A Former Teacher's View of the CPS Teachers Strike

Chicago public school teacher Michelle Harton walks a picket line outside Morgan Park High School in Chicago, Tuesday, Sept.
Chicago public school teacher Michelle Harton walks a picket line outside Morgan Park High School in Chicago, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, on the second day of a strike in the nation's third-largest school district as negotiations by the two sides failed to reach an agreement Monday in a bitter contract dispute over evaluations and job security. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

As a former classroom teacher (and the soon to be mother-in-law of a dedicated CPS teacher), I'd like to add my two cents to the commentary on the now two-day-old Chicago Public School Teachers strike.

Listening to and/or reading the mostly male commentators ranging from the presidential candidates to local NPR radio affiliate WBEZ's "Afternoon Shift" guests to writers on the Chicago Tribune's op-ed page, there are certain stances that seem to represent the opinions of those who haven't actually stood in front of a classroom of kids, day after day, and in many cases, year after year. The phrases representing these stances float out almost like word clouds:

"I know teachers work hard but..."

"Teachers seem to be complaining about job security but every business has job insecurity...

"Why shouldn't they be evaluated?"

And then of course, there's Mayor Rahm Emanuel: "This is a strike of choice."

I believe that every one of these primarily male opinions is based on a sentimental, naïve, and frankly biased view of what teachers do. While these same folks want evidence-based evaluation of kids, student learning and the work of teachers (measured primarily by test scores, not by actual learning or the progress in reading, math, or other subjects of any one individual child), they refuse to spend any time learning for themselves what life is like in a public school for the average teacher and her students.

They are quick to see charter schools as a panacea in spite of the fact that in many cases, according to a 2009 Stanford University study students at charter schools actually performed worse on standardized tests than students at public schools in a number of states. They shut their eyes to the demands made on teachers today to not only teach, but to keep up with technology (usually on their own time and often on their own dime), be prepared to protect their students from violence, family crisis, peer pressure and bullying, and at the same time be able to demonstrate student learning in a school year marked more often by extended bouts of rigid testing instead of the critical thinking, along with good writing, reading and math skills, demanded by employers and colleges of all workers and students.

So I'm issuing a challenge: for those who think that CPS teachers should just get back in the classroom (and by the way, they were not sleeping in this morning, most of them including my daughter-in-law, were in front of their schools at 6:30 a.m. so that the students, their parents, and the communities where they teach would have the chance to talk to them directly about the strike and its impact) to go spend a day teaching, or better yet, a week or a month. They will still have almost no idea of what teachers actually do to earn the paycheck that they won't be getting as long as the strike is on, but they might learn enough to move beyond stances based primarily on ignorance and most certainly, not on facts.