In collaboration with IDEA I was fortunate to host a webinar with a group of Chicago Educators, parents, community members, and a CPS student on why we went on strike in the fall of 2019. You can watch our webinar here.
For 13 years I’ve been teaching in Chicago. 13 years of budget cuts, no librarians, part time nurses, not enough counselors. 13 years of of promises from Mayors and CEOs to improve our schools. Yet, educators always do more with less. That is why the city continues to take. It knows that because teachers love our students we will always do our best, even with no resources.
We love our students so much that we don’t share our teaching stories with non-teachers willingly. We are cautious, we don’t want anyone to judge our students or us. We have pride in our schools. Our schools become our identities. Our kids are on our minds long after the bell rings. We reflect on what went well and obsess on what we need to improve.
Contrary to what I believed when I was a student, teachers have lives outside of school. We are parents, partners, taxpayers, and relied upon by many others in our lives.
So when someone dare calls us greedy it is a right hook to our face. How dare they? Our love for our students and our schools physically drains us. We don’t get enough sleep, we over eat, over stress because of our professions. We stay after the school day ends to grade, to coach, to mentor, for free. We give up our time with our own families for people’s kids.
How dare you call us greedy. How dare you ignore us when we ask for better conditions for our students. It’s not easy for us to do this. We went into teaching because we love kids. We were told our career choice was noble. Yet, now we find ourselves being called greedy because we dare ask for better conditions for our students? We opened up, advocated and showed our love for our students out loud and you called us names.
Tomorrow we are about to perform a noble action taught to us by Gandhi, MLK, Chavez, and Raby. Tomorrow we will strike. We will strike for our students. We will strike for our schools. We will strike to improve our city. We will go without pay. We will risk outsiders talking badly about us. It will sting, it will be hard, but it’s past time that our students have the same basic necessities that every suburban student has had for years.
We will strike because we are noble. We will strike because we know our moral compass points to equity, it points toward justice and we know those are things the students of Chicago have never had.
To view this piece on ChicagoNow click here
My classroom is decorated with historical figures who inspire me. Every person on my wall worked to do what’s right, because they envisioned what a better future should be like for all people. These individuals cared so deeply about their country that they put themselves on the line to advocate for others even if what was right was not popular or even legal.
I became a social studies teacher because of them. These individuals knew that those in power used legislation and laws to control, discriminate, harm, and dehumanize people. People like Dolores Huerta who broke an Arizona law that prevented people from saying the words “strike” and “boycott”. People like Sal Castro who ignored the laws that made it illegal for him to teach his students what their over-crowded and underfunded East L.A. school system was being deprived of and helped them plan mass walkouts. When these activists came across a damaging and controlling law, they would examine it, understand it and purposefully refuse to follow it.
In Illinois, there currently exists a damaging and controlling law, a law that became official in 1995. Known as the Chicago School Reform Act, this law was created to silence teachers’ voices calling for equity in public schools. It gives the mayor full control of the school system and school board. And in an effort to make us look greedy it forbids teachers from striking over anything besides pay and benefits. The law makes it impossible for educators to force the city to admit that having over 30 kids in class is unjust, that not having a librarian in 9 out of 10 majority Black schools is unjust, that a critical shortage of nurses, counselors, and social workers system wide is unjust.
This insidious law makes teachers look greedy and weakens our power because the city only has to negotiate pay and benefits with us. This law continues to allow those in power to ignore the conditions and lack of resources in Chicago Public Schools. This law makes the teachers who are on the front lines, unable to get the city to negotiate over truly improving our public schools.
This is why the Chicago Tribune, Sun Times and even our own school system calls us greedy by perpetuating these opinions. They want us to simply take a raise.They want us to just trust that the Mayor will do right by the students. They want us to ignore the fact that Chicago’s schools have been criminally underfunded for generations. Every student who ever attended CPS knows this fact. Every parent of a CPS student knows this. Every teacher who has ever taught in CPS knows this too.
