By Leslie Russell

An open letter from a Chicago Public School Teacher:

The Chicago Teachers Union Strike (Photo: Brad Perkins / Flickr)

I literally almost had a stroke on Sunday night when Rahm Emmanuel got on television and said that as a result of the longer school day, Chicago Public School students were getting an hour of reading and an hour of writing each day. Well, I am the reading and writing teacher for most of the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at my school, and based on what is happening where I teach, that is plainly a lie.

I have one hour in which to teach BOTH reading AND writing. One of my classes is broken into two sections – 30 minutes in the morning and 25 minutes at the end of the day. There are 41 seventh graders in one classroom, and since I have only 31 desks in my room, we have to start the period by borrowing chairs from two or three different classrooms. Oh, and the solution to an overcrowded class of 41? No, no, it is not to hire a new teacher. It is to take ten seventh graders out of their seventh grade homeroom and add them to my eighth grade homeroom, making a seventh/eighth grade split class. For me, that essentially means teaching four different classes in the same hour. If reform is the order of the day, start with the radical reforms of reducing class size to 20, providing enough teachers so that each grade level can have its own instructor, and providing an instructional period for every subject.

Let’s not even talk about the fact that I could not give each student a literature textbook because I do not have enough of them or the fact that many of the books I did distribute were missing covers. I will spare you the details of the email I received from my principal telling me that I have to teach my students fiction story elements that was followed by an email telling me that I am required to use nonfiction books on the Industrial Revolution in my instruction.

Last year my students had both a reading class and a writing class.

This year there is just a reading class. Last year my students had Spanish three days each week. This year they have it once. Last year my students had P.E. two days each week. This year they have it once. My students are definitely getting a longer day, but I am hard pressed to see how it is a better one.

To add insult to injury, my classroom was a blazing inferno last week, I was not even given accurate lists of the names of the students in my five classes, and did I already tell you that one of my classes is broken into two discontinuous sessions?

This strike is a strike of no choice. When the mayor gets on television spinning fairy tales about the conditions in our schools and doing so with conviction, when my professional judgment is preempted by illogical instructional mandates, and when my students and I are given challenges to overcome in the place of the resources we need to excel, when the Board sets me up for failure and then evaluates my performance based on test scores, I have been left with no choice.

You picked the wrong union to try to bust, Rahm. You are not going to create the perfect conditions for failure, close our schools, and sell our students to your political cronies and their corporate educational outfits. Teachers, united, will never be divided. I will be shouting that from the picket lines for as long as it takes to get teachers a fair contract and for as long as it takes to get students the schools they deserve.

Leslie Russell

CPS Teacher