During our Chicago Educators Strike during the fall of 2019, a group of educators including myself were on the John King radio show on WGN talking about why we were striking. Spoiler we were striking in an attempt to give our students EVERYTHING that the deserve. You can listen to our interview here.
Chicago educators, I see your great social media posts. You should submit your writings for publication. It will expand your outreach and help others understand our love for our students and schools. Teachers telling our stories is what will win gains for our students.
Use these links and submit your writings to all of these places. (Op-eds are generally around 650sh words and Letter to the Editors are about 250sh words)
SouthSide Weekly- https://southsideweekly.com/contribute-2/
Crain’s Chicago- https://www.chicagobusiness.com/contact-us
Rethinking Schools- https://www.rethinkingschools.org/pages/writers-guidelines
In These Times- https://inthesetimes.com/submissions/
USA Today- https://static.usatoday.com/submitcolumn/
Educators in Chicago are currently working towards getting a new contract that will truly improve our schools for our students. But this past week the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board wrote a piece telling us to “just take the deal” — basically take the money and shut up.
This is the same Editorial Board that had one of its board members write a piece in 2015 wishing for a Hurricane Katrina-type disaster here in Chicago. The article praised the disaster for giving “a great American city a rebirth.” The author, Kristen McQueary, stated “That’s why I find myself praying for a real storm. It’s why I can relate, metaphorically, to the residents of New Orleans climbing onto their rooftops and begging for help and waving their arms and lurching toward rescue helicopters.”
After the Tribune urged us to just take the deal, Chicago Public Schools shared that article on its social media. The message CPS sent its 40,000 educators is you are all a bunch of greedy educators who should just take the money we are offering you.
I’m beyond exhausted of the “greedy teacher” narrative. I’ve been teaching in CPS for 13 years. I’ve been through multiple contract negotiations, the strike of 2012, the Day of Action one day strike in the spring of 2016 and the last minute midnight contract signing in the fall of 2016.
I’ve heard the empty promises of Rahm Emanuel, which ended in devastation. I’m hearing the empty promises of Lightfoot. I’ve been lied to by 12 CPS CEOs. All of these people tell us that they know what’s best for Chicago’s kids and that we should just trust them.
What mayors and CEOs of CPS have done in my 13 years is slash school budgets, close schools, break special education laws, displace thousands of primarily black & brown experienced teachers, make parents hunger strike to open a school, unnecessarily extend school days and years and lay-off librarians, counselors, social workers.
Chicago makes students pay to take the bus to and from school. I’ve watched Chicago steal TIF money designed to go to neighborhoods and schools and put that money to things like private stadiums, the Riverwalk and hotels. I’ve seen CPS vote to give the Chicago Police Department millions of dollars to continue the school to prison pipeline while increasing class sizes and cutting school budgets.
There is and always has been money in Chicago. Money that Chicago should have been using to fully fund and improve its schools for generations.
Now CPS wants us to take the money and trust them to actually, finally help the schools. It doesn’t matter who is in charge of Chicago or CPS, the answer is no, we will never trust you until you put it in writing.
I would rather teach and be in the classroom but I’m ready to strike. I’m ready to strike until all of the following are put in writing in our contract:
- Place full-time librarians, counselors, clinicians psychologists social workers, and nurses in every school.
- Make sure all students get special education services they are entitled to by law.
- Hire special education teachers, case managers and paraprofessionals.
- Maintain real class size limits.
- Give us the freedom to plan, grade & be professionals on our teacher preps (the limited time during the day when we don’t have students in front of us).
- Establish true restorative justice programs in schools.
- Take police officers out of schools.
- Provide mental Health services for all students and staff.
In my 13 years as an educator, I’ve taught almost 2,000 students. I’ll strike for every single one of my students. I’ll strike for all my future students. I’ll strike for my two sons in CPS. It should come as no surprise that I will be voting yes to authorize my union to strike in next week’s strike vote.
So Chicago, know that the mayor and CPS have a choice to put all of our demands in writing to truly make our schools better or we will shut this city down until they do.
Click here to view this piece on The Chicago Reporter
Towards the end of a powerful day of striking across this city on April 1st, Page May, leader of Assata’s Daughters, a black women’s empowerment group, came on stage at the CTU led rally at the Thompson Center and proudly said, “F*ck the Police!”
Her three words have caused a tidal wave of discussions in this city among all groups of people. Many of these discussions have been necessary and difficult. Sadly, some of these discussions have made her the target of terribly racist and violent threats.
Since the rally that Page spoke at, was in large part a CTU rally, we teachers have been forced to talk amongst ourselves, in person, on social media, and list serves about her three words, the meaning and the implications.
Many teachers have said things like, “That was not the place to make a statement like that. April 1st was about building unity to fight Rauner and Rahm and her comments created divisiveness, not unity, during what was an otherwise powerful day.” Or “We need to work with other public sector union employees, like the police in our struggle to get more funding, but now the police hate us.”
We blamed her essentially for putting a black cloud over what was “our” beautiful event.