Our schools should have so much more than what they currently have or have ever had. This is why many politicians and people in power don’t send their own children to CPS, because the inequities are devastating.
94% of Chicago’s educators just authorized our union to strike. In 2012, when we went on strike we had 90% of teachers vote to strike. In 2012 Chicago Public Schools was trying to take pay away from us. Now CPS is willing to give us our cost of living increases without a fight, so why did more teachers vote to strike this time then in 2012? We are so fed up with looking into our kids faces every day and knowing this city truly doesn’t give a damn about them. We are done waiting on verbal promises from the city.
Mayor Lightfoot claims she’s not Rahm. Maybe she wasn’t when she ran but since she’s become Mayor, I hear a whole lot of Rahm in her statements. Rahm called us greedy, Rahm talked badly about us when we had our strike vote and Rahm sued our union when we struck in 2012 because we wanted to negotiate over things besides pay and benefits. Mayor Lightfoot has done all of those things, besides sue our union. But if she continues the failing Rahm playbook I’m sure the city is already planning to sue the Chicago Teachers Union if we strike on October 17th. The city will sue us because as educators we dare to demand that our students have everything they deserve, in writing.
Mayor Lightfoot said a strike would be “catastrophic” for the students. In a series of posts on Twitter with the hashtag #PutItInWriting, educators and supporters detailed the real catastrophe and decade long catastrophic effects from the lack of funding and resources for our CPS schools and students.
EVERYTHING that our students and schools deserve, in writing, includes:
- 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
- Make all schools sanctuary schools
- Provide mental health services for all students and staff
If the city chooses NOT to give our students these requests in writing, then the city is following in the path of Mayors Daley and Emanuel by ignoring what the students deserve. If this city actually cared about the students it “serves” it would not be arguing with those on the front lines of education, the educators.
If this city cared about its children, it would happily fund our education system. Chicago quickly gave $33 million more to keep the police in the schools, even though many students, parents, and teachers objected. The city will hand over money to the police department to incarcerate our youth but will not do the same to educate them.
When Bernie Sanders was in Chicago recently, publicly supporting public school educators, he said, “…teaching is one of the most patriotic professions that you can do.” It is our patriotic duty to do whatever it takes to get our students what they deserve.
The Chicago Teachers Union will strike over pay and benefits. But me, and many others, we will be striking to disrupt the status quo. We will be striking against systemic racism and generational neglect in our public schools.
We will be attempting to follow the lead of those people that I have on my classroom walls. The people that I’ve always aspired to emulate. There have always been bad laws used to harm, discriminate, and to silence people. It’s once again time to ignore laws like that.
It’s time to do what is right for our students.
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
Chicago Tribune Editorial Board Member, Kristen McQueary is back at again. Remember this past August, when she wrote a piece titled “In Chicago, wishing for a Hurricane Katrina”? She didn’t realize how terribly offensive and racist her piece was. (The Tribune apparently realized that, as they went back and changed her piece, including the title, which is why I provided an original PDF of the article.) Many people throughout the city expressed their outrage and actually tried to educate Ms. McQueary, as to why her piece was offensive. I wrote a piece titled why “Why Wishing for a Hurricane Katrina is the Equivalent of Putting on a Klan Hood” to help her understand. Now 7 months later, it seems the education the residents of Chicago tried to provide is not sinking in. Because she is back at it again with her piece, “Anti-Police Screed Goes Unchecked by CTU, Karen Lewis”. I tried to contact her, but Ms. McQueary, @StateHouseChick has blocked me on Twitter, and apparently does not like to be taught about her privilege and offensive comments.
So let us begin again, in the education of Tribune Editorial Board Member Kristen McQueary.
I pulled a few of her many quotes (I could’ve pulled many more) in her new piece, which most shows her need for an education. I will now direct the rest of this piece directly to you Kristen McQueary.
