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.