Putting it on the line

Chicago’s teachers are out on strike, and probably will be until further notice. The threat of a strike made the four days of last week’s back to school week seem like a pointless exercise. And it turns out that we’ll have the “real” first day of school at some point in the future.

I was a classroom teacher in Chicago for a few years back in the 1990s, but I left to go and do other things. During that time I learned, the hard way, that using your ultimate weapon, whether it was enlisting the assistance of a hard-ass Assistant Principal or arranging for a parent-teacher conference, was not something to be done lightly.

Once that trump card has been played, and a need to take things to a higher level arises–as it surely will–then there’s nothing left at your disposal. It’s true in the classroom, and it’s true in the court of public opinion, too. I’m with the teachers, but they’ve gone ahead and played the biggest card that they have available. So where can they go from here?

There was a piece in the Chicago Sun-Times by long-time Chicago reporter Carol Marin, where she states that teachers are looking to get the respect that they haven’t been accorded yet. When the law in Illinois was changed, making it impossible for Chicago’s teachers to go on strike without a 75% majority vote, the teachers did an end run around this by giving their union a 90%+ strike authorization. What else could they do, roll over and let this new law win? Why should anyone expect them to go along with that?

The strike has been an inevitability for a long time. The teachers could have kept working past Monday’s strike date, without an agreement, just to show the public that their biggest card wasn’t going to be played first. But that’s not how it went down. And now we’re all in uncharted waters, for an undetermined period of time.

My kids are affected by this strike, and all of the city that I call home has a stake in how this gets resolved. I hope it gets done quickly but, from all of the public posturing going on, I don’t see how that will happen. While there’s clearly a lot of bad blood on both sides, they will need to get beyond that. Chicago deserves better than a standoff where everyone loses, which is what we currently have.

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