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On the Picket Line With Chicago’s Teachers

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The sun’s not up, but the teachers are.

It’s Thursday morning, and in front of more than 500 schools spread across every neighborhood in Chicago, 25,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and 7,500 school workers represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 are on the picket lines for the first day of a strike at the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Carolyn Brown is getting organized at Kelly High School on the city’s Southwest Side. She’s a reading teacher and the delegate who represents Kelly educators in CTU citywide meetings, but right now, she’s worried about gaps in the line of teachers, students, and supporters that has to stretch about a quarter-mile in front of the sprawling school.

Ask her why the strike is happening, though, and she’ll talk about her jobs in the classroom that have nothing to do with teaching reading.

“All of us have had a lot of experience with being forced to take on too many roles in the building,” Brown says. “We don’t have a librarian, so I hijacked a bunch of books from our library and moved them to my classroom so that kids could borrow them. We have a school of almost 2,000 students, and we don’t always have even one nurse in the building.” Brown says she keeps a drawer full of Band-Aids for the days when the nurse is assigned to another school.

“You become overwhelmed,” she says. “Even if we get the pay raises that we want, it doesn’t change the fact that our day-to-day work conditions are incredibly stressful and unhealthy.”

You don’t have to tell Kirstin Roberts, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Brentano Elementary School on the Northwest Side. “I have kids who come to me displaying all the signs of PTSD-related, traumatic early childhood experiences,” she says. But there’s no regular school social worker for them. “My coworker and I are in tears at least weekly over the realization of how little there is, either in the school system or the city, to deal with those issues,” Roberts says. “These are beautiful children, they’re brave children, and they deserve help, they deserve support, they deserve a chance in life. That’s what we see this strike as being about.”

The schools Chicago’s students deserve: That’s been the slogan of the CTU since their landmark strike in 2012. Educators want this year’s walkout to truly improve their students’ learning conditions, which are also their working conditions.

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Thanks !

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