CFL News
June 13, 2012

Carol Marin: Why I would’ve been in the 90% of those teachers

Carol Marin writes that teachers deserve respect for the role they play in the classroom

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

By Carol Marin

If I had been a Chicago public school teacher last week, I would have done as 90 percent of them did — and voted “yes” for a strike authorization.

Teachers in this town have been demonized, demoralized, and disrespected. No profession is beyond criticism and no public school system is without significant problems. But taking a sledgehammer approach to CPS teachers and their union has backfired on the Emanuel administration and his schools CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard.

And all the radio ads and robo calls funded by out of town, union-busting billionaires doesn’t alter that fact.

And let’s be clear. That strike authorization vote is in no way a statement that Chicago teachers want a strike. They do not. It would be horrible.

I know a little bit about this. Though it was long ago, I remember my first — and only — teacher strike. I was fresh out of the University of Illinois, buried in college loans, and grateful beyond words to have landed a job teaching English at what was then Dundee High School in suburban Carpentersville.

Joy turned to panic when the first words I heard at my very first teachers meeting were, “We’re on strike!”

I hadn’t even voted on that strike. I was too new.

Beside me that day was a veteran, superb teacher named Kay Burmeister, who on the phone just yesterday, still chokes up as she remembers. “It was a tremendously difficult vote . . . painful in a million ways . . . My [young son] Mark was about to start kindergarten. You want to throw up,” she said.

But the issues in that strike were about class size, not just compensation. And in six days teachers and the school district worked out a deal each could support.

On Tuesday, I also called the best CPS teacher I have ever known. Arlene Brennan was our son Joshua’s first-grade teacher at the Ogden Elementary School. “Teachers want to teach,” she told me, “but class size is critical. In my last year of teaching, I had a class of 35, 12 of whom were special needs . . . and I was at a good school.”

Brennan retired from CPS in 2007,
maddened that she was required to “teach to the test” to amp up performance scores, not teach children in creative ways that
are not necessarily data driven. She now works with Northwestern and Columbia College mentoring and evaluating student teachers.

“I would have authorized a strike vote,” she said. “It seems to be the only way to have a conversation” with the administration.

In a city where we don’t have a handle on the intractable violence that plagues neighborhoods and seeps into many of our schools, teachers are often on the front line of kindness and caring in a really harsh world.

We used to treat their profession with respect.

They know that.

And said so in their vote.