“Instead of focusing on improving education for Chicago kids, the union is the city’s latest command post for angst.”
Did you really just say that? You are saying Chicago’s teachers need to focus on improving education for the kids? Um, hello? Why do you think we were out in the streets on April 1st? We were trying to bring attention to the deplorable budget cuts that impact every student, parent, and person who works in schools in this city. Teachers are on the front lines daily. While you are downtown in your ivory tower. Many of us educators work and live in the communities that you hoped a hurricane would wipe out. When someone is shot in this city, who do you think is forced to counsel students and discuss their fears? Educators. Far too many counselors, social workers, and psychologists have been cut from the never ending budget cuts. So we educators have to help our students express their fears and pain. When Rahm closed 50 schools in 2013, we had to teach our students that they are not failures, just because CPS called their grammar schools failing and closed them. Every bad thing that happens in this city, we have to talk to our students about. So to state plainly or even imply for a second that teachers need to focus on improving education for our students, is one of the most offensive not to mention uneducated things you can say to or about educators.
“Chicago cops have been the target of some of that angst since November when the release of a video showing a white cop shooting a black teenager ignited protests over lack of accountability within the Chicago Police Department.”
Yes, as CPD should be. Chicago police killed Laquan McDonald by shooting him 16 times and then you know what happened to Officer Jason Van Dyke who shot Laquan? Jail? Nope, he got a job with the Fraternal Order of Police. CPD operated a secret detention site in Homan Square where they would illegally detain and interrogate primarily Black citizens for years. The Guardian did a huge expose on it, in case you missed it. Dante Servin shot and killed unarmed Rekia Boyd in 2012, he was found not guilty and still has a job with CPD. Police officers instead of speaking up and out about the terrible things that have happened are staying quiet and covering up the abuses and murders by police. There is a lot of research out right now, as to the racist past and present of the Chicago Police. Read this report that just came out that says, “Chicago Police have no regards for the lives of minorities”.
Now Ms. McQueary, ask yourself this? Who do you think works with the people who are targeted by the police on a daily basis? That’s right, it is us, educators. We hear stories daily in our classrooms of police abuses against our students. As one of my favorite Chicago teacher’s Xian Barrett said to me, “There’s no way to create a safe, sharing classroom in CPS and NOT hear students’ fear and/or awful experiences with Chicago Police.”
Kristen, I honestly understand your struggle of not believing that police do terrible things to Black youth. Kristen like you I, I am white, and like you, because we are white we have the privilege of not having many negative interactions with the police. But all you need to do is listen to Black youth about their grievances with the police (well first you might want to try to not be racist, because otherwise no one will feel comfortable enough to even want to talk to you).
Kristen, I wrote a piece last week that explained how Black Lives Matter is educating Chicago’s teachers. Many teachers at first did not feel like the timing was right for Page’s comments, but then many of us, I know I did, really had to reflect on her comments.
As a Social Studies teacher I had to remember that even Dr. King was told that he was moving too fast, his ideas were not timed right, and to just wait. When he was locked in a Birmingham jail, a group of white religious leaders wrote a newspaper op-ed about asking him and the Civil Rights Movement to slow down. King’s response turned out to be one of the most important documents during the Civil Rights Movement, “Letters from a Birmingham Jail”. Kristen you know how we white people love to quote King, but the idea of a movement like Black Lives Matter, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights or any other movement is to push thinking and force change. That is what Page’s comments at the rally are doing.
As you end your piece Kristen, you say, “The double standard is palpable”. I couldn’t agree with that last sentence more, for you, the double standard is palpable. You sit up in your Tribune ivory tower and write about things that you know nothing about, like education and how tragic events like a Hurricane would be good for Chicago.
But even worse, you write about things that you apparently have no desire to even learn about. That is the issue. You are just too comfortable. You refuse to challenge yourself and learn about your privilege. That is why people call you racist.
