Back to school dreams and nightmares.

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In 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, I was speaking at a rally in support of striking teachers in Ottawa, Illinois.

Years after I no longer worked at Chicago’s U.S. Steel’s Southworks plant, I would have this stress dream.

In my dream it is twenty years since I had worked at the giant steel mill, but I am walking to the 96″ plate mill that (now  no longer) sits on the far end of the collection of production mills. The wind is bitter and cuts through my clothes. It a freezing cold and windy walk along the lake from the employee parking lot. It is dark and the dead of a bad Chicago winter. 11PM shift.

My oil and grease covered clothes and safety helmet are where I left them, still in my locker.

In this dream I change clothes and put on my metatarsal boots as I had always done. I walk into the shop. Nobody asks where I had been all these years. Nobody has aged. It was as if I had never left.

For years this was a recurring dream.

My teaching stress dream since retirement is that I can recognize every kid that misbehaved. Thirty years of kids that are now all in one class. And I am totally unprepared. I have no plan. I have no supplies. I have no idea what I am supposed to do. It is like my first day on the job and nothing is in my control.

It has been a year since I’ve had that stress dream.

Those were just dreams. The stress on teachers today is real. And it doesn’t come from an imaginary classroom collection of thirty years of misbehaving students.

A 538 report points out that the economic recovery has not come to America’s teachers or its schools.

We are still on our road trip. Talking to an old friend on Long Island who is from Massachusetts, I repeated the fact that only Mississippi spends less as a state on its schools than Illinois.

She was shocked.

“What is the matter with Illinois? I mean only Mississippi is worse?”

As millions of children across the country head back to school this month, they will be returning to schools with fewer teachers than in past years. Those teachers will be paid less, on average. And many of them will be working in school systems that receive less funding.

When I was on Rick Smith’s radio show last week we discussed this.

With legislative constraints on teacher tenure and seniority, veteran teachers are being laid off to save money.

Many district are adding minus-zero steps to their salary schedule, reducing the starting salaries of new teachers and adding to the total number of years a teacher must work until they reach the maximum salary.

Governor Rauner and the Democratic Party-controlled Illinois legislature is threatening a third retirement tier, turning pension over to the private sector with no guarantees of a defined retirement benefit.

The 7-year-old economic recovery has not been kind to the American public education system. In May 2008, as the Great Recession was just beginning, U.S. school departments employed 8.4 million teachers and other workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This past May, they employed just 8.2 million — despite public-school enrollments that the Department of Education estimated have risen by more than 1 million students during the same period. Student-teacher ratios are as high as they’ve been since the late 1990s, though they’re still well below their levels of the 1980s and most of the 1990s.

The staff cuts reflect a broader pullback in education funding in recent years. Public schools actually came through the recession relatively well, as stimulus money from the federal government helped offset cuts at the state and local levels. But federal dollars dried up before states were able to pick up the slack. In 2014, the latest year for which full data is available, state public-education funding was 6.6 percent lower than in 2008. (Local funding, which accounts for about 45 percent of school budgets, was down about 1 percent over the same span.) Federal spending rose, but not enough to overcome the state cuts: Per-student spending fell 2.4 percent after adjusting for inflation. (All spending figures in this story have been adjusted for inflation.)

The Chicago Teachers Union, without a contract for over a year, is threatening a strike if the CPS board sticks to its demand of a 7% pay cut.

During the Great Recession I would hear from those who complained about teacher salary and benefits as they or their family members faced stagnant salaries or job losses.

The truth was that teacher salary increases were never that great. Most of the contracts I saw negotiated in those years after the near-collapse of Wall Street included big increases in health care costs to teachers and district employees.

It is now clear from the 538 report that teachers are now among those not included in whatever counts as the economic recovery.

That is why the pay cut to teacher salaries demanded by Rahm, CEO Forrest Claypool and the CPS board cannot be allowed to stand.

2 thoughts on “Back to school dreams and nightmares.

  1. When I began my career in American public education in the middle of Nixon’s first administration, attitudes in the public-at-large toward teachers and education funding in this country were already departing from the Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson pro-public education legacies. No one considered Nixon to be a friend of education and we had concerns. We had concerns about Ford and Carter too. Title IX was the only educational bright spot to emerge between 1970 and 1980. Then came Reagan and attitudes toward teachers and educational funding became a national disgrace. There was serious talk about vouchers and “merit pay.” I was convinced that we’d hit rock bottom. Nixon was beginning to look good.

    When the Republicans swept the elections in 1994, attitudes and funding took a complete nose dive from which we’ve never recovered. Who could have predicted how low it would get? Thanks, Bill and Newt! Enter charter schools and vouchers… The folly that we still convince ourselves that “our country is the greatest on Earth” when we permit reckless, knuckle-dragging politicians, mostly Republicans and some Democrats, to wreak wanton destruction on public education is the epitome of delusional. There are no signs on the horizon that things will improve soon when we’re mired in utterly phony, idiotic “debates” like how much to cut from public education and at the same time lobby for the creation of more charter schools and standardized testing. Never mind the destruction of tenure or the assaults on our pensions!

    How did we reach this level of ignorance and contempt toward the very people and institution that we supposedly entrust to transmit and expand knowledge, to enlighten us, to improve our lives, and, in essence, to assure the future of Planet Earth? The answer to that question isn’t very complicated. It can be summarized in one word: policy.

    Policy and policy makers fit hand in glove. All one needs to do is take a serious look at the low caliber of today’s policy makers and those of the past several decades. It’s safe to generalize that the majority who inhabit the halls of Congress, our state legislatures, and governors’ mansions are very ordinary, banal, craven, unenlightened, dull creatures whose notions of public service are limited to serving their irrational, neoliberal ideology or corporate masters who bought them on the auction block with campaign donations. They certainly aren’t the types who’d have any appreciation for what public education has achieved for this country or its continued, vital role in the welfare of the nation. If we allow these characters to continue on their destructive cut-cut-cut-charter school-standardized testing-dump on teachers path, it won’t be long before the entire nation and a large chunk of western civilization will sink into oblivion…

    Help Wanted!!! Desperately seeking policymakers with the wisdom of those who crafted the education part of the National Defense & Education Act in 1958 and the Elementary & Secondary Education Act in 1965. Where are you?

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