“That strike, you all? Thank you, because somehow, they found some money for our schools. But those 11 days you went on strike? It’s not going to be enough.”
This is what 20th Ward alderman and Dyett hunger striker Jeanette Taylor told those assembled for the Chicago Teachers Union Delegates and School Leaders Training in January.
That message was echoed throughout the day as nearly 300 CTU delegates and members met to discuss how to ensure educators and their students reap the benefits promised in the new contract.
“Look, when CPS violates the contract, there’s no bolt of lightning that shoots down from the sky to enforce it,” CTU Director of Member Organizing & Representation Matthew Luskin said to members. “Understanding what’s in the contract is only half the battle; filing a grievance is only half the battle.”
“What we need are effective strategies in our schools to organize and fight back,” Luskin added. That’s how we win.”
The training offered 10 different workshops addressing specific areas of contract enforcement, and helping members organize inside of their school buildings. Topics included enforcing class size and special education wins; bilingual and sanctuary protections; how to be an effective delegate; how to organize strong school; and how to ensure that the additional staffing and resources get to our schools, among other topics.
Susan Tossi, a third and fourth grade language arts teacher with ballooning class sizes at her school, was especially interested in understanding the new class size provisions and how she can use them to get relief for her colleagues and their students.
“I came to the conference to try to understand the enforcement of the class size, and I’ve learned a lot of good things,” she said. “Number one, we can’t be afraid to enforce our contract, and, number two, it’s going to be a process and we need to all work together.”
Bessie Watts, a school clerk, found the training particularly helpful because she is new to her school.
“I got an understanding of how early childhood works, some of the provisions that are made for it, and I can take that back and share with my teachers,” she said. “Even though we’re in a great school, I know we can be better and this training gives us the ability to communicate with each other and be stronger as a union.”
Jill Sontag, a third grade dual language teacher at Volta Elementary, wanted to learn best practices for her school’s new Professional Problems Committee (PPC), the topic of one of the day’s workshops.
“I really want to learn how to make our PPC fully functional and effective,” she said. “And long-term, how to engage and develop really active members.”
Union field representative Lisa Pattara-McGrane offered members some concrete tips for organizing the campaigns that are at the heart of many contract victories:
- Read your contract cover to cover because all the articles work together.
- Attend Local School Council meetings and bring your parents, who are some of your best and loudest allies.
- Reach out to parents through the LSC, Bilingual Advisory Committee and Parent Advisory Committee.
- Join your school’s PPC.
- Wear CTU red on Fridays to show your strength and unity and join CTU committees.
CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates summed up the goal of the day’s training.
“If you’re a school leader and you don’t have three or four ride-or-die people in your building, we’re not organizing enough,” she said. “You need a team… This is too much work for any one person to do by themselves.
“We’re here today to help you develop a strategy to build that team, because, when we work together, there’s no stopping us.”