The Black Lives Matter Movement has been successful at bringing issues of police brutality to the forefront of the American conversation over the past few years. Educators as a whole have been receptive and supportive of the movement.
But this comment has pushed us educators to discuss the movement in ways that many of us never have.
This is the apparent beauty of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
We teachers are on the front lines, advocating for our students, our schools, and communities. We consider ourselves forward thinking, social justice orientated, and anti-racist.
Studies show that the teaching profession has become more and more white, which means we (white educators) also do not know what it is like to deal with the police the way our students do, day in and day out.
I struggled with Page’s comment too at first. I thought to myself the timing wasn’t right, the event wasn’t right, maybe she wasn’t right, because surely there are many good police officers too. I have not had very many negative experiences with the police. When I call the police they come and they don’t bother me unless I am doing something that I shouldn’t be.
These three words, “F*ck the Police” have made me re-examine all of that.
I have current and former students who have shared story upon story of police abuses with me. I know that many of the situations that my students share with me, my students were not doing anything wrong and did not deserve the police encounter. But somewhere deep inside my brain, sometimes my privilege creeps. It whispers things like, “surely they must have done something or the police wouldn’t have bothered them”, but then my Chicago education (taught to me by students) overpowers that privileged thought and I hear my students saying to me, “Mr. Stieber all I did was walk down the street, while being black”.
If you live in Chicago are young and black you deal with the police or are tense because of the police daily. I only have to deal with this tension when I choose to listen to black youth.
In my mind I was trying to operate in a world where police and black youth could exist in the same space. Thanks to Page I am beginning to see differently. I know realize that if we teachers cared as much about why so many of our black students have a hatred towards the police to begin with, as we do to Page saying, “F*ck the police” at a rally, we would be much closer to stopping police brutality.
Many more discussions need to be had, but the Black Lives Matter movement (led in Chicago by BYP100, Assata’s Daughters and others) as a whole sees to it that all white people have to grapple with these issues, even when we don’t think it is appropriate or timed right.
Read this on Huffington Post:
Since the teachers strike ended it is obvious that the Chicago Public Schools appointed Board of Education and Mayor Emmanuel are gearing up to close a large number of public schools. Their rhetoric is that public schools have large numbers of under utilized buildings, meaning that there are not enough students for all the available seats in public schools across the city.
The claim by the Mayor and Board of Education is there are 600,000 seats and only 400,000 students. On December 1st CPS is legally required to announce any plans for closing schools. When CPS announces the expected school closing list a large number of schools will be closed (expect 80-120 schools) students will have new teachers, principals, and building staff. The community will lose institutions that are central parts of the neighborhood. CPS has been closing schools for the past ten years and the date shows no real improvement is made by closing schools, in fact the research shows that when a school is closed it further destabilizes a community. CPS’ primary justification for closing schools is based on standardized test scores (even though again research shows test scores not an accurate measure of intelligence)
In fact there is already an official hit list of 80 schools that UNO charter school leader Juan Rangel (who also served on Mayor Emanuel’s education team) wants to close. Rangel wants these 80 public schools to be turned over into privately run charter schools. Turning public schools into charter schools would benefit Mr. Rangel as well as the other charter school network heads, because they could get more public and private funds, which increases their already large salaries.
So even though CPS claims there are 200,000 “empty seats” CPS and the Mayor now want to reopen many of the closed public schools as new charter schools If there really was 200,000 empty seats wouldn’t the logic be that we do not need to open any more schools? Yet our Mayor in all his genius wants to open even more charter schools even though research shows charters do NOT perform better than public schools.
One other important point that the Mayor and Board of Education are failing to mention in this case is the projected $1 billion CPS budget deficit. The mayor was so quick to mention the budget deficit during the teachers strike, yet now when he wants to open possibly 100 charter schools the budget deficit is not mentioned.
On top of that the charter schools in CPS actually have open seats in their own buildings. Charter schools because they get public and private money are able to spend money on advertising and PR campaigns. So many of us are familiar with the rhetoric that charter schools have a lottery system and very long wait lists to get into them…well this is not actually true. The proof? The day before the CPS teachers strike happened the various charter school leaders got together and held a press conference where they announced their were open seats in their schools (remember it was about a month into their school calendar) in fact “that 1/3 of the city’s charter schools had open seats”.
So lets be clear one month into school 1/3 of all charter schools had open seats. Yet CPS wants to close under utilized public schools and open the exact same buildings with more under utilized not as effective charter schools?
As a teacher, a parent, and a citizen of Chicago this “plan” does not make sense.
Charters perform no better than public schools, 1/3 of all charter schools are under enrolled, there is a projected budget deficit…. so what is really going on? What is behind the Mayors plan to close public schools? Is he doing it for the kids like he claims? The overwhelming evidence says no. Demand truth from the Mayor, Demand an elected school board, Demand that your alderman ask for transparency around the issue of school closings.
There is money in this city. The budget is a political document not a financial one. The budget is all about priorities and it is time we make the Mayor and the appointed Board of Education understand ours, because as a teachers and parents our priorities are about the kids.