As I type this, my usual Twitter feed about wrestling shows has been rudely interrupted with the word that Chicago Public School teachers are once again on strike, this time choosing to strike close to two months after the little ankle-biters have gone back to class. And to be honest, I have some mixed feelings on this that I'd like to share with you. I'm curious to see what kind of responses I might get.
As I've blogged before, I used to work at a school supply store. As per my job, I had to help teachers find the right book or gadget they needed, that included reading all the books your children have to read, and doing demonstrations. (Among way too many other tasks.) Even helped out with setting up projects, so if you ask the nice tax people, I have been a teacher's aide.
With that said, I can understand both sides.
On the one side of the issue, I can understand the teachers' complaints. They are grossly underpaid babysitters.
Not only are they babysitting Chicago's youth, they have to put up with spoiled parents, complaining about how their precious Lil' Jimmies are being treated, and then the teachers have to sit quietly and listen to the temper tantrums of the principal, the school faculty, the school board and on rare occasion, put up with workplace teasing from other teachers. That's an awful lot of babysitting for one person to handle, and often the most poised, mature people they deal with are under the age of 18. (In this case, under age 8.)
Another problem is again, pay. The average teacher would better off financially working at McDonald's. While working at the school store, I often watched the teachers having to make major decisions with their budget. Most of the time, the books aren't covered by the schools, neither are the scissors, paste, paper, flash cards and other goods the teachers need to help your child to learn. On the rare chance that a teacher does gain some form of compensation, it's usually in the form of half what he or she paid for the books to begin with. Now imagine that the average teacher makes less than $32,000 a year. Yeah, that's not fair.
Another issue are that the buildings ~ while they look pretty on the inside ~ are riddled with bacteria. About four years ago, there was a study done on cleanest places in the Chicagoland area. The schools ranked the lowest.
We hand teachers a can of Lysol, and act like it's enough to make his/her working environment squeaky clean. While LySol isn't a "bad" can of chemicals to own, it does virtually nothing to stop the spread of whooping cough, chicken pox, hoof & mouth disease, mumps, measles or even the common cold, all of which have been on the rise among school children and faculty out this way. And even the "rich" schools are riddled with mold. Suddenly, that $20-32,000 doesn't seem worth it.
So yeah, I can see the teachers' concerns and I can understand why they strike every school year. I feel they have every reason to.
On the other hand though, I wonder if it's worth it.
We've established that the school boards want to fatten up their own pockets by slashing funding for education and for these teachers. The last several protests only resulted in massive layoffs, so at this point, the embarrassment caused by a well deserved protest may not be enough.
Most of the teachers I used to see from this area didn't even become teachers because they liked teaching. They did it for the money, of which there is none. Many of them took out their frustrations on the students and on the parents, specifically the pre-school set. Even when interviewed the last four times they protested, the average teacher focused more on what they weren't making, and less on how this effected the children.
And the children are the ones who have to deal with this first.
The kids have to put up with the teachers' complaining, the kids have to put up with an ever changing school system, the kids have to put up with a twisted curriculum ~ edited and sanitized with key notes missing to appease non-helping coalitions, and it's the kids ultimately who end up suffering.
And it's because of this that many parents in the area are now looking into alternative methods.
It's the 21st century. The system that barely carried us through the 20th century is outdated and useless. Most of what you learn in regular school, you have to un-learn once you get to college, and now both teacher and school board alike have to contend with libraries and the internet, both of which can supply a child with much more than what their "approved" curriculum can afford.
Parents are turning to homeschooling more and more. It's cost effective, and the child is guaranteed access to an unabridged education. There are now new internet based schools that are fully and legally accredited, ensuring kids an easier to access road to college. (Or at the very least, an education sound enough to get them onto Jeopardy.)
We're at a point now, where the only purpose a traditional school building can serve, is to be used as an empty building to drop the kids off at while mom and dad are at work. And even then, a well placed community center can take that place and their counselors provide kids with a stronger sense of self-worth. Think about it. In school, you have deal with coaches and teachers telling you how badly you've screwed up, while the counselors at most YMCA buildings are trained to listen to you. That's a very big difference.
Ultimately, the school system as we've known it is fighting an uphill battle. Their best allies (the teachers) are not only striking, they've made it clear that they have zero interest in keeping the old ways afloat.
It may not be worth it to hold an umpteenth strike to fix a broken establishment. This might be a good time for these teachers to walk out entirely on these low-paying jobs, and let the system go.