Wednesday, September 12, 2012

From the Trenches - a Chicago Public School Teacher, speaks by Katie Patton

So I've been getting calls, texts, emails, facebook messages from around the country asking me about the strike. After wrestling with my thoughts and beliefs I have come to some semblance of a thesis that I would like to share with you so that you can hear a more nuanced view of what exactly is going on. Feel free to share it as you wish. I realize that I do not have facts or articles to back everything up but know that I have read everything in here somewhere and could work hard to find the source if you would really like it. 

When exactly did the public slander towards teachers begin? Coworkers and I were postulating yesterday that it began with No Child Left Behind and the move towards accountability using standardized measures. There has been a slow build that now manifests itself in very public teacher hating from many parties. Unfortunately I came into the field when this was already happening so I cannot claim to know what it was ever like to have been a fully supported teacher. Of course I've always had my loving friends and family but there are still the "well you don't work all summer" jabs and the "yea well you're just a lazy teacher right?" comments that do leave a mark whether or not its seen. I myself may not be offended but my profession is. And yes its a profession. These are hard working very well educated people. When people say these things to me I always say "well if its so easy, then why don't you become a teacher?" and they always say back "oh no I could never do that." Case and point. 

But let's get to the sticking points.

Do I think teachers should be held accountable for the work they do in their classrooms? Of course. 

Do I think there are bad teachers out there who are giving the rest of us a bad name? For sure. (but I'll also point out there are some pretty horrific accountants/stock brokers/CEOs out there who manage to get away with a lot more than sitting while kids are doing work)

Do I think that we need MAJOR education reform? Without a doubt.

Do I think this is the way to do it? Absolutely not. 

For me personally, the reason I am striking is not really about the benefits and pay and hours etc, its about respect. Yes, the issues are very important for many people who are not as fortunate as me to be young and single (ha a little zing in there). Let me be clear about this: we are NOT asking for a raise. We are asking to be paid for the extra work we are doing. We are being asked to work more hours at the same pay. For mothers and fathers with children in daycare that means paying for an extra hour or two per day for daycare. When my coworker added it up she realized that she was actually working longer hours for a pay CUT. Rahm and the board are also trying to increase our class size, which is already 28 students. They want to change the wording to "appropriate" class sizes which is CPS code for "as many students as we can fit." They also want us to pay more for our benefits which obviously would result in another pay cut.

But as I said, for me, its about respect.  As I teach my students daily, if you want something you need to learn to ask nicely for it. This is the mantra in my room. Students who bully, whine, yell WILL NOT get their way and will have to deal with me. Bullying doesn't fly in my classroom and it will not fly in my life. Never once did Rahm ask the teachers, the ones doing the educating, how to fix education in this city. Never did he say "you know guys, I really appreciate your hard work. It is your work that gives our students hope. But we really don't have any money right now and I think a longer day might help. Can we try a half hour this year and see how it goes?" For me. that would have been all I needed to work a longer day. Obviously that's simplifying the issue but HE NEVER EVEN TRIED IT because he wants us to know that he could care less about us. 

More importantly, this lack of respect for teachers is what is causing the education crisis. Here is a list of things that are currently popular in education reform: standardized testing, merit based pay for teachers, longer school day. NONE of these things have been empirically shown to be effective. In fact most of them have been empirically shown to be INeffective. The United States has a long school day than most first world countries, yet our scores are some of the lowest. Clearly extending the day even further isn't going to solve anything. See the article below for reasons why standardized testing and merit pay are questionable at best. The countries that are exceeding in education are countries that highly value public education and its teachers. In fact the only thing that seems to be proven time and time again is that a student's teacher will determine their success in school (see the second article below and there are many more on the topic).

Maybe I'm egotistical or narcissistic, but I believe that my job is invaluable. I fully believe that the only chance for the success of this country is an educated populace. Clearly there are people out there who want the opposite, i.e. for-profit prisons, corporations who need public ignorance in order to sell their shitty products, etc. and so it is my job to work even harder. 

But imagine the environment in which I work. I get to work at 7:15 and start to prepare for the day. I am called down to a meeting with an angry parent because remember, in this day and age, its always the teachers fault. I pick up my students trying to push away the attack I just felt. I spend hours working as hard as I can to teach them. Around 10 am I really need to go to the bathroom but I can't until 11 when its lunch time. So I start learning not to drink water so that I won't have to go to the bathroom. Around 10:30 I am really hungry but I can't eat until lunch time. At noon the child in my room with autism starts to bang his head against the wall out of frustration and I have to leave my other 30 students to help him. At 1 pm the student in my class with ADD and anger issues starts arguing with the student next to him about a pencil. At 2 pm I'm informed that the computer teacher is absent and I will have my students for another hour with nothing planned. Finally, at 3 pm the school is on lock down because someone just outside the building was shot. This is not a stressful day, this is a typical day. The stressful day is the next day in which my students will be going to a computer lab to be tested. A test that will be tied to my name and potentially my pay in the future. Now imagine on top of that I go home to read an article about how teachers don't care about their students. On Saturday I'm asked to go to a training for a new initiative that will never be actually used but I will be forced to waste my time and brain power on it.

And on Monday Rahm Emmanuel thinks he knows better than I and suggests a longer school day for no more money. Wouldn't you strike?

Then on Tuesday, Rahm unveils his 25 million dollar contingency plan in anticipation of a strike. Money that, you know, could have been used to pay us the wages we asked for and alleviate the need to strike in the first place.

In sum, I am striking for the future of education in this country. I am striking to stand up for the respect that teachers around me deserve and the respect that will create teachers who are able to perform their best. I am striking because I refuse to give in to bullying and succumb to public slander. Most importantly, I am striking because if I don't stand up for what is best for my students, who will? 


Further Reading    This one is about the inadequacy of test scores.

To schedule a reading or an appearance please contact Ofer Ziv at Blue Flower Arts at 845-677-8559 or email


Blogger Jessi Lynch said...

Thanks, to Katie, for teaching your students wonderfully, and for standing up for your continued ability to do so (their continued potential to learn and grow), and for writing.

I'll stand up for you all <3

Thanks Roger for posting.

10:48 AM  

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