This week marked the second week of school in Virginia for my two elementary-level children. And as I began to navigate the “get to know you” phase of the new school year, I had a dismaying new perspective on the current teacher union strike in Chicago.
There are a lot of issues that are raised in the current situation happening in Chicago. But what I most started to consider is the longer-term damage this may have in the school atmosphere. Every parent wants the best school, the optimal learning environment, and the most dedicated teachers for their children. We see movies like Dead Poets Society and think, “I want my kids to be inspired to learn like that!” We are thrilled when the kids come home with stories about how great their teachers are or some positive learning tidbit. We go to the back-to-school nights hoping to connect with our children’s teachers and know that this is the year they will finally learn to read chapter books or figure out algebra or master the periodic table.
At the most fundamental level, there needs to be a trust relationship between parent and teacher. Parents should be able to count on the teachers to do their best to educate their children and help them achieve their goals. And teachers need to be able to trust that parents will reinforce these classroom lessons at home and instill a sense of respect for the classroom and teachers.
That is what makes the timing of this strike so damaging. This is the time of year when the students are learning about their teachers—which ones give a lot of homework, who runs the after-school activities, etc. Similarly, teachers should be getting a read on those students they get to spend the next nine months teaching. But in Chicago, even when this strike is over, there will be underlying resentment and questions.
The unions chose to put the learning of hundreds of thousands of children in jeopardy. And each parent now will ask themselves: As a result of union action, are the teachers there to educate and help my child, or is this just a 9–3 job where the teachers count the hours until they are free from their charges?
Even if the strike had happened during the summer or end of the school year, those relationships would have occurred. But, because it’s happening at the beginning of the school year, they never even got off the ground. Shame on the unions for forcing teachers to break this necessary bond at the very beginning of what should have been a wonderfully exciting year for Chicago students and parents.
Dani Doane is Director of Government Studies at The Heritage Foundation and has two children in elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia.