

    Aw, come on! She and the other teachers DID IT (the strike) exclusively for the kids!!! While they were, in essence, punishing the students that they claimed to be protecting, one of the union heads was enjoying herself with some delicious/top notch Chicago reefer. (This by her own admittance.) No wonder they want as much of the tax payer funds as they possibly can possibly get their hands on. And, Gina Caneva has the gall to defend these frauds! Wow we!!! What a self-serving, misleading and hypocritical diatribe. This woman is definitely NOT the solution. She IS part of the problem.

    I am still waiting for the lame stream media and other supporters to proclaim that Mr. Obamaloney came in a white horse and saved the children and parents of Chicago.

    Are these the supposed saviors that parents want teaching their children?! For the future of America, I hope NOT!

    September 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  18. Ticktockman0

    Thanks to Ms. Caneva for her thoughtful and balanced piece. Given that our political and economic systems favor the already well-off, unions are a necessary counter-balance. As the writer points out, it is not a perfect solution, but it is better than nothing. I furthermore argue that unionization needs to expand to staunch the economic bleeding from the working class that has gone on unabated for the last 30 years or so. From Wal-Mart to Bank of America, if working people can better share the fruits of our economy, it would be more sustainable in the long run, and so better for everyone – executive class included.

    Speaking of the executive class, I would now like to see a piece describing an American CEO's ambivalence regarding their bloated compensation and perks in relation to their employees and even to the relative success – or lack thereof – of their companies.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • John COS

      Tictockman0–More unionization my foot, we need changed unionization as the writer of this article said. The unions have helped drive this country to where it is with their incessent demands for more more more. Yes management is overpaid and helped bring this country down, but more of the same old union practices is not what we need to fix things.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
      • Ticktockman0

        If you want to unionize your feet, that is your business. Sorry, couldn't resist the joke.

        Seriously, I would be interested in knowing how the unions helped "drive this country to where it is." In fact, I would like to understand your assessment of where we are to start with. For decades now, unions have lost numbers and power in the US, and there has been a commensurate decline in the standard of living for the working class. I do not believe that these phenomena are coincidental, nor accidental. With globalization – abetted by governenment policies – companies have move manufacturing out of the US to exploit the cheapest labor possible. "Right to work" – or, more correctly, right to fire – legislation in many parts of this country actively seeks to curtail unionzation. And now we have the GOP's attacks on the public sector unions, further eroding the rights of working people to have a say in their compensation. Have there been some abuses on the unions' side? Certainly, as Ms. Caneva points out when she writes about her colleague. There is room for improvement, as there is with anything. But that is no reason to say that there should be no unions, and with the current trend of the exploitation of working people – both here and abroad – makes the case for more unionization, not less. Maybe you trust that employers will always act fairly, but I do work for a living, and I am here to tell you that such trust is misplaced. Without checks on power, we will continue to get what we have been getting: more for those that successfully game the system, and less for all the rest of us. At least with unions, we have some representation at the bargaining table.

        September 19, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  19. CPS mom

    If your daughter is in Kiderdarten right now, your view of point will be very different.
    Don't compare with others who's salary is higher than you, isn't your salary high enough in this country? Like the vine yard worker story told by Jesus in the bible, do your work, don't be jealous and greedy, and don't say 'I am the best'. There isn't any point for kids in your article at all.

    September 19, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Mark

      Right on the money!!

      September 19, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  20. PaulMN

    Societies function based on their members' culture and behavior. I work with a lot of Chinese professionals who's parents were dirt-poor... no electricity, no running water, planted their own food, living just a subsistence existence. Yet these dirt-poor parents scraped together enough money to pay for their children's K-12 education. The parents knew the value of educating their kids, and the kids knew the sacrifice that their parents were making to send them to school. Classroom discipline is not a problem in China. Truancy is not a problem in China. Getting kids to do their homework is not a problem in China. The problem in the US is not with our teachers... its how significantly the US culture and behavior has devolved.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • p.y.

      " Yet these dirt-poor parents scraped together enough money to pay for their children's K-12 education. The parents knew the value of educating their kids, and the kids knew the sacrifice that their parents were making to send them to school. "
      In this sentence you showed what's wrong with US.
      As long as parents will continue to think ,that government have to provide everything for their kids ,it will continue to go down.We need to change their idea of "free education"even $5.00 a month will be better ,because then parents will stop to think that it's free so,who cares how much it cost as long as I don't have to pay it.

      September 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  21. ieat

    She explains exactly the problem and the benefits of unions. It's good when it helps people, but it also sucks because it protect those who shouldn't be. If instead she helps to make changes internally in the union, maybe there will be less opposition to it.

    September 19, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  22. Parent of Two

    Ambivalent? Hardly! This was about as pro-union as it could be. Describing how she stands with her union for social justice. Pumping her fist in the air to acknowledge support from other unionists. What a poor choice of words for a headline!

    September 19, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • mrstanaland

      You probably stopped reading before you got there. The ambivalent part starts with "But as an...", 3rd paragraph from the bottom.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
      • Mary

        Bascially she is saying she doesn't have the seniority to be low performing. Once she has seniority she will sing a different tune. I see it all the time. Low performing = old fart.

        September 19, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • irunner

      So you are saying she should NOT enthusiasticaly support those who are looking out for her best interest?

      September 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  23. mediocreteacher

    I relate to Ms. Caneva's colleague who struggled with classroom management. An excellent teacher in one school or classroom can be ineffective in another. Chicago high schools can be especially challenging. I have subbed in the south side of Chicago and other urban districts and the violence and disrespect is disturbing. I've even seen parents enter classrooms and start beating or cursing at their children. It's possible that one day in the future that Ms. Caneva will be looked down upon by a younger teacher as overpaid and ineffective should she find herself in a dramatically different setting.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Michael Matthews

      I think that the teachers need to stop showing our kids that it is good to be fat over weight and lazy and then argue about how 65,000-100,000 dollars +benifits is not enough! You so called teachers are REDICULOUS CLOWNS!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
      • Scott Nattrass

        As an aside, that should be "ridiculous" – I believe it speaks for itself.

        September 19, 2012 at 9:52 am |
      • Rick Sans

        Fat, lazy parents are going to have fat, lazy kids. Blaming teachers for kids being fat is outrageous.

        September 19, 2012 at 10:29 am |
      • Marky Merlot

        I can see that one "Rediculous Clown", could have benefited from some of those (supposedly) overpaid teachers.
        (Hint – Michael; learn to spell, and perhaps you could be in that income bracket!)

        September 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
      • irunner

        Never got that REDICULOUS high school diploma?

        September 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  24. M. Copeland

    The states with the poorest academic performance ( the bottom five) are Not Unionized.
    I should know– I teach in Atlanta. Chicago Teachers are fighting for all of us.

    September 18, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • Michael Matthews

      Intelligent note of the day!
      Mr.Matthews also adds that the economy is in critical condition and all that the staff at schools are thinking about is how are we going to rob the taxpayers of what money they have left! and ask for it on 9-11.
      How disrespectful you people are!

      September 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  25. Andrea G.

    As a fellow CTU member, I agree with everything you state. You make excellent points on both sides. I work at Schurz HS, not a selective enrollment like Lindbloom, but a neighborhood school, with neighborhood, regular kids. I see everything; the good, the bad and the ugly (from both the students and the teachers). I feel fortunate at my neighborhood school; I feel like a big majority of the faculty are incredibly gifted and dedicated, while the other few are not. Now mind you, every profession has those lazy SOBs that you wish didn't work there...But here's what a lot of people don't understand, there ARE measures in place to remove incompetent and lazy teachers. There IS a removal process. There ARE procedures that allow a principal to right up teachers and get them packing. The problem??? Most principals don't!!!! WHy? I have no idea...Is it too much work? I don't know, I'm not a principal. If a principal really wanted a teacher gone, he/she has the power to do so within a years time. (At least under the old contract.) So I don't really think the union is to blame...I think the powers that be that have control over this situation are...If a teacher is REALLY that bad then there are measures to remove them...Just my thought.

