Fin­gers crossed: Teach­ers strike is over and city is better for it

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NEWS - MARY SCHMICH [email protected]­bune.com

Chicago’s schools came back to life Fri­day and even with the freaky Hal­loween snow still on the pump­kins, the city felt like it­self again.

The teach­ers strike was over. The park­ing lots in my neigh­bor­hood schools were once again full. Stu­dents were back on the side­walks lug­ging their gi­ant back­packs. Yel­low school buses clogged the morn­ing traf­fic. Walk­ing down a street, I heard kids shout­ing and laugh­ing. All of it made the neigh­bor­hood feel like a neigh­bor­hood again.

Af­ter 11 days of the Chicago Teach­ers Union strike, Chicago is mostly back to nor­mal, and, fin­gers crossed, slightly better for the fight.

“Whose side are you on?” was a ques­tion I heard a lot in the past two weeks, as if the strike were a team sport, a neat con­test that re­quired ev­ery cit­i­zen to cheer one team and boo the other.

Team Teach­ers vs. Team Mayor. Or “Rookie Mayor,” as Lori Light­foot was some­times re­ferred to in the me­dia, a term that sug­gested that a mayor who’d been in of­fice more than five months would have han­dled the fight more deftly, which is not nec­es­sar­ily true.

Ev­ery time I was asked “Whose side are you on?” my an­swer would be “Whose side are you on?” Like a lot of peo­ple, I didn’t have a tidy pick, and, be­sides, it was more in­ter­est­ing to lis­ten.

One strik­ing teacher I re­spect ex­plained the per­ils of schools with­out nurses and so­cial work­ers, and the frus­tra­tions of hav­ing lit­tle time to pre­pare for classes.

A Chicago Pub­lic Schools par­ent I re­spect ex­plained how frus­trat­ing it was to have the kids out of class, miss­ing tests and ath­letic events. And how much, she won­dered, would the teach­ers’ de­mands cost us in taxes?

And, of course, ev­ery­one I talked with said that what they wanted was what was best for the kids, though which kids was rarely en­tirely clear.

The same ar­gu­ments played out on the ra­dio and TV, in the news­pa­pers and in the cesspool of cyn­i­cism known as so­cial me­dia, where, in the spirit of out­rage that dom­i­nates that medium, the team sport de­volved into in­sult com­pe­ti­tions.

But even in the midst of the ar­gu­ment, some­thing use­ful hap­pened dur­ing the strike. This was Chicago in ac­tion, a city made more real to it­self by hear­ing and see­ing teach­ers, stu­dents, par­ents, sup­port staff, as­sorted tax­pay­ers and, yes, the politi­cians.

True, it may be eas­ier to ap­pre­ci­ate the drama of the past two weeks if you weren’t di­rectly in­volved. If you weren’t pick­et­ing in the snow. If you weren’t try­ing to bal­ance a city bud­get. If you weren’t wor­ried about your in­come while you were on strike. If you weren’t try­ing to fig­ure out how to get to your job and babysit your kids.

And it has been dis­ap­point­ing, if in­evitable, to see the cheap vil­i­fi­ca­tion of the teach­ers by some mem­bers of Team Mayor, the cheap vil­i­fi­ca­tion of the mayor by some mem­bers of Team Teach­ers, and the cheap vil­i­fi­ca­tion of both by the cranks who en­joy hat­ing on every­thing with the word “Chicago” at­tached.

But in the end, Chicago’s teach­ers and its chil­dren, in­clud­ing the ones in the most dis­ad­van­taged schools, stand to be a lit­tle better off be­cause of this strike, and that’s good for the city.

The city won some con­ces­sions, in­clud­ing a five-year con­tract, two years longer than the teach­ers

This was Chicago in ac­tion, a city made more real to it­self by hear­ing and see­ing teach­ers, stu­dents, par­ents, sup­port staff, tax­pay­ers and, yes, the politi­cians.

wanted, which means that if the full union ap­proves the deal, the teach­ers won’t be back on strike soon. But the teach­ers won a siz­able raise. They were guar­an­teed a nurse and so­cial worker in ev­ery school. Money was set aside to ad­dress the prob­lem of over­crowded class­rooms.

“These and so many other gains,” a rel­a­tively happy teacher posted on Face­book Fri­day, “would never have been pos­si­ble with­out days march­ing in the rain, our songs to heaven for pos­i­tive change, and, yes, our sac­ri­fice of time, money, sweat, and emo­tion. It was worth it. If we had not fought for these chil­dren, who would have? Not the uber-rich of Chicago and its glit­ter­ing sub­urbs.”

The strike came with harsh talk, hard feel­ings and po­lit­i­cal reper­cus­sions yet to be cal­cu­lated.

“If Lori didn’t feel like the mayor be­fore,” a guy I know said Fri­day, “she prob­a­bly does now.”

And she’ll be a better mayor for hav­ing come up against the force of the teach­ers, just as Chicago is a better place for the voices we’ve heard and the faces we’ve seen dur­ing the strike.

Work­ing for a better Chicago, even when it’s hard, is who we are.

JOSE M. OSORIO/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Chil­dren re­turn to Yates El­e­men­tary School in Chicago on Fri­day af­ter a strike by teach­ers that spanned 11 school days.

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