I don’t want to be pushed out.

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Annie Tan at Wednesday’s Chicago Teacher Union march through the Loop.

-By Annie Tan. Annie is a CPS teacher who writes on her blog, An Angry Teacher.

It’s been very hard for me to write about teaching as of late. I think most of my friends and family know I’ve had a rough year stemming from work-related issues as well as just life stuff. I changed schools- this is my fourth school in 4.5 years. I moved twice within 7 months. I found out about my Tier II pension plan just a few months ago. And all of it, alongside the current budget crisis in Chicago Public Schools, is making me seriously consider leaving Chicago.

I love teaching. I love my current school. I have a great staff, and wonderful students. We work together not just on academics but so much social-emotional building. I finally feel like, in my fourth year, I sort of know what I’m doing. And it’s showing. (When I get to teach, anyway. Don’t get me started on the 3+ weeks of MAP/NWEA and ACCESS testing I and my students have just gone through, or the long teacher evaluation cycles, or the mounds of IEPs I have to write in the next few weeks).

What is pushing me out of Chicago right now is, really, not teaching and the stresses of it. I feel okay about that. Rather, it’s a combination of two things:

  1. The instability that is Chicago Public Schools.
  2. The Tier II Illinois pension plan I’m under.

Point #1: The hot mess that is CPS.

As y’all may know, Chicago Public Schools is going through its own crises- caused by years of pension holidays, spending of assets it should have been holding onto, funds like TIFs being spent on things other than schools, underfunding from Illinois state government (which hasn’t passed a budget in almost a year), and corrupt contracts (like the one that got our former schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, federally indicted), among other things.

In response, CPS is trying to cut promised teacher salaries and benefits alongside threatening layoffs. My union, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), rightfully rejected a contract that would have had 2,000 educators, or 1/10 of our workforce, early retire for some bonus money, OR reopen the contract if not enough teachers early retired.

And now Chicago Public Schools, a day after that rejection, announced it would cut a 7% pension pickup 26 days from now, meaning I lose 7% of my paycheck soon.

More importantly, 1,000 educators will likely be laid off in the next two weeks, according to CPS budgets and principal discretion (of course CPS tosses the hard decisions to the principals). This is on top of layoffs that just happened summer 2015, and on top of the closure of 50 public schools in Chicago June 2013 and the subsequent pushout of teachers. I, as always, could be one of those layoffs, as an untenured teacher.

I can deal with layoffs, as I’m a young special education teacher with 3+ years experience and would probably find a job quickly. But I’m so tired of saying goodbye to yet another group of students, another school, another set of staff. I’m so tired of crying over this. I’m so tired of the tears shed when I think of all the students I’ve had to leave. I’m so tired of living in fear that I could lose my job any minute. I hate living in fear.

Of course, we’re going to fight this. 88% of voting members of CTU voted to authorize a strike when CTU was ready. We had 5,000 people blocking Congress Parkway and the entrance to the Eisenhower Expressway Thursday night.

But ugh, how demoralizing is this? How defeating?

Multiple veteran teachers who’ve taught 20+ years have told me it’s never been this bad in Chicago Public Schools. “If I were you, I would run.” I’ve been given this advice over the past 4 years by too many people.

Point #2: how young teachers get screwed under Tier II of Illinois’ pension plan:

Here is a chart of the differences between Tier I and II of Illinois’ current pension plan. 

image1

I’m sure I’m missing something, but here’s what I see with these plans:

  • Tier I candidates are teachers who paid into teacher pensions before Jan. 1st, 2011. Tier II candidates are teachers who paid in after Jan. 1st, 2011.
  • Tier 1 candidates could theoretically retire at 55, if they put in all their years. For a full pension, Tier II retire at 67. A TWELVE-YEAR difference.
  • Caps for earnings for Tier I employees are higher than Tier II. By a LOT.

Now, I have always, ALWAYS meant to be a lifelong teacher.  I graduated from Columbia in May 2011, at 22 years old, and started at CPS in August 2011. 

I missed Tier I by a few months. Looking at this chart, literally, if I had finished college a year earlier, or I was born a year earlier, I would be at Tier I. I could retire with a pension at 55. After working 33.95 years, meaning I could retire at 56.

Under Tier II? I would get a full pension at 67. After working 44 years. FORTY-FOUR YEARS. I would have to work 12 more years, just because I happened to be born a year later. Moreover, I wouldn’t get half my pension at 62. After working 39 years, THIRTY-NINE YEARS, I wouldn’t get HALF my pension.

I get that pensions are political and the cause of our debt crisis in Illinois, and I get that compromises have to be made to get this together. But I CANNOT help but be extremely resentful. The economic crises of Illinois are being carried on young teachers’ backs.

