Day 9: Waukegan teacher’s strike

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Nobody goes into this field for the money. The Waukegan Board seems to be trying to portray district teachers as greedy and rapacious. The Board wants to project an image of heartless men and women who don’t care about the children who are missing school. They don’t know how good they have it, the Board’s communications suggest.

I understand this negative portrayal of teachers to be part of the art of negotiation. On the other side, the teachers keep pointing to the huge salaries of administrators and district lawyers. This should also be seen as a negotiation tactic. Lawyers can be expected to reap in the big bucks and administrators often do, too.

Eduhonesty: All politics aside, these teachers lost their healthcare when the strike began. They are COBRAing or doing without. They ceased to be paid with the strike. They are extending their school year, day by day, into the summer, miserable days since many of their schools don’t have air-conditioning. I will confess I taught in that district years ago. The heat in the high school during fall and spring led to more than one emergency call for ambulances. Someone would always make an excuse: “Oh, she didn’t have breakfast.” Breakfast, hell. It was 100 degrees some days in those classrooms. When I went looking for my next job, air-conditioning was towards the top of my list of requirements.

It’s worth taking the time to look at some teacher complaints. I’ll start with one that leapt out at me: Paper-rationing. That complaint sounds innocuous enough. I’m realizing this complaint will require a whole post, but I’ll quickly lay out why that complaint has meaning for me. I bought paper last week to supply my house. I need this to print classroom materials. “Go to Costco for a big box of paper” is toward the top of my to-do list. My main problem is dysfunctional technology. If I need a handout, I will not take the chance that there are no functional copiers/printers. Some years, lack of paper has dogged me throughout the year. I buy paper for my district. I have bought ink cartridges for my district. One advantage to the new Promethean Boards: I no longer have to supply my district with overhead projector bulbs. The government gives teachers a $250 tax deduction for supplies. In poor districts, expenses for supplies may rocket over that number near the start of the year before we regularly start buying paper.

I guarantee the Board is not buying its own paper. None of them ever started at $30,000 some dollars per year either, as new teachers in that district do. I’ve always had enough money to buy paper without sweating the expense. I even bought ink cartridges for younger, poorer colleagues. My husband has subsidized the educational system with more than his tax dollars.

I’d like to say this clearly for readers: Nobody goes into education for the money. This strike is only peripherally about money. It’s mostly about working conditions. Those conditions matter. The Board wants the focus in this strike to be on $$$ because that deflects focus from working conditions. But working conditions shape our students’ educations. If teachers don’t have paper or planning time, education is compromised. This strike is about education.

I am certain that if teachers had the planning time, administrative support and supplies they needed, this strike would never have occurred.