Suzanne Fields
Not so long ago, many youngsters wanted to grow up to be a teacher, and parents were pleased to encourage them. Not any longer. Teachers have become the Rodney Dangerfields of postmodern America. They typically can say, "I don't get no respect."

And for good reason. Many teachers are dedicated, work long hours and are responsible for dealing with a multitude of problems that are not strictly academic, but the lousy ones are the rotten apples spoiling many a barrel. The good ones defend the bad ones. The striking teachers of Chicago public schools give liberals, even if they call themselves "progressives," a bad name. Photographs on the front page and footage on the evening news make the political personal. Who wants screaming people like that teaching the children?

Unfair? It's hard to make that argument when these teachers are matched with their demands. The strike falls hardest on working parents scurrying to make home-care arrangements for their children while teachers picket for a raise of 30 percent on $75,000 a year. (They turned down a 16 percent raise.) The average Chicago taxpayer who pays for those salaries has to get by on a mere $47,000. The teachers, unlike taxpayers paying their salaries, don't want anybody measuring their work, either. No rigorous performance evaluations.

They want control over how the schools are managed, too, to prevent principals from choosing staff, and they're insisting that when new teachers are hired the principals must choose from a list of laid-off teachers, no matter why they were laid off or how unqualified they may be.

Teachers unions were once meant to provide protections for good teachers, especially those of minority races, but it's minority students taking the fall for incompetence in Chicago. Graduation rates of 56 percent are among the lowest in the country. Graduates fortunate enough to be admitted to college are unprepared. In one study, only six of every 100 graduates who got to college stay for a four-year degree. Rates for black and Hispanic students are abysmal indeed; only three of every 100 get a degree.

Private-sector employers unbound by sweetheart contracts could easily fill positions with qualified employees willing to work for less when so many qualified workers can't find work. But if you're a teacher in these unions, you get an ax to chip away at benefits for others. They're still smarting because Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed to extend their number of teaching hours, which were among the shortest in the country. Some teachers are angry because the mayor (like the president he once worked for) enrolled his children in private schools.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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