When a financial guy in charge of my 403(b) retirement plan tells me, “Annie, go to ANY OTHER STATE than Illinois. The pensions are the most poorly funded in all of the United States. Literally any other state would be better than Illinois,” that’s when I need to seriously consider leaving Chicago and Illinois.

Someone at CTU told me they’re filing a lawsuit because we would get less under Tier II of a pension than we would under social security. Mind you, teachers do NOT pay into social security. I don’t know if I can wait for that lawsuit, or for laws to change. I frankly don’t think there will be a pension for any of us moving forward if funding solutions don’t come into place.

——————————-

I still want to teach. I still want to be with students. I just don’t know if Chicago is the place to do it. I am tired of feeling crazy in this system when I know I’m not the crazy one. I’m not the only teacher feeling this.

I haven’t made my decision yet. I do want to be closer to NYC, where my parents are, but I have lots of things to consider. The logical choice would be Philadelphia, where I could still afford housing, where there’s an active social justice unionism and public education movement happening, and where my brother is.

A lot of me still wants to fight this system. Some of me thinks it’s masochistic to keep fighting to teach. Most of me know I can’t keep crying all the time about this system that so disrespects teachers. And I don’t want to continually be shattered by the chaos here in Chicago Public Schools. But who knows? It could be worse somewhere else.

The sad part is that this is exactly what Chicago Public Schools wants. To push teachers out before they get experienced- experienced teachers cost more. To privatize education because it’s cheaper and no longer the responsibility of the government.

“Every child, every school” is printed on my CPS ID card. What a joke.

I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

21 thoughts on “I don’t want to be pushed out.

  1. I am sorry to see teachers consider leaving Chicago. I am retired from CPS and participated in the La Salle Street CTU march in honor of my parents who were CTU charter members. The sad truth is Education won’t be any less expensive under “reform”, it is just that fat cats in downtown offices will get the funds, not the teachers who teach children. And folks wonder why Bernie Sanders is soaring in the polls!

  2. Dear Annie,
    The financial plunder and rape of public employees continues! Pensions are NOT the cause of the debt crises in Illinois. The cause is the employers’ not putting in their required “employer match” for many years, no other reason. Tier 2 is awful. Other states have cut pensions, but nothing as draconian as Tier 2. Tenure no longer means much in Illinois anymore since passage of a law called SB7. SB7 is to tenure as Tier 2 is to pensions. One excellent teacher I knew had taught for decades and was only a couple years from retirement. She was then given two separate phony evaluations near the end of a school year. Then the yearly pink slips were given to everyone, but when the recall letters were sent out, she was not included. The IEA put in a grievance, but lost. This teacher was professionally and financially devastated, for no reason other then being at the top of the pay scale.
    Sad to think of good teachers like you leaving, probably to be replaced by a TFA, just what we don’t need. Personally however, you will probably be way better off heading back east. That’s what I would do if I was in your position.
    Anon

  3. I agree with Anon #2. You would be better off and more sane (eventually) if you went east. And pensions are NOT the reason for the debt crisis. Neither the state, for TRS, nor CPS for Chicago, have paid what is owed to pensions in decades.

    For Chicago, CPS has paid their full pension costs only for the last two years (since 1995!!!). It is laughable when the mayor or when Forrest says they have recently paid larger pension costs than in the last 20 years. It is not hard to beat a benchmark of almost zero $$$ for years 1995-20013. Hence the low funding levels. The CTPF was 100% funded about 12 years ago. Now, I think we are down to 48%.

    The politicians took our pension money for charter schools run by their friends and families and now they want us to pay it back. Because of the children. Don’t forget that screen they all use. Those pols that have not ever set foot in a school unless it was for a photo shoot. While you are young and not very expensive due to experience, get OUT of CPS and find a decent job somewhere else. I would suggest that you stay clear of Wisconsin as well. Bruce’s good friend Scotty is up there as governor and has already wreaked havoc on unions and salaries.

    I only hope Bernie can get elected and do what is needed. Otherwise, it may not matter where you live. The revolution will be everywhere. The supposed middle class can no longer breathe. So I suspect that things will get violent soon.

  4. Annie,

    It is disheartening to read your comments, but those of us who are retired CPS teachers understand your frustration. Teaching used to be an honored profession, but today it is being eviscerated by greedy politicians, greedy corporate CEO’s, lazy investigative journalists (I use the term journalist lightly) and finally the most greedy of all, bank executives.

    Your dilemma is not unique. Do you stay and try to help the children, knowing that you will be eliminated when you cost the Board too much or do you leave to find another group of children who are in need, maybe in another state. Maybe that state would not put the politicians, banksters, corporate CEOs first, second and third. Yes, it should be children first, teachers second, but greed has turned the table.

    To be treated with dignity is not an honor, it is a RIGHT! You are not being treated with dignity in Chicago. Sadly, I must side with your thoughts of being closer to your family, possibly in a school district that also needs your compassion, dedication and intelligence. Be careful you don’t choose a district that will become another Chicago.