    September 18, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • Just me

      Get real! There is a teacher in Phila. they have been trying to get rid of for two years. It shouldn't even take a year. Look at Union members who break the law and the union backs them no matter what. You wonder why more and more people are against unions. Remember Jock Jablonski, his wife and daughter all murdered by union thugs hired by the union president. Hard to forget even after all these years. We want you to have fair wages and conditions. We don't want bad teachers or any workers that don't do their jobs to a minimum standard. The average teacher wage in Chicago isn't bad. DON"T forget, the taxpayer pays those wages. During good times unions do pretty well. When things are not so good, they still want more more more. There are many things I agree that need to be changed. Teachers should not have to buy normal classroom supplies. When unions get reasonable, they will get more support.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Alpharetta

      Not sure how someone can be so adamant about the existence of a removal process yet know so little about it.

      September 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  26. ORgirl

    I think the honestly of this teacher is commendable. I fully support unions and live in a 4th generation union household. The majority of union contracts do support "seniority". However, there are also company policies in place that prevent "lazy" workers from retaining employment. Companies set standards, that are NOT included in the contract. The contract merely is language that sets the minimum requirements for pay, hours of work, safety standards, etc. The company agrees to these terms, and frankly writes 90% of them. Union workers must meet company standards or can be terminated. The problem is NOT the unions, it is a lack of proper language in the contracts that would differentiate pay based on a case-by-case basis, instead of a predetermined pay scale. I also saw that some of these inner-city teachers can make $70,000 + annually, I was shocked at that salary! My rural school district's top-paid teacher makes about $50,000. That is a substantial difference. Living wages are a necessity, but inflated salaries are not.

    September 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  27. Homer Davis

    Seniority is known as the human condition, what too do with Burn-out, but a condition known as useful, but less responsible duties.You too will suffer Burn-out, look at before and after pictures of ex Presidents. Health is always as requirement for leader ship. In days before health care, pension plans, what do you do with the person who fought the good fight was always faithful, you bestowed, Seniority job security. The world changed ,seniority was not needed any longer. Have you ever noticed Union Management is organized on a Business model, that embraces Seniority and demands it as entitlement. Rank and file receive benefits from Seniority as a performance rating . Rank and file Union members, Consider Union as better than nothing. As an ex union member for 35 + years I never saw the President of the Union in person or at a distance. good luck.

    September 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  28. RoseFlorida

    I once heard a talk by a recent immigrant from China who had received a Phd in Education from a well known American university. She gave an interesting presentation about how the teaching of mathematics was handled in elementary school in China and in the US. I forget what the differences were, but they were clear and supposedly responsible for some of the better outcomes in China. She was talking about classes in fourth and fifth grades.

    Then someone asked her "How large are the classes in China?" She replied " about eighty children". Eighty? The answer destroyed her talk. There was something else going on in that classroom, something more connected with culture than with technique, because everyone in the audience knew that a teacher with a class of 80 in North America would be preoccupied with making sure the children did not pommel each other, not with what they might be learning.

    Somehow more parents in Chicago, despite their experiences, have to adopt the attitude that school is important, and instill it in their children. I don't know how that can be accomplished, but maybe it would be better to put money and resources into that than into teacher salaries and buildings. How about a cash reward for every parent whose child learns to read? A cash reward if your child shows up at school for most of the classes? A cash reward if your child finishes high school?

    September 18, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • John C

      Dear Teacher,

      The word is pummel, not pommel. I hope you aren't teaching English.

