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President Lewis: Chicago teachers and paraprofessionals are fed up. [VIDEO]


President Karen GJ Lewis Remarks


Good morning,

I’ve called you here today to let you know: Chicago teachers and paraprofessionals are fed up.

They are tired of being blamed, bulled and belittled by the very District that should support them.

We live in a City that no longer trusts educators as important resources in helping our youth to develop values, skills and the knowledge required for them to enter adult life as thinking and engaged citizens.

We live in a City that has done everything it can to take the joy out of teaching and learning.

Teachers in Chicago are being deskilled, unceremoniously removed from the process of school governance and reduced to technicians and babysitters.  We’re being asked to work harder and longer in order to further inflict upon our students mindless experiment after mindless experiment.  The school district, however, calls these experiments “reform.”

When their experiments fail it is the teacher who is blamed and evaluated. 

Next year, all schools move to longer school days and a longer school year—without any commitment from the District to give students and teachers the resources they need.  The Board won’t even explain to the public how it will pay for a longer school year; how it will fund the hiring of the art, music, world languages and physical education teachers who are so desperately needed to help provide our students with the type of education they deserve.

Instead, what the Board has said is it wants to lengthen the school year; cut professional development days; decrease pay and benefits; and evaluate teachers based on student test scores. 

More of the status quo.

This has led teachers at a number of Chicago Public Schools to conduct internal polling to test the “pro-strike” sentiment in their schools. In those schools that have conducted this polling, teachers and paraprofessionals there have voted overwhelming to strike, should contract negotiations fail and CPS and the Mayor does not reverse the hostile climate against us. Their polling also indicates no-confidence vote in the way CPS continues to enforce its top-down, misguided policies throughout our school system.

In response to this polling CPS has said (according to the Tribune):

"Any talk of holding a strike or mock strike votes at this early stage of contract negotiations is a disservice to our children, parents and families and only diverts our energies away from focusing on our students and boosting their achievement in the classroom,"  (Becky) Carroll said.

How disingenuous. Let me tell you what the REAL disservice to our children, parents and families really is:

  • Shutting down schools, despite the pleas and testimonies of hundreds of parents and students and community leaders, who say were never given the resources to help get their schools off probation in the first place
  • Calling parent voice – noise; and Board Members walking out of Board chambers when the “noise” gets too loud
  • Reducing report card pick up time to only three hours, forcing teachers and parents to have 2-to-3 minute “drive by” conferences; and without consideration of parent work hours and travel considerations…

The disservice is:

  • A CPS official bragging about how the District will starve a neighborhood school for up to a decade before shutting it down, turning it over, or consolidating it with another school
  • Turning over neighborhood schools to politically-connected education contractors, like AUSL, which fires all of the staff in order to “change the culture,” yet whose schools fare no better than regular neighborhood schools
  • Forcing students and teachers to be in the classroom for NINE consecutive weeks without a break to allow students time to adjust and reflect;  and teachers and paraprofessionals to come together in professional development so they can strengthen their craft and better serve their students
  • Implementing so-called “longer school days,” which is a political slogan and not an education plan. Teachers and Parents at the 13 “Pioneer Schools” are concerned about student burnout, exhaustion and the fact that few of those schools (despite the bountys paid to their principals) have been given additional resources to ensure that their students have a BETTER SCHOOL DAY
  • 160 Schools with no libraries
  • Misguided school discipline problems that target African American and Latino boys

The REAL  disservice is:

  • 1,000 Teachers laid off; and tenured African American teachers being the first on the chopping block
  • REACH – CPS’s new and flawed teacher evaluation system, that REEKS
  • Principal bullying and District intimidation against activist teachers who stand up and fight for their students and their colleagues
  • And a 23% pay cut for teachers and paraprofessionals being asked to work longer hours; to do more with less; and be held accountable for every failed CPS policy that is imposed upon our students


Contract negotiations are ongoing and while they have been cordial, we are all very much apart.

The School District proposes:


  • A five-year contract with a 2 percent raise in the first year only; after that all teachers/paraprofessionals will move into a merit pay system
  • Teacher evaluation to be based, in part, on student test scores, leading to “teaching to the test….”
  • Longer school days/ school year without professional development days; prep time; and additional resources for our students. The Board has made no commitment to hiring qualified teachers to instruct in art, music, physical education, world languages or other studies that will provide our students with a well-rounded curriculum and world-class education etc.
  • No commitments on increasing wrap-around services for students, including additional school nurses, social workers, psychologists, therapists or audiometric and vision screening technicians who provide critical social, emotional, intellectual and health services
  • The removal of language from the new contract that protects students and teachers from larger class sizes
  • Cuts in quality of life benefits, including eliminating banking sick days and increasing in wellness premiums; in addition the Board supports cuts to pensions
  • Total gutting of the CTU’s contract; proposes reducing a well thought-out, comprehensive bargaining agreement to 20 pages or less.

The Chicago Teachers Union Wants:

  • School’s Chicago Students Deserve: Well-funded and well-resourced schools; smaller class sizes, a robust, well-rounded curriculum, and in-school services that address their social, emotional, intellectual and health needs. All students deserve culturally-sensitive, non-biased, and equitable education, especially students with IEPs, emergent bilingual students, and early childhood students. They deserve professional teachers who are treated as such, fully resourced school buildings, and a school system that partners with parents.
  • A new collective bargaining agreement for our members that  impact wages, work hours, benefits, workplace health and safety, professional development and other work-related issues.
  • Protection & Respect for Tenured Teachers
  • An effective and equitable public education system for all students in Chicago


In all of my 22 years of teaching I have never seen a climate as hostile as the one created by Rahm Emanuel, his hand-picked school board and his handpicked leadership of Chicago Public Schools.

In the end, what we really want is what’s best for the 400,000-plus school children whom we are pleased to be able to teach and help shape their young lives.

I commend my colleagues who have voted for solidarity and for better schools.  And we hope the Board will take heed of these actions before it’s too late.

Chicago Teachers Union