Editorial: September 14

Teachers march on protest in Chicago this week. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons user MisterJayEm.

Teachers march on protest in Chicago this week. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons user MisterJayEm.

The teachers of the Chicago Teachers Union are on strike. The work stoppage began Monday after an all-night negotiation session during which the two sides failed to agree on a contract. As an education student, I’ve been following the stories coming out of the Windy City and attempting to collect and analyze the opinions surrounding the event. Why are the teachers striking? What are their demands? What has the city offered, and could they offer more?

It’s notoriously difficult to get both sides of a story when the groups involved are as large, as passionate and as vocal as a teachers’ union and a city government. And when you feel strongly about a particular subject, it’s also difficult to look for information that goes against your own view. I’m siding with the city on this one, and I simply can’t comprehend how anyone could be siding with the teachers. The coverage I’ve read, while unbiased on the surface, just screams city support to me. I feel guilty for not being able to get past my own leanings, but I really can’t uncover what it is the teachers want.

Of course, they want the usual things teachers want — higher salaries, smaller class sizes, shorter work days — but I can’t seem to uncover what exactly it is about the city’s offer that they disagree with. What is that offer, you ask? The city of Chicago proposed a 16 percent pay increase over four years, paid maternity and disability leave, shorter high school days and a five-class limit for high school teachers.

If that sounds like a pretty good deal to you, it’s because it is. You’ve probably heard that teaching is not exactly a lucrative position. Teachers are underpaid, under-thanked and overworked. This is what I’ve been taught in Calvin’s education program. We all know we’re not in it for the money. We’re okay with it.

So how much do you think teachers make? What absurdly low salary are the teachers in Chicago being forced to work for? Try an average of $74,839, according to the districts statistics. You read that right. The teachers in Chicago are rejecting a 16 percent pay raise on their $75,000 salaries.

I can’t wrap my mind around it. Weren’t these teachers warned that they wouldn’t make much in their lifetimes? Why can’t they be happy with their above average pay? (The average salary of an American with a bachelor’s degree is about $43,000.) It leads me to question their motives.

The worst thing about the situation, though, is the fate of the kids. They’re currently being taught by non-union and other hired-in teachers — probably not the teachers they began the school year with and have developed relationships with. What kind of teacher is able to walk away from a classroom full of kids who depend on her?

The political liberal in me believes (or has been conditioned to believe?) that unions are generally useful organizations that keep things fair and safe, making sure everyone in a profession is represented. But the Chicago Teachers Union is changing my mind. A group that makes unreasonable demands and asks its members to walk away from their vocations, leaving thousands of children out of luck doesn’t sit well with me.

Maybe I’ve got it wrong. I haven’t yet entered the real teaching world and haven’t encountered the different versions of rhetoric surrounding teachers’ unions. Maybe I don’t understand what’s at stake. But from where I sit, the kids of Chicago deserve better.