      September 19, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • ES71

      In China motivation is easy – if you don't study you don't eat. But if we try the same in the US people will be on the streets saying that the other 50% ( or whatever number is) are starving them but not paying enough in taxes.
      People have to work for everything they receive one way or another, that is all the motivation necessary.

      September 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  29. Matthew R

    I am very glad you wrote this article. To the world it looks like you are standing on a street corner fighting to keep your 9-mouth-a-year job paying higher than the national average for a 12-month-a-year job, but it is nice to know that you are doing it for all of us.

    If not for the lofty language, I might never have considered that the fight for social justice needs to be tempered by the interest of the children. But pump that fist, repeat whatever words that union put in your mouth to be regurgitated like a bulimic's breakfast, and tell yourself that you are up there fighting for altruism by holding working parents hostage. After all, we are paying you to do it, aren't we?

    September 18, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • The Lone Voice of Truth

      Most jobs don't require the training and skill teaching does. That's why a teacher can make more in 9 months than a Subway employee makes in a year. A neurosugeoun can make more in a day than the average guy makes in a year. He's not overpayed, he's skilled. If you take the training and torture teaching requires, I would say they're compensated about the same as fast food workers. I taught for three years at one of the worst high schools in a big city. Made chairperson my 2nd year because I'm smart and work hard, and I was a good teacher. I left after my 3rd year though, because this model of school is obsolete. The internet is the new classroom. Everything you need to graduate is online. Making little kid jails just keeps teenagers idle. They need to get busy with something that helps their families, instead of being a liability to society for their entire youth, while taking responsibility for their own learning. Honestly, if you don't know stuff Google can teach you, its on you for not using Google. There is no answer to this problem, because our idea of school doesn't work in 2012. Teachers don't need merit pay, they need emotional hazzard pay. And schools don't need reformed, they need shut down and converted to factories. By the way, I doubled my pay and went to a much kooshier job with a 2 month tech certification after earning a master's degree in teaching, so no one but missionaries are going to work in public schools very long.

      September 18, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
    • Laura

      You said it! Thank you
      The kids in Chicago community is in real trouble, and they are powerless to do something about it. Rahm will crater. He has met his match with the president of the teachers union. She has him right were the union wants him. The community will continue to be robbed of providing their children the education they deserve.

      September 18, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  30. RoseFlorida

    What you have described is not unique to education, but is inherent in unions. Seniority is supreme, not function in the job. I owned a restaurant with a unionized staff. Didn't my customers have the right to have the best servers and cooks, rather than the ones who had been around the longest? Of course they did, and they had the flexibility to vote with their feet and leave. Eventually the restaurant closed.

    The teachers have a captive audience, the students and parents have no choice, they can't walk away. So Chicago schools are among the worst in the country, although the teachers are among the highest paid.

    A big part of the problem is focus. Even though they might be good and serious issues, a focus on making sure men and women get equal pay, a focus on making sure all races are hired and get equal pay, a focus to make sure people are not arbitrarily dismissed, a focus to make sure schools have air conditioning, all these seem to be good things. But missing is the number one focus that the system should have – a focus on getting better results. If in fact that happened, the guess what, the results would be there to support more resources devoted to all the other nice and good things. To put it another way, what satisfaction does it bring to work in the fairest, most considerate, most secure, healthy, high paying and loving work environment in the world if in fact the enterprise is doing a terrible job?

    September 18, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  31. Anony

    Kudos for stepping up and expressing a viewpoint on a public forum such as this. While I am not in agreement with everything stated here, I acknoowledge that it's calm views such as these that help in charting a path. I'm intrigued on the author's views about teacher evaluation. While the teacher viewpoints around not having control on a students grades due to other factors(poverty, crime, etc) do make sense and pushback is totally understandable how would teachers design an evaluation system? Fundamentally do teachers believe that the taxpayers have a right to expect some form of evaluation.

