The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) continue closed this week, because teachers from the Chicago Teacher Union (CTU) are still on strike. I for one don’t like strikes because I feel they end up causing more harm than good, but I understand how sometimes they are necessary, and can be the only way a group of people have to gain some leverage, especially if the issues are political, and finally be heard and taken seriously.
The issues with public education are many. Too many students per class; budget cuts that don’t allow for enough materials, teacher aids, infrastructure maintenance, let alone AC in some of the buildings; focus on testing that cuts time away from the day limiting the curriculum to only a few subject matters; unprepared teachers, some because they have no adequate teaching training, and others because they are burnout by being overworked and under paid. These are just a few of the issues, but because of them and of the state in which this country finds itself politically and economically, especially in comparison with other developed countries, teachers have been villainized and made to be the culprit of all that is wrong with the US.
Teachers taking part of the strike have made a point to assure the public that the issue is not solely, or even necessarily, about money. It’s not about the crappy salary they make, because as I saw on FB the other day “When has a person gone into education for money?” Never, because that would be a joke. Everyone knows there is no money in education. Teachers go into education to change lives, to form, to educate, to improve, to make a difference in their student’s lives, and as a whole, contribute to making their community, their state, their country a better one by making sure the children they encounter turn out to be the best they possibly can. Right? Well, that’s what we like to think, and in most cases there is a nobleness in entering this line of work, and making a career out of this profession.
But the bottom line is that it is about money. How can it not be in a country like this one? A country where when bankers mess up, they are bailed out by a government that is subsidized by tax paying citizens. Bankers, whose whole purpose in life is to generate money, and not for the country, but for themselves, they get bailed out by the working people. A country in which success is measured by the amount of money you have amassed, be it through having an education or not, in fact if you managed to make a ton of money and did not go to college, the more admired you are. A country where early childhood education’s national budget gets cut to finance wars, because getting back at the bad guy is what defines greatness. This is not a country that values education or what education has to offer society, i.e. not money. This is a country that values money, success, power; that wants and needs to be number one, and when it is not, it blames it’s educational system, the same system it does not value.
Living in a money valuing country like this one (and don’t get me wrong, I might not be an American citizen, but I have lived in this country at some point in all 4 decades of my life, and love it as much as the next person), how can someone in their right mind want to go into education? I will never forget a commencement speech I once heard that called for viewing education in a different light, the speaker explained “everyone wants the best teacher for their child, they want the very best, but no one wants their best child to be teacher, they want them to be doctors, lawyers, engineers”; if we want a better education system this needs to change. If we want better teachers we need to make it appealing to become a teacher, by providing a better salary, better work conditions, and a little more respect for what teachers do. This is what this strike is really about, the value of the teaching profession, morally and yes, monetarily.
Money is not a dirty word in a capitalist country like this one. Why shouldn’t teachers want to be adequately remunerated for their work, if every other profession is? Why wouldn’t teachers want to live in big homes and drive nice cars, like every other American. Why shouldn’t teachers want to live the American dream? Does working in a noble profession make you less in-tuned with the American values measured in how much you have? I don’t think so, so then why do we expect teachers to do and want to do an outstanding job based purely on altruistic incentives? If you want a job well done you pay for it. And once you receive it, you compliment it. But you have to value it and really want it first.
Do we really value education? Then let’s put our money where our mouths are and stop expecting teachers to work for less than other recognized professions, and give them the recognition they deserve. The minute we start really valuing education, we will have outstanding teachers, and as a direct consequence, outstanding students and citizens.
Providing good education is not cheap. It’s not only teacher salaries and benefits, it’s materials, resources, trainings, infrastructure, maintenance. The minute we understand that it is about money, and we stop pretending that something as important as educating our citizens can be left to the goodness of some people’s heart, the instant in which we stop blaming teachers with full force when as a society we don’t have the desired results when they do not have the resources to provide them to begin with, then the tone of the discussion on the table will begin to change from finger pointing and blame casting, to working together to give teachers what they need to do their job: value and respect. And how do you get those things in this country? With money.