You have two choices, continue to be the fragile white person that is shocked when someone categorizes you as racist OR (this is the better option) you can really try to educate yourself. As I mentioned in my response to your Wishing for a Katrina piece in August, I suggested a starting point for you would be the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, which details and explains white privilege and how it benefits all white people all the time. Read books by Lisa Delpit, Theresa Perry, Beverly Daniel-Tatum, Howard Zinn, Bell Hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates and many more authors. Even better, actually listen and hear the messages of the Black Lives Matter movement — or in your case, any black person who would take the time to try to educate you.
As a white person to another white person, your whiteness is holding your writing back. You need to not ask why the CTU didn’t rebuke the “F*ck the Police” comment, instead you need to ask why that comment was said. Interview Page, or someone from the Black Youth Project 100. Educate yourself Kristen. Because your current lack of education is damaging your career as well as this city.
You live in a fantasy world. Don’t you realize that by cancelling school and making teachers take an unpaid furlough day on March 25th that you short change the learning of our students? Yet now you want to criticize us for having no options left but to strike.
We teachers have tried darn near everything to get you to realize that there are many ways to get additional funding for our schools and you refuse to do them. So we are left with no choice but to strike.
We do not want to strike. We wanted to negotiate with you, which is why there are 50 teachers representing us on the big bargaining team (that is called Democracy) when we negotiate.
We teachers work with students every day. We communicate with parents constantly.
Unlike you, we are parents of children in CPS. We work in the neighborhoods that you only visit when it is time for an election photo op.
So Rahm, we will shut down Chicago on April 1st in attempt to force you and your buddy Bruce down in Springfield to hear us.
Make no doubt we would rather be teaching our students. Make no doubt that we do not want to strike, but we will do it because we know that seems to be the only option left to get you to hear us.
There are ways to fix this and avoid future strikes.
Start with finding funding for our schools.
Here are some options on how to do this.
1. Ask your buddy Rauner to stop with his austerity budget.
2. Man up and ask your bank buddies to renegotiate the toxic bank deals that have and continue to steal money from our schools, our neighborhoods, and cities. This has cost CPS over $500 million dollars.
3. Use TIF surpluses to help our neighborhoods and schools instead of just siphoning the money downtown in an attempt to beautify an already beautiful downtown. There is $350 million in unused TIF money.
4. Cancel Aramark’s contract. Clearly our schools are dirty and privatizing our custodial services cost the district money and does not keep our schools clean. This would save $260 million. Yes, we would need to hire back many custodians, but they would be hired back by the schools and it would still be less expensive.
5. Relinquish your power of Chicago Public Schools. Your last CEO cost our district $20 million and the CEO’s (I hate that title, no one in charge of schools should be called that) you appointed before as well as your current appointment continue to harm, not help our city.
6. It is time for an elected school board. The voters who have been allowed to have a say overwhelmingly demand an elected board. 90% of voters who were allowed to vote on this issue want an elected school board.
7. Stop paying the military $17 million a year to be in our schools. Our streets are violent enough, we do not need the military model of solving conflicts taught to our students.
8. Require that the Mercantile Exchange pay a transaction tax. This would create $2 billion in revenue annually.
9. Take the Chicago Police out of schools and instead train teachers on Restorative Justice practices so we can teach our students how to de-escalate situations more effectively. This would also reduce some of the violence across our city as well as save money.
10. Don’t fund DePaul (a private university) to build a basketball stadium. This would save $173 million.
11. Stop building the new Obama High School. Savings of $60 million.
12. Get Teach for America out of CPS. The majority of them are only here for two years anyway. This is not the way to build relationships with parents and students. This would save $1.5 million.
13. Stop the incessant amount of standardized testing that wastes instructional time and costs the district millions.
14. Listen to the people, if you would’ve done that you wouldn’t have closed 50 schools. This contrary to your lies actually cost and still costs the district money. Still costing CPS $3 million per year.