    September 18, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • P. Gunnarson Rambo, Decatur, Georgia

      There are evaluation systems in place. Teachers are consistently observed and evaluated. Why does the public continue to be misled on this subject? Teachers are closely monitored by administrators. Teachers are easily weeded out for poor performance.
      I have taught History for ten years in Atlanta. Weak teachers do not last. Even with tenure, a teacher can be let go for any number of reasons. Tying effectiveness with student testing performance is absurd. My students score according to their Abilities. Scores range from high to low, depending on the student. I can effectively teach, but I cannot effectively control the outcome. My students are not lab rats. I cannot control their environment outside of the classroom.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
      • Frustrated Public Servant, Chicago IL

        I understand you don't want to be evaluated with measureable results. If I had never been required to produce measureable results in my work life, then I would fight to ensure I didn’t have to worry about it in the future. In the end a teacher’s job is to teach their students from a subscribed list of skills, thus the best measurement would be to test the children on their ability to complete and retain these skills. There are so many procedures currently in place to help those children with learning disabilities and thus those test scores would be skewed based on progress in addition to retention of skills. It is sad that so many children come to me in middle school and high school without the ability to read because teachers not doing their jobs pass them on because these evaluations are not based on defined measurements (standardized testing) rather administration observes them are various pre-announced days. Most good Chicago teachers I talk to agree because they are also sick of these "lazy" teachers getting by while being paid more.

        September 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  32. Eddo

    I'm guessing that the teacher with 15 years experience had "tenure". Tenure, along with unions, makes it extremely difficult to get teachers out of a job they have no business being in. Many of them simply did not maintain pace with advancements in education. I came from a background whereby you either kept up the pace or you got thrown out. It shouldn't take a year to get rid of people like these.

    I hope your daughter does receive the benefit of a good teacher and if she does, I personally, doubt that it will be the results of a union.

    September 18, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • P. Gunnarson Rambo, Decatur, Georgia

      Well, clearly you have not checked out the Performance Levels of those schools in non-unionized states. The poorest academic performance is found in Georgia, Etc. The best states for highest academic achievement are All Unionized!
      Coincidence? Not a chance...

      September 18, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
      • dan

        I would think that would be more because of the class makeup rather that the teachers abilities.

        September 19, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  33. Mary

    I agree that poor teachers should not be automatically protected. But there will probably be poor teachers no matter how the schools are structured. There is no stopping poor teachers from finding another way to survive – blackmail, whatever. How many poor teachers are there? And this totally does not address the testing that will be used to grade teachers. 88 professionals sent Rahm Emmanuel letters saying it will not work. What happens when a poor school like yours cannot get a magical teacher to bring the kids scores up?

    September 18, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Anony

      Nobody(taxpayers or students) is served by rules that allow underperforming teachers to remain on the job longer than is desired. Handling of underperforming teachers should be the same as underperformers in every other industry - they have to be let go. The common good is more important than the individual good. There absolutely will be underperformers in any structure be it school, corporation, government, etc. That does not automatically translate to underperformers demanding and expecting job protection at any expense.

      September 18, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
      • PM Stanton

        As a businessman, from a family of businessmen/women, (with one teacher), I am amused/depressed by the belief schools should be run like businesses and that business is run better than schools. I remember a tale of an owner of an ice cream company speaking to teachers about being more business-like, he was asked what he did when his supplier did not provide perfect strawberries: "I won't accept them," "Well, we cannot do that with students." Trying to find 10 million employees with the skills to turn bushels of every variety of strawberry into perfect ice cream is not like a for-profit business. And second, you say "Handling of underperforming teachers should be the same as underperformers in every other industry – they have to be let go." that's a great concept but rare (nonexistent) is the business that can replace all of their underperformers. At best, the reality is minimizing and eventually replacing in much a similar pattern to the teacher described here.