    I was very fortunate to become a teacher when everyone considered it an honorable profession. Although we had to fight to be fairly compensated, to be treated fairly and to retire in dignity, our first concern was our students.

    The battle will continue and there will be those who struggle daily for what is right, as well as those that lead that struggle. It will take great strength and fortitude for those that stay. The cost will be great and they might lose the battle. If they are defeated, they will go knowing that they gave their best.

    Annie, only you can decide what you will do. Just remember to consider your health, because the wear and tear on your mind, body and soul will be great.

    Whatever you choose, I salute and applaud you. Whichever school district you choose, they will be gaining a true gem.

  5. Annie,
    “I get that pensions are political and the cause of our debt crisis in Illinois, and I get that compromises have to be made to get this together.” — NO!!! Don’t ever believe this BS!

    This is what sleazy politicians, right-wing organizations like the Illinois Policy Institute (a Koch Brothers surrogate), Tyrone Fahner of the billionaires club known as the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club, the so-called Better Government Association run by Andy Shaw, another billionaires club called the Civic Federation run by Laurence Msall, and all our corporate local media would like for all of us to believe their propaganda that retirees were responsible for the debt to the pension systems, commonly called the “unfunded liability.”

    No, as others above have already stated, pensions weren’t the cause of the “unfunded liabilities” both in Chicago or in Illinois. Only corrupt politicians in both major political parties bear the total responsibility for the policy decisions they made to underfund the pension systems. Neither the costs of running the pension systems nor their pension benefits had anything to do with either Illinois’ or Chicago’s fiscal woes.

    The wealthy in Illinois and their political handmaidens in Springfield and in Chicago have declared war on every man, woman, and child in the middle and lower income groups. They’ve driven not only teachers, but also everyone who’s not a multimillionaire or billionaire into a corner and the only response is to fight them tooth and nail with the truth.

  6. Pensions are NOT the cause of Illinois’ financial problems! The crisis is the result of more than 70 years of State Government not meeting their obligations, overspending their revenue and generally mismanaging their fiscal responsibilities. Secondly, as a CPS teacher you are not a member of the TRS. Unfortunately, City of Chicago politicians were just as irresponsible in the mismanagement of their fiscal responsibilities resulting in the CPS pension mess. Ask your union rep for the details of your pension system. It may or may not be a multi-tiered plan.

  7. I do understand your frustration and have a family member in the education system. You have been told to expect certain things from your efforts.
    I do get perturbed that teachers expect to be able to retire at age 55 and get a pension. Most people I know are more than capable to work at least to age 67. I’m a nurse and do not have the luxury of even considering retirement. Also my job requires certain physical activity.
    I will be working til I can’t physically do the work and no luxury of any pension plan except for a 401K. I haven’t had the luxury of getting summers off and holidays.
    I do see your side in this but I think you need to see the positives you have compared to most of the work force.

    • Dear RnIL,
      I feel for you but I do detect a certain amount of pension envy. My first question to you is why didn’t you become a teacher? You, too, could be “retiring at age 55” with a pension. As a teacher, you also could have had the “luxury” of holidays off and two and half months of summer vacation. Instead, you decided to become a nurse. We all have crosses to bear, don’t we?

      Did you do some research into different types of careers before you selected nursing? Did you ever consider teaching? I’ve learned many lessons In my life. One of them is not to criticize or to hold anything against anyone until I’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes, most especially when it comes to careers. I would never be so presumptuous to assume that I know anything about a day in the life of a nurse. Is it okay with you that I have the same expectation of you when it comes to teaching?

      Quite frankly, you only have a very superficial idea of what is asked or demanded of teachers. Perhaps, you can enlighten me with an answer to the following question: Barring lay-offs, why is it that 50% of people who enter teaching quit the profession within five years to seek other careers? Perhaps, the “two and a half months of summer vacation,” the “holidays,” and a “decent pension” weren’t appealing enough.

    • I get so sick and tired of nitwits whining that teachers get “summers off”!!!!! If it’s so wonderful, why are fewer young people going into education, and why do as many as 50% of young teachers leave the profession within their first 5 years?!? In my relaxing summer vacations, besides taking pretty much required inservices and graduate classes, I worked full time doing such exciting activities as cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors, painting, cutting grass, washing windows, loading and unloading semis in 100 plus temperatures, working warehouses, and retail, among others, all for the huge sum of money known as “minimum wage”!! I also worked Christmas and Spring “vacation”! I talked my own two children out of going into education as I did many other young individuals and even convinced a number of young teachers to leave the profession to enter the lucrative private sector. My children, now in their early 30’s, make more money than I EVER did in 40 years of teaching!!!! (that includes the $1.50 an hour I was getting for cleaning toilets!!!!) My advice to the young: stay out (or get out)of education, or at least leave Illinois!!!!!!

    • Dear RnIL,
      You too can get a pension! There are many nurses in Illinois who will get public pensions if they can hold on long enough. They are nurses that work for governmental agencies, I know a couple of them. They are stressed out, tired and beat, have to work all hours, holidays, and often have to pull a double shift. Some of these nurses work in what they describe as “hellholes” and have to put up with a lot, from ambush gropes from male prisoners to being intentionally kicked in the face while delivering a female inmate’s baby. They told me of another nurse they knew at a state hospital for the criminally insane. She made the mistake of momentarily turning her back on the female patient to get her medication. The patient grabbed the (old style heavy) telephone off the desk and hit the nurse so hard it shattered her shoulder. The guards restrained the patient within a few seconds, but that is how fast these nurses can be injured, and how dangerous it can be. Many of these nurses are trying to hold on and not burn out long enough to get their pension. If they didn’t have the pension they would not stay in the job. They have job openings quite often.
      Additional places you could look would be health departments, Cook County hospital, Cook County jail, UIC hospital, or school nurse positions. The VA always has openings for nurses, they are under a federal pension system. I have heard it is better then the tier 2 Illinois pensions.
      Best of luck on your career decisions, which are all up to you. You are fortunate to be an occupation that is in great demand. With the ageing population, demand for nurses will continue to go up.
      Anon

  8. Annie, you know I feel the same way, even though I’m in Tier 1. With the way CPS is messing around with us, I don’t think there’s any way I’m going to make it to 20 years, especially with all the budget cuts. It’s hard to believe that I have nearly 11 years of teaching experience but am at the bottom of the seniority list at my school, and therefore possibly the first to go if my department gets cut. It’s so frustrating.

    RnIL, we don’t get paid over the summer, so while it’s nice to have the time off we have to save money throughout the school year or have to get a second job over the summer to fill the pay gap. We don’t even get paid for all the holidays off, such as one week of winter break. And, on top if that, we do not receive Social Security, which you will, so it’s not like the only thing you will have for retirement is your 401K. As for retirement, it seems that you have sadly bought into the neoliberal messaging that people should have to work until they drop dead. Instead of being jealous of teachers being able to retire at 55, why don’t you and your fellow nurses, who do a supremely important job, fight for more workplace rights? If everyone got together and fought for better pay, benefits, and conditions, management would have to give it to us. But too many people have taken on board the talking points of the 1% and criticize their fellow workers instead of challenging the people who stay on top by oppressing everyone else.

  9. If your financial advisor is telling you about Tier 2, you need a different guy or gal managing your money. CPS teachers are not part of TRS. Tier 2 applies to any teacher working outside CPS in Illinois. Also, going to any state but IL is bad advice. Wisconsin? Nope! Ohio? No way! Florida? Low pay. Make sure you get informed advice from someone who knows what he or she is talking about before you pack your bags.

  10. SUPPORT HOUSE RESOLTION 393 TO EXPAND SOC SECURITY! REPEAL: WEP & GPO for Widowed Women who teach in MISSOURI!!! GIVE WIDOWS THEIR SURVIVOR BENEFITS!!! Tell Congress to PASS: HR 973 & S 1651 !!! Widows should not have to retire in POVERTY!!!

    • Dear Pam,
      In Missouri, Illinois and many other states. I have been trying to get Congressmen and Senators to support repealing WEP & GPO for a couple of decades. They claim they will look into it (someday), but are “very busy”. Then some Republicans take the “repeal WEP/GPO” bills and add in “replace with a new formula” that is even worse. Over the years, I have called to support previous bills similar to HR973 & S 1651 calling for an outright repeal of WEP/GPO, period. The bills then get changed and I end up calling to tell them to oppose the bill. Then they want to know why, as they have not bothered to keep up on it.
      I will call and support HR973 & S1651, but please keep an eye on these for any changes and spread the word. Also, BEWARE of any bill that would FORCE mandatory social security on to all public employees. That would make it easy for public employers to phase out present public pensions completely for new employees.
      Anon

  11. About a year ago I was under stress, partly from work, and crying a lot. I went to the doctor and it was Seasonal Affect Disorder. Anyway, it cleared up, but I’m glad I checked it out.

    Congratulations on being a special ed teacher! A great job! But if you are going to be working for awhile, look around. Do any other school jobs appeal to you? Guidance counselor, school psychologist, supervisor/admin? Or is there another license you might want to pursue? I have two licenses and it gave me flexibility.

    One more thing, if you are thinking of leaving, find out if you are close to being vested in your current retirement system.

    Good luck!

  12. Pingback: Annie Tan, where can I find your writing? | Annie Tan, An Angry Teacher.

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