Chicago teachers demand an overdue social transformation

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Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey (center, left) and Vice President Stacy Davis Gates (center, right) march with members of the CTU and SEIU Local 73 through the Loop, three days before the unions could walk off the job on strike.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey (center, left) and Vice President Stacy Davis Gates (center, right) march with members of the CTU and SEIU Local 73 in the Loop on Oct. 14.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Teachers demanding a transformation

I became a teacher because I wanted my students to have more opportunities than previous generations and, as importantly, I wanted our neighborhoods to reflect those opportunities.

Everyday my students traversed a small desert of poverty to get to class, even as they walked only steps away from oases of wealth, complete with glistening towers and gilded homes.

The same construction cranes tearing down my students’ public housing built new palaces in the sky for our city’s 1 percent. The present concentration of economic power in the hands of a select few, a condition that has worsened over time, has eviscerated the working class and poor.

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Chicago Public Schools accuses the Chicago Teachers Union of trying to use current contract talks to “solve all of the problems in Chicago.” The social problems that impact our communities do not take an intermission once students come to school. In fact, many days the collision of all societal ills occurs inside a classroom.

Our teachers have become first responders. They are expected to solve all the problems of Chicago. But the city refuses to give them the tools needed to do the job. Imagine if firefighters, police officers or emergency medical technicians were not provided the basic equipment they need to protect our health and welfare.

I represent a Cook County district in which these inequities are in plain view. In Oak Park, the schools are fully staffed and well-funded. But east of Austin Avenue, where I live, Garfield Park and West Humboldt Park must beg for scraps.

The problems we face are political, and so are the solutions. As social justice educators, we teach our students about resisting systems that would silence us. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once challenged a generation, calling for “a radical redistribution of economic and political power.” And given the poverty, unemployment, violence and racial inequality in black and brown communities today, the transformation Dr. King called for is needed like never before.

It is precisely this transformation that Chicago teachers are demanding. Our students deserve a nurse and librarian every day in every school, more social workers, counselors and lower class sizes.

I challenge CPS and the mayor to meet these needs in the new teachers’ contract. If not now, when? Our students can’t wait. 

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, 1st District, Chicago Public Schools Middle School Teacher

Arrogance of the CTU

I am a bit appalled by the arrogance of the CTU, thinking they can get everything they ask for but offer nothing in return. As a member of a large Teamsters Union local for more than 32 years, I was involved in contract negotiations with the company that I worked for, and I also voted for quite a number of contracts. — and never without the threat of a strike.

But negotiations mean just that — you give and take. You might get something you want but have to give back something in return. We were never offered 16% raises over five years, and we often had to give up something of value.

Teachers also get long summer vacations, great health care and good pensions.

Dale Kaczmarek, Oak Lawn

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