Great commentary by Jeff Libman!
Click link for original post from the Chicago Tribune http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/ct-perspec-1127-school-20111127,0,6535204.story
One thing I've always marveled at is how much respect teachers command in most countries of the world outside the United States. Public school teachers in the developing world make very little money but are honored members of society. As an English as a second language instructor for young adults at Truman College, I am reminded of this every day. My students call me teacher or professor (I'm not a professor) or Mr. Libman. More than a handful even say thank you at the end of class. Sure, every once in a while a cellphone rings during a lesson or students fail to do their homework, but in general I am offered a level of respect that seems, well, normal.
In Chicago Public Schools, it's not the students who are short on respect for the teachers, although that is certainly a cause for concern in some schools. It seems that the biggest threat to teachers' dignity comes from the very board of education that hires them to teach.
The Chicago Board of Education has recently taken many steps that diminish its respect for our educators. Word came down at the end of the last school year that our elementary school teachers would immediately be required to serve breakfast to their students during what was formerly instructional time. I can't think of a more demeaning and inefficient use of the time and expertise of professional educators than asking them to be waiters and waitresses. I have nothing against the restaurant industry. Waiting tables is a tough job, but our educators earned bachelor's and master's degrees to teach, not serve food.
Then in the summer, the board reneged on its contractual obligation to teachers of a 4 percent salary increase, claiming it didn't have the money to meet this obligation and could therefore forgo these terms of the contract. Given the financial climate and the fact that this was the final year of the contract, teachers accepted it and went back to work without incident this school year.
Not long after, the board tried to entice teachers to decide, outside of their union contract, to extend their school day and work 90 minutes longer for this reduction in pay. If they had voted "yes," teachers would have received a small stipend and schools would have received up to $150,000. Independent estimates calculated that if every school had accepted this deal, the amount of money the board would have paid out would have been comparable to the 4 percent salary increase obligation that the board claimed it could not meet. Teachers were rightfully angry at what seemed like a disingenuous plea of poverty by the board.
Only a few schools accepted the deal, so public school teachers were attacked for being selfish and not really caring about their students. It seemed no one came to the aid of educators who refused such a deal. Religious leaders, parents and elected officials all urged teachers to do the right thing for their kids. I guess teachers were supposed to be saints and sacrifice everything, including their contract, for the good of their students.
And just recently, we learned of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to offer up to a $20,000 bonus to principals whose schools meet certain achievement standards for their students this year. How big of a bonus will the teachers who teach these students receive? Zero. That's right. Nothing. And that's about the same amount of respect our teachers are receiving these days.
My wife teaches 32 third-graders at a magnet elementary school. No teacher's aide. No cafeteria. Little money so she can stock her classroom with the extra books and supplies she needs. Long nights grading papers. Full weekends preparing lessons. If it weren't for the love she feels for the kids, she'd be gone. I venture to guess many other Chicago Public Schools teachers feel the same way.
In general, most teachers are not opposed to a longer school day, but they want to know how the day will be used and that class size will be reduced. They are not opposed to feeding children breakfast, but they should not be employed to do it. They know economic times are tight, but they want honesty from the board. They are not opposed to merit pay, but they want it to be fair.
There are always claims that teachers are failing our students. To be sure, like any industry, education has its share of teachers who are not performing as they should. And yes, the union contract makes it harder to remove these instructors, but not impossible. But let's be honest. These educators are by far the exception and not the rule. Most educators are well-educated, well-intentioned professionals who are highly committed to teaching. They put in extra hours, their own money and mountains of care, compassion and thought so their students can succeed. They need to be supported, not marginalized. I fear that these dedicated and talented instructors may unfortunately become more the exception than the rule if CPS continues to treat them as it has.
Jeff Libman, author of "An Immigrant Class: Oral Histories from Chicago's Newest Immigrants," teaches English as a second language at Truman College in Chicago.