For 11 days in October, 300,000 Chicago students were out of school while Chicago teachers were on strike. The Chicago Teachers Union was striking for not just higher pay, but also better resources and more staff and support within the school system.
In a radio talk from the Wisconsin Public Radio, Jon Shelton, an associate professor of democracy and justice studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, discussed why this strike is significant in the nation’s third-largest school district and beyond.
Shelton explained teachers are asking for a limit on charter schools in the district, a social worker in every single school, a nurse in every school, higher pay for the lowest paid school employees and for the city to increase affordable housing for both teachers and students. The affordable housing request is a stretch in terms of things that unions can ask for, but it is certainly of interest, given the excessive number of homeless students in Chicago.
Shelton also mentioned this strike could definitely create a ripple effect beyond just Chicago, given that the 2012 Chicago Teachers’ strike set a new model for how teacher unions can operate and get the community on their side. With a teacher strike, it is important for unions to rally the community on their side, especially if parents are advocating too, because at the end of the day it is the parents who pay taxes for these schools and who can help get the message across.
It’s important to consider how this might impact college students interested in pursuing careers in education. Teachers often become teachers not for the money, but for the impact that it will have on youth and how it will shape the future of the world.
But if students are unaware of the life they are entering when they decide to pursue the field of education, then the university should make them aware of some of the difficulties. As made clear through the Chicago strikes, the problem that teachers have is about more than just pay — it is about many difficulties they face with their profession.
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The teachers are trying to do more than improve their own situation, as they are trying to improve the lives of the children and other people working in the Chicago school system. The union is using its leverage to fix a large set of problems that school systems face. These are the types of people that should be educating children: people who care about the children’s well being just as much as their own.
Students pursuing careers in education should be willing to fight for their students when they fight for themselves, and the Chicago Teachers’ Strike makes that poignantly clear.
Universities should make more of a point to address what a life in education would be like so students can make an educated decision as to whether or not they should pursue a different career. Teachers have to be incredibly passionate and love what they are doing to have a positive impact on their students. I know this from personal experience, so if a student isn’t passionate about it or ready to fight for their students, then they should probably consider pursuing a different field.
Elizabeth Ellick ([email protected]) is a sophomore intending to major in political science.