Don’t paint all teachers with Chicago union’s brush

Published 8:21 am Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Like many of you, I was appalled when I heard that the teachers union in the Chicago Public Schools was going on strike. However, I have been equally appalled by some of the comments that I have been seeing made about teachers in general.

When I was in high school, my mother made the decision to finish college and become an elementary-school teacher. Although she only was able to work for three years, because of health problems, I know that she felt that work was some of the most rewarding that she could have ever done.

I have seen online comments that range from “teachers only work nine months a year” or “they don’t care how the students do, they only care about getting paid.” While I’m sure there are some teachers who have those opinions, I can tell you that there were just as many who were like my mom. I have vivid memories of her spending much of summer “vacation” at the school classroom, organizing and cleaning it and working on lesson plans for the upcoming year. I even remember her buying some paint, out of her own pocket, and asking me and my siblings to help re-paint the walls on the classroom, so it would be brighter and more inviting. There’s no telling how much of her own money that she spent on school supplies, toys, books, and other things for her students.

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I would also argue with those who think that a teacher’s school day ends right when the bell rings. I know that mom would come home at 6 p.m. or later most days, because she was grading tests or looking over papers, or taking the time to meet with a parent whose child was having trouble in the classroom.

I know that my mom, like countless other teachers, took the success of each student personally. Back when she was still living in Alabama, she would tell me how rewarding it was to get a hug from her second-grade students — now in middle school or later — and to be told how much they enjoyed having her as a teacher. My mom was always thinking of ways to make learning more fun, whether it was through art projects or hands-on science experiments.

I realize that groups like the Chicago Teachers Union make it easy to paint the profession in a bad light. It certainly looks like many of the leaders of that group have ridiculous demands for pay, benefits, accountability and other issues. However, I would caution anyone from thinking that all public-school teachers behave that way — I bet there are even many wonderful teachers in Chicago who have been bullied into this behavior by their union bosses.

Most teachers still have a tremendous impact and can never be thanked enough for many of the sacrifices that they make, usually behind closed doors. I hope that a few spoiled apples in Illinois don’t ruin it for the millions of educators who truly have our kids’ best interests at heart.