        September 18, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  34. Samual

    Finally, a voice of reason. There's not a winner and a loser – we're all losers, especially the kids. And if the kids lose, we all lose. The only additional thought that I have is that, as in most union views, there is no mention of how do we pay for it? The teachers that our kids need are underpaid. The classrooms are too big for efficient instruction. Fixing these cost money – where does it come from? If we believe in community schools, then the community has to step up. The community mentioned here cannot, it's too poor. It's time for new thinking, not me vs them, Republicans vs Democrats, rich vs poor, union vs management, etc. Actually, it's may be new thinking that's as old as time – Love thy Neighbor.

    September 18, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  35. Ken Meyer

    Regarding your comment of....

    "..it gave female teachers equal pay to their male counterparts while many other American PROFESSIONS did not." [my emphasis added\

    ...please don't compare the job classification you're employed in with any "profession". Once upon a time perhaps teachers generally could make such a claim. But, with their submission to labor unions over the past few years, most public school teachers have demonstrated that they are (as many even brag!) part of the "working class"....and they're perceived today not only as "working class, but as pretty much part of the blue collar "working class" as well. As shown seen by this strike, they've lost any claim whatsoever to "professionalism".

    I say that while understanding that many teachers in the private sector DO maintain a standard of true professionalism. But one only has to look at the televised news over the last week or so to see how far the Chicago public school teachers are from that mark.

    September 18, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • PM Stanton

      It is nearly impossible to discern your point. I believe you are distinguishing the word profession from working class and that working class means the work is inferior without any professionalism? If that isn't class-ist enough, you refer to "look at the news.. to see how far teachers...are from that mark." As a member of the "publishing profession," I consider myself in no way superior to the working class if I am not a member of them. As for equal pay, my field has always had a high percentage of women, because they could start them as secretaries or interns and pay them less, likewise nursing was the lower paid medical profession. Teaching paid equally because so few men wanted to do it because working with children was too difficult for the pay and there was a ceiling that existed in nearly no other field.

      September 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • rjones

      i find it interesting that your perception of professionalism lies within a description of overpreviledged private schools where the dynamics (not to mention the resources) of a classroom in the public schools are completely different... not just from private schools but from school to school. no one is intentionally tanking the education of public school students. there are no easy answers. these diatribes recycle questions that have been asked and answered. many experts have looked at this problem and provided endless professional developments that change year after year (maybe that's where they can recoup some of the cost of public education). the author shows a bit of disdain for the veteran (experienced) teacher without full knowledge of all the facts. does she contend that the board of education has retained and rewarded an ineffective teacher year after year for twenty years or that some change in circumstance(s) has made her ineffective in recent years. what may work in one classroom may or may not be successful in the next classroom with the same teacher. as she revels in her own accolades i hope she becomes more reflective on her own performance after ten, fifteen years as the demand grows, the class size grows, behaviors change, expectations change, the student dynamics change, those "poor" boys become part of her classroom. i also hope this is not "the village" of the african proverb

      September 18, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Eric McDermott

      Wow, you are clearly a brilliant individual for the ability you have to blanket incredibly large groups of people with single statements. It is good to learn that there exist "professionals" in 'private' education while there apparently do not in public education (and the reasoning is because a union, or a number of unions have objected to their pay and/or work conditions). Are there not "unions" (call them that or not) that argue on behalf of doctors and lawyers that lobby congress for more/better financial opportunities in terms of medicare/medicaid payments or on caps on lawsuits? You can put away your retort that doctors don't refuse patients service if they don't get the terms they like..... because doctors often do refuse medicare patients if the payments are too low. Some lawyers would likely not take certain cases or even move states if the laws on things like malpractice insurance were changed. And in a marketplace, they as suppliers of a service have the right to do that. Just as these teachers have the right to do what they are doing. At the very least though, try to keep your level of discourse a little higher- perhaps not as high as Gina's, but we don't expect you to be as professional as her.

      September 18, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  36. Matt H

    Thanks for your eloquent viewpoint. I hope the union shifts its views to agree with yours in regards to how it rewards teachers and drives change in performance.

    September 18, 2012 at 3:20 pm |