Monday, October 22, 2012

A Very Rosh Hashanah Teachers Strike

My mom, who was a CPS high school French and Spanish teacher, died last March at the age of 92.  There were many Septembers when she would be walking the picket line.  My dad, who taught at Daley College, would be walking his picket line, too.  Never did I dream that, many, many years later, I would be a parent at the time of a teacher's strike.

As it became clear that a strike was imminent, I tweeted about my support for the teachers while at the same time hoping it would be short and sweet.  During the strike I would tweet things like, "Teachers strike, Day Four."  Or "Sanity Watch, Day Four."  Since my folks had been educators, I had a natural built in affinity for teachers.  The interior whine inside my head was, "The kids just went back to school.  Why do you have to do this now?"

I knew why it had to be right then.  I have seen two teachers leave their positions.  I have seen a third railroaded.  Whenever good teachers leave, kids lose out. Teachers neither have the resources nor the support they need to teach Gen Ed kids let alone the most challenging segment of the population.

As I walked south on Narragansett towards Oak Park, I encountered picket line after picket line. Was a beautiful day for a walk to shul.  Was a beautiful day to give a thumbs up to all the teachers I passed along the way.  For a while I was too emotional to speak.  I don't know if the teachers noticed that I had tears in my eyes.

Somewhere there is a photo of my mother from either the 60s or the 70s.  She is walking in front of Bowen High School, and talking with a woman with whom she had had violent disagreements about Israel and Palestine.  I remember many a time when she would come home fuming about her. But in that instant my mother is smiling as the two women walk in solidarity for a fair union contract.

As I walked past the men and women on the line,  I wondered if my mom were somehow able to witness the strike.  Towards the end of my walk, I was finally able to speak.  "With you in spirit," I called out. What I really meant was, "My mother is with you in spirit."  If she were still alive, she definitely would have been expressing her support.

Part of me wanted to ditch going to Rosh Hashanah services and hang out with the teachers.  I came really close to doing that.  I also knew that I needed a Rosh Hashanah experience, and so I propelled myself forward the final blocks to the church where this congregation holds High Holiday services.  As I
sat in the row, I felt I had the best of both Rosh Hashanahs.  Solidarity with striking teachers and praying with the secular Jews who resonate with my atheistic yet, yes, deeply spiritual connection with my Jewish roots.

I took a bus partway home.  As I walked the final few blocks, I saw sign after sign announcing Proud Union Home in solidarity with the members of Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1.  Better yet were the Support Our Teachers signs.  At  least one was homemade.

It did my heart good to see those signs.  I remember when even a friend's husband used to taunt my mom with "Those who can,do. Those who can't, teach."  I remember my mom telling me that some of our neighbors accused her of helping me learn to read, as if her being a teacher somehow made my early reading some kind of educational cheat.  I taught myself how to read, but what if she had helped me?  Isn't
it a teacher's job to teach?  What if our neighbors had been teachers?  Would they have begrudged their children any opportunity to learn?

I was grateful for the opportunity to connect with the teachers, even if only momentarily.  My mom inspired me to be a teacher.  I got a Master's in English and was a part-time instructor at several community colleges before moving on to the more stable job of legal proofreader.  I remember all those times, years after her retirement, when my mom would be stopped by former students.  "You don't remember me, but I was in your Spanish class."  Even when my mom was in the nursing facility after her last fall, middle aged women
put two and two together and realized that the elderly woman who looked vaguely familiar and eating at a table with their elderly mothers was none other than their former high school teacher.  Even in a nursing facility with many residents there for rehab, they were excited to see her.

The strike was at an inconvenient time, yet it was also the perfect time.  No better time to reflect on beginnings and endings and renewing connections.  So, thank you, Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1.  You gave me a Rosh Hashanah filled with meaning and one I will never forget.


  1. After reading up on why the strike took place ( and speaking with colleagues who've taught 20+ years, I realized the teaching profession is vastly evolving. Our 'job title,' roles and responsibilities have extended beyond our classroom and school buildings. Majority of educators entered into the profession because they were passionate about learning and wanted to impart their love for learning onto their students. However, today we know that students are not 'blank slates' that we can download knowledge and passions onto and they will reiterate the message at 80% (or better) proficiency.

    Teachers today wear many 'hats' and are judged heavily on 'how effective they are as a teacher' based on student test scores ( With shrinking budgets and growing class sizes, I can see why the Chicago Teacher's Union felt it necessary to strike. Documenting: the testing, (baseline testing, progress monitoring, and post -analysis), interventions used for students who are 'falling behind grade level peers,' modifying and adapting lessons for our students with IEP's, supplemental or modified work for 'gifted students,' ... and numerous other types of 'administrative paperwork,' that may come across our desk is just ONE facet of our job title.

    The strike was only only a way to take a stand for the teachers, but also for their students. The Chicago Teacher's Union held firm to show they need adequate support to provide the best opportunities for their students. We [teachers] want what is best for our students, we want future generations to 'do better,' and be able to provide a happy and efficient life for themselves. But, we also want sane, and realistic working conditions for our own sake too.

  2. You bring up the core points. Class size... from my perspective I cannot see how kids can learn in overcrowded classes. It's like being expected to fail. Very cynical approach to education.

    We personally have felt the effect of slashed budgets. Two years ago I was always calling Department of Transportation and/or Sub Center for bus aides. Parents shouldn't have to involve themselves in seeing to it their children basic services, and yet I had a case manager begging me to make these calls. They have felt powerless and since this was affecting my wheelchair bound Kid O, I was only too glad to be of service. Even so it should not be that way.