I am sure there are many more ways to save money. I just wrote, researched, and brainstormed this list during my lunch period. This list not only saves money by cutting costs, but it also creates revenue options. Now you don’t need to threaten to cut our paychecks by 7%. Schools can hire back all the staff that has been cut. We can fully fund our schools with teachers, counselors, security, and librarians. We can have programs and opportunities for our students.
Surely your “experts” can come up with your own or figure out ways to make these ideas work. Or better yet you can listen to the experts, us teachers, who through the Chicago Teachers Union’s research have come up with solutions.
Teachers are problem solvers and we are working to solve the issues that your policies have created. But until you listen to us we will have to Shut Down Chicago on April 1st to fight for funding.
Read this piece on Huffington Post
When two sides enter into a negotiation, it is expected for the two sides to go back and forth on various points and details. One side will submit a proposal and the other side will reflect on the offer and then come back to the table to discuss what they like or do not like about the proposal.
Our teacher’s contract expired July 1st 2015 and it took until January 28th 2016 for CPS to make their 1st “serious offer” regarding our contract. The teachers that make up the bargaining team of the Chicago Teachers Union had been making proposals for months about how to help our schools, our students, and our teachers, while CPS had been unreceptive and/or unwilling to negotiate in good faith. But now almost 6 months after our contract has expired CPS submits one proposal and we are all of a sudden expected to take it, like it was the greatest gift ever presented to teachers?!
After the teachers of the big bargaining team went through each line of the proposal, they determined that it was not in the best interest of the students and teachers of Chicago to accept this offer. CEO Forest Claypool sent a threatening letter to Karen Lewis saying he now has no choice but to cut millions of dollars from schools.
Wait, hold up. It is not like the big bargaining team declared they will refuse all offers from CPS. They just refused parts of this offer. So the logical next step would be to come back to the table and figure out how make a contract for all parties to agree on. Just because CPS claimed it was a “good offer” and leaked parts of the proposal to the press making CPS look ‘oh so generous’ and teachers look ‘oh so greedy’, once again, does not mean it is a good contract.
So instead of continuing discussions, CPS has essentially given the middle finger to thousands of educators in this city. This is a big middle finger to the hundreds of thousands of students and parents who will be damaged by these draconian cuts to schools across the city.
All of this CPS madness comes from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who controls the schools. The same Mayor who is liked by only 18% of the people of Chicago. The same mayor that appointed CEO Forest Claypool (who has no educational experience) after his other appointed CEO got arrested. Both Rahm and Claypool control an appointed puppet school board that meets behind closed doors and ignores all public input to make their real decisions.
So once again I come back to the “serious offer” that CPS made. In the midst of all this corruption, we educators are just supposed to trust CPS and just accept their offer?
Teachers, unlike the Mayor, CEO, and Appointed School Board work with students and parents everyday.
We teachers send our kids to CPS.
We live in the city.
We will do what is best for the kids.
Yes, making sure a teacher is reasonably protected from the craziness that is CPS and paid fairly is still doing what is best for kids. A fair contract helps keep outstanding teachers from leaving this jacked up mayorally controlled undemocratic school system.
So CPS, grow up, realize that in a negotiation there will be times when you hear “No”.
We teachers are the experts in knowing what our schools, students, and profession need.
The contract negotiating process the Chicago Teachers Unions goes through with the big bargaining team and House of Delegates is Democratic. Just because the politics of this city are run by a “Yes, Rahm” mentality does not mean we will follow suit.
We are educated in what Democracy looks like and like it or not, CPS, we are educating you, just like we educate hundreds of thousands of students across our city daily.
This article on HuffingtonPost Chicago
This is the video version of my radio interview this past Saturday morning on the Live From the Heartland Radio Show on 88.7 FM here in Chicago. I am talking about school closings, unions, and education in Chicago.
The coolest part is that my dad Arny Stieber was on the same show talking about Veterans for Peace and the militarization of Chicago Public Schools his interview starts at 32 mins.