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Sun-Times: Great Teachers Deserve a Fair Deal

by Linda Sue Collins - Librarian Keller Gifted Center  |  08/03/2012

People have no idea what the lives of educators are really like, and neither did I 12 years ago. 
 
I also once didn’t understand the need for membership in the Chicago Teachers Union. I now fully respect the value of CTU, serving as a school union delegate. The union is instrumental in protecting our profession.
 
Though CTU and the Chicago Public Schools have reached an interim agreement concerning the longer work day, many pressing issues remain unresolved. Does a proposed teacher salary increase of only 2 percent and the elimination of annual increases for experience fairly compensate us for our efforts? How will merit pay be fairly applied?
 
Great teachers aren’t motivated solely by compensation. We demonstrated that last year by working without a promised increase. But we do want a lifestyle compatible with the demands of our profession.
 
Teachers put in countless unpaid hours. We plan units and lessons and devise instructional activities, do research for engaging resources and grants, grade student work, confer with parents, collect student awards and incentives, serve our school communities by volunteering for extra-curricular programs, and more.
 
We do this work outside of our daily teaching schedules, at our expense! We create a work and storage space at home for piles of resources and teaching materials, and we invest in computers and other technologies to use in lesson planning.
 
We burn the midnight oil to meet deadlines. We set aside 45 minutes for parent phone calls that often turn into far longer sessions. We even recruit members of our families to help us because the workload is just too heavy to accomplish single-handedly.
 
We bring passion, commitment, empathy, creativity and a sense of collective responsibility into classrooms to increase student achievement. Teaching is a huge investment because, when dealing with human lives and minds, the possibilities are infinite.
 
Does a 2 percent raise value this work?
 
Other contract issues are subject-specific. For example, library media specialists (librarians) face losing four weekly scheduled periods to manage the library, process materials, shelve books and obtain collection resources. We invest time and funds to complete library science courses and earn state credentials. How can school libraries support curricula and be maintained without giving librarians time to do so?
 
In addition, there are the major issues of class size, teacher evaluation policy, merit pay, sick day policy, health benefits, school physical condition and other concerns, all of which must be resolved for a successful CTU contract.
 
Class size is very important. At two former schools, I managed my 5th grade classroom of 43 students and my 7th and 8th split classroom of 38 students (including 13 who were supposed to be in a self-contained special education class) with hope, intense strategy and perseverance. It is extremely difficult to work with such large numbers of students, but we forge ahead, always focused on student growth.
 
Providing quality education is a complicated matter. The CTU’s leadership will remain unrelenting in negotiating a comprehensive contract that addresses the entirety of CPS education. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education must consider our expertise!
 
Linda Sue Collins is a library media specialist at Keller Gifted Center in the West Morgan Park neighborhood.
 
Chicago Teachers Union