A Chicago Public Schools teacher tries to make sense of CTU strike vote. But can’t.

A one day protest should not be this complicated and this unclear.  I get the big idea: to convince our local and national leaders to fund education fairly.  I get the “what.”  But I’m still searching, as I have been, for a clear understanding of the “how” and the “why.”

I’ve offered feedback to Chicago Teachers Union leaders to stop using metaphors in their public statements about our issues.  But, tonight, I’ll ignore my own advice.

This post is for teachers.

Tonight, with the vote of 486 to 124, the CTU House of Delegates approved a one-day strike on April 1.  With this vote, they’ve done what no good teacher does—they sprang a surprise test on 27,000 members.  The question teachers and staff are now asking is, “What are you going to do on April 1?”

The decision by many outspoken CTU delegates and members was made clear with tonight’s vote and continues to appear strongly on social media.

But there are also many other voices, just as loud, questioning this decision and wondering, “How did this strike vote pass?”

I’m learning that not every school’s delegate organized a vote to gather perspectives.  I’m learning that at quite a few schools, the votes in favor and against were close.  The survey–the assessment–I responded to referred to the action on April 1 as a “work stoppage.” Tonight, CTU called it “a strike.”

In the classroom, abrupt changes and surprises like this led to a lack of comprehension and lots of raised hands and quite a few complaints.   A poor collection of data in the classroom like this, if it’s true, leads to an inaccurate representation of what people know and what they need to know.

So it makes sense that I’m still struggling to make sense of this.

In the classroom, we tell our students up front what the performance assessment—what the real-world demonstration of our new knowledge—will be.  We prepare them for it with practice exercises, with opportunities to look at multiple perspectives, with discussions and idea exchanges.  We give and get feedback.

But tonight’s vote seems like we were told about one assessment at the beginning and then got thrown a test that we—as a labor organization—were not ready for.

And how will success be measured?

No effective teacher gives an assessment to students without explaining what success looks like.  Yet, we still cannot consistently—as rank-and-file members—communicate what policy or social or political changes will indicate success on April 1.

As teachers, we’ve learned sometimes it’s better to not engage with the student agitating us.  But too many of us are wondering if CTU did exactly what Governor Rauner and Mayor Emanuel were agitating us on to do—for their benefit.

At today’s Board meeting, Frank Clark made it clear that students’ voices should be diminished.  He questioned why students were there to speak when they should be at school.

But good teachers listen to students.  Tomorrow, students will ask us about April 1 and each one of us will give a different answer.  Or we won’t know what to say.

An effective educator knows the pulse of his or her classroom.  Yet, tonight, the pulse of the rank-and-file membership seemed discounted.

In tonight’s press conference, CTU President Karen Lewis apologized, according to Catalyst-Chicago, for the lack of clear communication and the little time to prepare for a strike.

“Are teachers who go to work April 1 scabs?” Lewis was asked at the press conference.  She hesitated, according to Catalyst-Chicago, and said “not yet.”  Lewis said she hopes to reach members over the next week.

About twenty percent of the delegates voted against this one-day strike tonight.  This represents over 5,000 union members. It’s also clear that even though many delegates voted “yes,” they represent members who wanted them to vote “no.”

Reaching out to this many people sounds like an intensive Tier-3 intervention, which must be done within five work days.

Before you comment about how I’m dividing our union, I will say that if one blog post divides our union, then we must not be that united.

Before you criticize me for questioning the union’s decision, I’ll remind you that I’ve paid my dues over the last twenty years—literally and figuratively.  I am doing what I teach my students to do: have to courage to say, “I do not understand.”

I think about what my student and mentee Carlos Hernandez told me when I asked him a few weeks ago what he saw when he looked at our struggle.  He said, “I see you guys are getting screwed over.  But if you’re gonna fight, you need to get to the people who are screwing you.”

I do not understand–and I’m searching for an answer to–how this directly inconveniences Rauner and Emanuel and our Board of Education.  Furthermore, how will inconveniencing working people trying to get home–or trying to get to work–on Friday evening help our fight?

We need to fight.

We need to defend our profession.

It just seems like we’re possibly doing the worst thing a teacher can do: make it up as we go along.

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