- Social Emotional Learning: Can It Help Our Most Vulnerable Students? - August 27, 2017
- Why We Should Teach Meditation in the Classroom - November 8, 2016
- Strike! - October 5, 2016
- Teaching a Superpower - September 22, 2016
- Essentially, I am a Teacher - August 30, 2016
- A Chicago Teacher's Dream - January 22, 2016
- A Career in Crisis - August 27, 2015
- Classroom Community and Rock-Paper-Scisssors - July 22, 2015
- The Art of Teaching - June 22, 2015
- Parent tip: Beyond Sounding It Out - June 4, 2015
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Last night, teachers throughout Chicago did happy dances. We were celebrating the outcome of the mayoral election where the current mayor, Rahm Emanuel, was forced into a runoff with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Emanuel had a war chest of about $30 million dollars plus PAC money. Garcia ran a grassroots campaign with the support of the Chicago Teachers Union. He was the teachers’ candidate.
To make this easier to explain, I am going to talk as a Chicagoan. We don’t call them Emanuel or Garcia, they are Rahm and Chuy. It isn’t disrespectful. It is how we roll. We call the President by his first name, too. Barack and Chuy are hometown guys. Rahm is from the elite north suburbs of the city although he lives in the city now.
Perhaps that is part of the problem. Rahm is not a friend of the teachers or our union. He never understood the importance of this. It started at the beginning of his term. The rumor is that it happened at an early meeting between the Mayor and Chicago Teachers Union president, Karen Lewis. When Karen (we use her first name, too) disagreed with Rahm, he supposedly replied “F--- you, Karen!”
Well! Like most big cities, Chicago teachers are not pushovers. We are tough. We have to be. That doesn’t mean we are unkind, ungenerous, or unforgiving. We do expect poor behavior sometimes, but we expect an apology and, if needed, reparation. An excuse of having a foul mouth is not acceptable. We teach our students that if you want to be treated respectfully, you have to know when to use proper language and when it is okay to let down your guard. Swearing at the top teacher in the city is not using the right language at the right time. Sorry, that was a rant. Rahm does that to me.
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In an NBC report, political expert John P. Frendreis said that it was the teachers that made this a mayoral race a true competition. “It’s really the school controversy, the closure of schools, the continued opening of charter schools and then the ... battle with the CTU and Rahm that has generated any kind of heat in this and has made him even remotely vulnerable,” the political science professor at Loyola University in Chicago, said ahead of Tuesday’s race.
Let’s just say, it was clear from the beginning the Mayor was not one to have a dialogue with people to come up with solutions. The teachers’ contract was set to expire the following summer. There was a huge budget shortfall and a strike was likely unless serious negotiations were started pronto. Instead, there suddenly appeared an out-of-state organization which began lobbying Illinois’s state legislature. The were able to pass a rule saying that in order to strike in Chicago there required a rank and file vote of 75 percent. Since there is only one district in Illinois over that number, guess who they were talking about. Chicago. Rahm and his cronies were certainly behind this move.
The school year began. Then came the push for a longer school day and an increase of ten school days. This required a vote of the Union members to be accepted. Some schools took cash and technology incentives and increased their school days without a vote. This was in violation of the contract.
While this bugged teachers, we get politics and were willing to ignore it until the letters began. Letters started showing up from the Board of Education. They were for the teachers to send home to the parents. I wish I had saved one. They said charming things like: the teachers who really care about children have already implemented longer school days. They were wildly insulting. It was clear that the image the Mayor and the Board wished to give families was that we didn’t care about kids’ education. Somehow, these letters always fell into the recycling bin in my classroom instead of my students’ backpacks. I was not sending home a letter that insulted my hard-working peers and me.
Midyear, there was a straw poll taken by the union. This poll was completed before we clocked in. It showed that if concessions were not reached, teachers would vote for a strike. Rahm’s response was that we were allowing ourselves to be distracted from a real job of teaching students. Ha! If we couldn’t handle distractions we would have quit teaching long before.
He was clueless because over 90 percent of all union teachers in Chicago did indeed vote to strike. It was supposed to be impossible. The strike lasted 7 days. Support was overwhelmingly in favor of teachers. It was a powerful moment for teachers as well as anyone who believed in organizing.
One fact that is almost shameful is that Chicago has an appointed school board. They are selected by the Mayor. This has become more and more problematic because Rahm is a micro-manager. The school board makes no decisions without his approval.
The dysfunction of this system became clear when the Mayor decided to close 50 schools. After hearings through out the city, all 50 school closings were voted on in a single vote. Nearly all the schools were in impoverished neighborhoods with few resources. While I will admit some of the schools were woefully empty, most were not. Children were being sent to other schools that were mostly full already. Many of the schools were across gang lines and the students faced dangerous commutes to their new schools.
Other changes were instituted system wide. For example, Rahm brags that full day Kindergarten became mandatory. The problem was that funds were not set up to help schools make this change. This meant principals had to come up with funds by cutting funds in other areas. This is hard to do in a school system where many supply lists include toilet paper.
I could go on for days about the other wrongs. They are not necessarily all about education. A city is more than schools. In fact, very little was done to help the large areas of our city where jobs don’t exist and poverty is high. There seems to be a disregard for the majority of people in the city.
Some out-of-state people wonder why Rahm rubs us the wrong way. It is the way politics works, right? We’ve had a whole family of wheeler-dealers as mayors before. That is true, but the Daleys understood Chicago. They at least acted like hometown boys. What we don’t go for is arrogance and rudeness. It is not our style. We are the city of “big shoulders” not of big heads or big egos. Rahm has both.
Chicagoan are largely hardworking people proud of our beautiful city. We have a lot to be proud of but we want good things for all parts of our hometown.
Any way you describe it, he has made adversaries of a powerful group. We will keep working to defeat him and elect a mayor who believes in community.