Spencer Tweedy

Love & logic.

My teachers are on strike

My teachers are on strike, and that’s sad.

It’s sad for teachers, because they want to teach. They like teaching; that’s why they became a teacher. They’re not striking because they just can’t stand being a facilitator of growth in kids. They’re on strike because that’s what they love to do, and they want to do it in a system that is less broken.

It’s sad for teachers, because many of them can hardly get by on what they’re unfairly paid now, and missing one week’s (or two weeks’, or three’s) check altogether will have serious financial consequences. It’s sad that they have to take one for the team—for their fellow teachers, and for the students—in a way that could cause lasting hurt.

It’s sad for students, because we want to learn. We love our teachers and we want them to be treated the way that they deserve to be treated, and we want our schools to be given the resources they need. We want to go to school.

I stand with the Chicago Teachers Union, because I believe in unions, and I believe in the greater part of what they’re fighting for. They’re not just picketing for fair pay; they’re picketing because most of this city’s schools really, really suck, both as facilities and as organizations. There are too many schools without adequate heating and cooling, too many schools without a library and too many schools without playgrounds. Beyond that, schools just do not have the resources that they need to be effective learning places. (My school has so little taxpayer funding, many of our materials are either purchased by our teachers, out of selflessness, or by funds raised at annual walkathons and similar events.) As institutions, there’s also a lot of wrong in the way they function, and I believe that Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union are both responsible for that facet of the issue.

It’s all about a line that needs to be drawn, and where, and how, to draw it. In order for our schools to be the best they can be, people need to lose their jobs. Which people?

Unions exist to protect the working people, and that’s crazy awesome. It’s such a gift to live in a country where unions can exist! But the problem with the Chicago Teachers Union is that it protects its working people unconditionally; there’s no internal board of review that makes the benefits of union membership a privilege and not a right. I think that to hold a union card, you should also have to uphold your commitment to students, and that means being a competent, dedicated teacher. Organized labor rules, but it’s a lot of power in the hands of the people. It’s a responsibility to those whom you serve. I think that if you’re going to empower yourselves, you should also police yourselves. Job security should exist, but you should have to earn it.

The sad thing about that is that there are some teachers who can’t earn it, because they’re just not very good at teaching. And their only option is teaching. And they’ve been doing it for many years already. This situation is unfair for them, and it’s unfair for students; they deserve their job, because they got hired, and now they have nowhere else to go, but students deserve better. I kind of believe that we should just wait till they all retire. There are plenty of other problems to fix in the meantime. There are other things necessary to institutional learning, and maybe by the time our schools finally have them, the job tree will have been pruned and the system will reap the benefits of a new generation of 21st-century-trained, curiosity-encouraging, innovation-geared, engaging and engaged liaisons of information.

CPS doesn’t understand learning

Neither side is the devil in this fight. Rahm Emanuel, Jean-Claude Brizard, Karen Lewis, the rest of CPS and the rest of the CTU have their general hearts and minds in the right place. When they sit in those conference rooms, and talk about how to solve the problems that Chicago’s public schools face, it’s not a matter of stinginess or avarice. It’s all about the students—for everyone.

But with the questions of fairness and resource aside, the question of this issue that I feel most bent over is the question of measuring intelligence. CPS wants the ability to fire teachers based on their performance, and the only way they know how to measure a teacher’s performance is by measuring his school’s students’ performance, and the only way they know how to do that is by giving us fill-in-the-bubble tests. That is so, so horrifically misguided. There’s a lot more power in the human mind than what can be filled in those bubbles.

The Chicago Teachers Union recognizes that. They recognize that proficiency tests are an examination of only a child’s partial intelligence, that they have little to no correlation with the performance of her educators, and that they offer virtually zero insight into her potential for contributing to our communities. They cannot measure growth beyond a short-sighted definition of what growth is. Learning is more than knowing things. Learning is being enriched as a person, and becoming a better thinker. Tests can only see the detritus of that kind of wholesome development—the kind of development that every school and every teacher should be providing. They’re not a way to take the pulse of this school system, and they do not help make our schools better. That is why I stand with the Chicago Teachers Union.