By Michelle Strater Gunderson.

A teachers’ contract is not just about money. It’s an agreement between government and a community about how children will be treated.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I will always advocate for reasonable compensation for educators, especially in light of the amount of education and expertise needed to do this work.

But a contract is more than a pay schedule.

As a member of the Chicago Teachers Union bargaining team I see our contract as a way of building a school system where both adults and children can work to build a world of respect, caring, and a joy of learning.

We have been working for over 18 months to come to an agreement with the Chicago Public Schools that makes sense for both workers and the children who benefit from their work.

We’ve asked for a reduction in standardized testing to only include state mandated tests. Our schools are run through three layers of management – “downtown” offices, networks, and school site administration. At each step along the way, each level of management has demanded more and more testing. We know of schools where kindergarten teachers are using the Haggerty program and are required to give sight word tests to each child once a week. That is 20 percent of a classroom’s reading instructional time. That is beyond crazy. Children cannot learn to read if they are being constantly tested on their reading. And this is just one example.

We are negotiating for less paperwork so we can spend time and energy on our students. Along with the layer of management comes endless paperwork. Many of the lesson templates that administrators require are so tedious that they take almost as long to fill out as they do to teach. There is one thing I know for certain, no urban school district ever improved through increased paperwork.

We are being crushed under a punitive evaluation system that includes tests scores and observations based on the Danielson Framework. There is a saying that we teach what we test. Even worse than teaching to the test, an evaluation system based on a rubric that does not fit the varied forms of teaching necessary in a highly complex system perverts our schools into testing factories and with cookie cutter teaching. We are looking to broaden evaluation range bands so that teachers who are just learning their craft are not crushed by test scores that plummet their evaluations. In my mind, this is just a sense of fairness.

But a sense of fairness is not what we have been met with by the other side. The Chicago Public Schools’ Board of Education is asking for nothing but cuts that dishonor the profession of teaching, and negatively impact the schooling of our children. Our schools are cut to the bone, there is nothing left to give.

Our school board is appointed by Mayor Emanuel and every step of the contract process goes through him. The inability of the mayor to run our schools with financial responsibility and his reluctance to seek revenue has brought the Chicago Public Schools to a screeching halt.

And on top of it all, Chicago educators have been treated with disdain by the new CEO of schools, Forrest Claypool. He has sent several letters home to families that imply that Chicago teachers are acting illegally and recklessly.

Union activist and educator, Lee Ann Revis analyzes the toxic climate created by Emanuel, Claypool, and the board that is filled with disdain, dishonor, and distrust:

We can’t shield our children from the fallout. No matter what we do, they see it, they absorb it, and they internalize it. As long as those in charge insist on maintaining this adversarial climate that creates a world of “dis” for our kids to exist in, the babies will never be able to “rise above” it.

Contracts are a promise – a promise for what schools can be and a promise for the future. The world is watching Chicago right now, and how teachers are treated in this city will have historical memory. It will impact who decides to become a Chicago teacher for years to come.

Michelle Strater Gunderson is a 29 year teaching veteran who teaches first grade in the Chicago Public Schools. She is a doctoral student at Loyola University in Curriculum and Instruction.

Photo by Kenzo Shibata, used with permission.


Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.


  1. Susan Lee Schwartz    

    THERE is no argument to what you say, and you say it so well. Bu ultimately, that classroom is th e professional practice of a career educator, who when experienced with the task of ENABLING and FACILITATING LEARNING, is the difference between success and failure.

    If the kids are miserable and failing, then the abuse of teachers has to END. As long as what I describe in this comment, occurs NOTHING WILL CHANGE….IT BEGINS WITH THE PROFESSIONAL IN THE PRACTICE, as in medicine and law. I cannot imagine people in those professions enduring what teachers do.

    Yes, you make wonderful sense Anthony, and for that reason alone, things should change, but the psychopaths that too often run the systems and the school (not the ground) do not care about the kids, and they demonstrated that when they savaged the teaching staff, as this critter is doing right now…because HE CAN!
    A sample: This Principal ,”removed or reassigned approximately 90 teachers“It’s unbelievable,” one parent said regarding the scenario at P.S. 89, who wished to remain anonymous. “The teachers are not paid accordingly – they will work overtime and on weekends but the principal (Martinez) thinks that they are not doing a good enough job so he ends up removing them when their work load in insurmountable.”
    removed or reassigned approximately 90 teachers“It’s unbelievable,” one parent said regarding the scenario at P.S. 89, who wished to remain anonymous. “The teachers are not paid accordingly – they will work overtime and on weekends but the principal (Martinez) thinks that they are not doing a good enough job so he ends up removing them when their work load in insurmountable.”

    I, on the other hand, tirelessly put forth another point, one that is absent in the top sites that talk about the education debacle.

    That is TH FACT THAT the millions of AMERICANS who just happen to choose teaching as a career, HAVE A RIGHT to the same civil rights that the kids have, and that their parents have. No one should be able to falsely accuse them of anything without the ability to exercise first amendment rights. PERIOD!

    I include the link below, to an essay I wrote a decade ago and posted in 2011.
    because I experienced EXACTLY THAT, at the very moment that I was a celebrated, veteran, experienced educator and the recipient of the NYS Educator of Excellence, and well… my resume is on my author’s page here.

    I was famous, and could NOT disprove any fabricated charges, because the union DID NOT follow my contract for grievance, and thus I had NO legal legs.

    IN THIS DAY AND AGE, where everyday the NY Times presents people defrauding and scamming, how hard is it to believe that the bureaucracy that is a school system is not filled with personalities who think “business as usual’ includes ANYTHING FOR WHICH THEY WILL NOT BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE…like slander!

    Now, here is my point, right now in LAUSD, all these years later, the same process of civil rights abuse has decimated the schools.

    That there is no accountability for principals who stomp on the civil rights of teachers, or this could not happen

    And, as far as I know… I am the only one in the media talking about this… (if the internet’s number one Progressive new site,, Oped News, is media,)

    … and until THIS ends, the kids will always lose!

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