Here we go again!
The Chicago Public School teachers are on strike and the students of Chicago are once again sitting at home watching Spongebob! A great way to shape the future of our country.
Pardon my delve into the real world from my usual sports themed blogs...
After finishing up a 10 year career as a sports reporter for ESPN, I decided to become a teacher. After completing an accelerated program at DePaul University, I was placed in a CPS school- in Cabrini Green! for my student teaching. Sink or swim indeed! My first real job as a teacher was at Charles Darwin Elementary School in the city's Logan square neighborhood. So, having three years experience in the system gives me a little insight. Although, I have not been in that system for 9 years now...
There are many opinions on this matter, ranging from those who back the teachers sighting working conditions and lack of materials and resources, to those who back the city and it's controversial mayor Rahm Emmanuel.
Let's break it down...
As far as being a teacher in the CPS, it really depends on which school you are at. Some schools have technology resources, books, materials, etc. Some schools have libraries and gyms for the students. Some of the CPS schools are actually very good schools. The one I was at, Darwin, was actually a pretty good school with a gym, a cafeteria, and for the most part enough resources. The forst school where I did my student teaching was brutal. No gym, no cafeteria, leaking ceilings, cockaroaches, etc...My experience was only at those two schools, but I know of many other CPS buildings that are not bad. There is one by Wrigley on Southport which is a very good school. Another in the gold coast on State street which is very good. Walter Payton Prep is an outstanding high school ranked in the top 5 in the state. However, I would imagine that some or most of the schools on the west side are brutal, and probably the south side as well. It really does matter where the school is located and more importantly, it matters who the principal is. CPS schools do receive a budgeted amount of money for resources and materials and it is incumbent upon the administration of that building to allocate the funds properly. At Darwin, the principal was outstanding, and she provided materials, books, technology and even foreign languages to all students. She was a class act and knew what she was doing. In Cabrini, the principal was trying his hardest, but his building was beyond repair and had no gym or lunchroom. That school has been closed now for almost 10 years.
So, as far as working conditions and materials and technology, I truly believe that comes down to not only the administration, but the families of the students as well. Are they involved? Is there a PTO? That is a way to raise money for your school and get the materials the building is lacking.
Some buildings need to be shut down, no question, or renovated. Overall, I do not think the working conditions are the fault of the system.
Let's talk about money. That's what this is really about right? Chicago teachers are claiming they do not make enough and the raises being offered by Emmanuel are not sufficient. I will not argue this point as teachers all over the country are underpaid and over worked. In every state, even in other countries, teachers do not make what they should make. The minimum salary for a practice squad player on the Chicago Bears is over six figures, but a teacher I worked with in Cabrini green, who had been teaching for 23 years, 18 in Cabrini was making 53,000. This is grossly unfair and anyone who says teachers make enough and should stop complaining should check themselves and shut their mouths!
That said, let's take a look at the pay scale set up in the CPS. The 1st year salary with or without a masters degree is higher than the first year salary in most districts throughout the state. The initial raises for the first few years are pretty good as well. In the CPS, by year 7 or 8, you can be making close to 50,000. However, the salary scale levels out after that and, like my friend in Cabrini, you can work 20+ years in the system and still not make 60,000. In the suburban districts, you might start at a lower initial salary, and early on in the first few years, you might not make as much as a CPS teacher. However, by year 10, 15, even 20, suburban school teachers can make anywhere from 70-120 thousand. You would not even get a sniff of that in CPS.
So, maybe, a solution could be to change the scale in the CPS. Not necessarily a percentage raise across the board, but a change in the overall scale to allow those who have put their time in to reap the rewards they deserve. If a teacher in Highland Park is making 110,000 in year 22, then a teacher in the CPS should be making at least 3/4 of that in year 22 as well. That does not come close to happening. I found it sad when I was working with that colleague in Cabrini. Here she was approaching her elder years and she was making 50 grand. She had worked in Cabrini for 18 stinking years and was making 50 thousand. She had actually housed some of her kids over the years as they were evicted from their residences and their parents were living in shelters. That year, she even housed a child from our class as he was homeless. One day, in class, she had to reprimand him for his behavior and lack of work. Later that day, he went out to the parking lot and slit all four of her tires! On the car that he had rode to school in! She had to replace all of her tires, out of pocket, and cooked that child dinner that night! That is dedication, that is compassion, that is a teacher, and one who was never compensated accordingly.
The CPS has their wage scale set up so that you get trapped. The initial salary is decent as are the first few years of raises. If you are trying to get out and find a job in a suburban district, you run into the problem of having to take an initial pay cut. I found myself in that situation personally. If you stay in the CPS 6-7-8 years and reap the benefits of their early high raises, then suburban districts will not hire you as you have too much experience and they have to bring you in at too high of a salary. Schaumburg, for example, is famous for this. Why should they hire a 7-year experienced teacher at 55,000 when they can hire a newbie right out of school with no masters an no experience for 40,000.
It is a viscious cycle and thats why you see these teachers stay in the city for so long, or quit education altogether.
The solution is simple: change the scale, not the percentage amount of the raise. Allow for teachers who work the tails off for long periods to get what they deserve. Maybe the early raises should be less and the scale continuing to rise as experience allows. Also, hire some new blood in administration. People with modern day knowledge of systems, data, technology and budgeting. Finally, introduce programs to get parents involved and get schools to have active PTO's that raise monies for the school.
Between Karen Lewis' grandstanding and Rahm Emmanuels' posturing, the students of Chicago are getting a raw deal. Let's put an end to this for the students and give the egos a rest. Look outside of the box to alternative solutions that benefit the experienced teachers and most of all, the students!
I'll go back to the sports now...