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Chicago teachers: it's not the money

As I watch the events in Chicago, affecting many students, parents, and teachers I know well, I am struck by how superficial much of the media coverage of this strike have been. When teachers finally reach the point where they are willing to risk everything by going on strike, it's not money. When money becomes the only thing left to argue about, it means many other things have gone very, very wrong for a very long time. 

Thankfully, there have been some real nuggets buried in the coverage. For example: On her show this past weekend, MSNBC commentator Melissa Harris Perry included on her panel a Chicago high school teacher who spoke passionately about working with 170 students a day while trying to pursue quality education. 

Layered within the CNN coverage have been testimonies, such as this story on one special education teacher:

Her students need special supplies, so she's spent $4,000 to $5,000 of her own money since she began teaching three years ago, she said....

'I teach special education in Chicago because regardless of the working conditions, I am going to find the resources somewhere to make our classroom function,' she wrote on CNN iReport.

These comments and many others are best summed up in a recent blog post about the strike by my Teacher Leader Network colleague and co-author, Barnett Berry in which he focuses on the issues of teacher working conditions and mistrust. Says Barnett, 

Today, Chicago teachers point to their current working conditions that have appeared to have substantially deteriorated—conditions that hurt students and their ability to learn.

Chicago is not the only school system in the nation in which the conditions for students and teachers have worsened. Some teachers, many of them excellent educators, have left either the public schools or the profession in hurt and frustration. Others have chosen, often at the expense of their own families and careers, to stay with their students, trying to do what they can for as many as possible. The CTU teachers have resorted to striking as a means to publicize and change the situation for them and their students. 

In another article, earlier this year, Barnett made "A Revolutionary Suggestion" that one of the best ways to truly reform American public education is to rebuild our trust in teachers: 

We could draw on the expertise of accomplished teachers to craft better student assessments, additional evaluation measures (like peer observation), and systems that support the professional growth of all teachers (whether in their first year or their twentieth).

Teachers are well-suited to inform teacher development and evaluation. They understand the nuances of the work they do each day—and can help create equally nuanced systems for gauging and supporting teaching effectiveness. They grasp the complexity of their profession.

Will the situation in Chicago be a model, or another missed opportunity to address the real problems?

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