On September 14th, 2012, I gave the following speech at a rally for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) at the Wisconsin State Capitol. The Chicago teachers boldly went on strike to fight for a fair contract and to improve the quality of their schools. In this speech, items such as teacher evaluation processes and pay are currently on the bargaining table. However, not all items that the teachers are distressed about are mandatory bargaining items. In Illinois, teachers are limited in their bargaining due to Senate Bill 7, which dictates that both parties have to agree to put non-mandatory items on the bargaining table.
In my speech, other mentions of proposed reforms come out of a study by the Chicago Teachers Union, Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve. Many of these items cannot play a part in the negotiations, even though they significantly affect the quality of education in Chicago.
Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune reported a tentative agreement. The CTU currently has a framework for an agreement, but as of today this strike has not been settled. In the words of Karen Lewis, CTU President, the strike is not over “until you hear it from CTU.”
Hi, my name is Karen and I am a Madison PUBLIC school teacher. I am proud of this identity, even as I see the fortress of public education under siege. I stand arm and arm with my Union brothers and sisters in Chicago. Teachers will not cower, nor retreat because we see what is at stake. The reason that the Chicago teachers stand so resolutely in their amazing display of solidarity is because they know that they have justice on their side. They take a stand for ALL our students. Our public schools are the cornerstone of democracy in the United States. Our civics lesson today is brought to you by the CTU. They are an inspiration to us all.
People in the right-wing media only want to focus on teacher pay. They fill the airwaves with incomplete and misleading information, because their goal is to demonize teachers and build animosity. Teachers are what stands between them and the privatization of education. Public education WELCOMES students of all abilities, income levels and ethnic backgrounds. Public schools DO NOT turn away students who may bring down our test scores or come to us with needs.
They can continue to call us greedy while billionaires like Penny Pritzker and pseudo-democrats like Rahm Emanuel steal from the future of our children and our grandchildren, but it is NOT working. The 55% approval rating (66% of parents) of the CTU strike shows us that you can’t keep all of that truth bottled up. We are here today to shed light on that truth and highlight CTU’s demand for a fair contract and the “Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.” CTU’s proposed reforms are what we should demand for students across this nation.
They ask that we don’t cram more students into overcrowded classrooms, for us to nurture the whole child by providing recess, physical education and art. They want libraries, roofs that don’t leak and windows that shut! And above all they want to be allowed to truly teach. Not teach to a biased, standardized test that will be used to attack teachers’ pay and close down “failing” schools. They ask to teach to the students, not the test.
And if we must talk about pay, let’s talk about the fact that the average primary teacher salary in the U.S. earns 67% of the salary of the average college educated worker. Is it too much to ask that our profession is afforded a little dignity?
The time is NOW to take a stand for our schools. Our opponents can push and push and push, but when their pushing gets past us and hurts our students, we must stand together, stronger than ever before! Chicago’s custodians saw this when in an act of true solidarity, they refused to cross that picket line. Our civics lesson today is brought to you by the CTU. They teach us that, “THE PEOPLE UNITED, SHALL NEVER BE DEFEATED.”