Zeidre Foster

Photo of Zeidre Foster, director of the CTU grievance department.

As a child, Zeidre Foster always wanted to be a teacher. She had a classroom desk in her bedroom, where she and her friends would play school. So, she was a little apprehensive about leaving her classroom at Harlan Community Academy in 2012 to become a field rep.

“I was a little concerned about how my advocacy for students would fit with being a field rep,” she admitted, “But I soon realized that empowering and supporting teachers to be better in the classroom is good for students because the teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.”

Foster was born and raised by her grandmother in Freeport, just west of Rockford. She remembers a wonderful school experience, with supportive, loving educators, but none of them looked like her. Throughout grade school and high school, she only had three Black teachers — and two of them were her cousins.

“When I got to CPS, I saw the disparities between what I had growing up in school and the lack of resources and opportunities here,” she said. “Fortunately, I worked with colleagues who were committed to the students of Chicago and made the best out of the resources they had. Those experiences were invaluable to me as a new teacher.”

Foster moved to Chicago in 1998 to attend the University of Illinois Chicago. After earning a degree in secondary education, she found her way to the history department at Englewood High School, where she worked with current CTU President Stacy Davis Gates, Vice President Jackson Potter and Kurt Hilgendorf, now special assistant to the president.

Working with such dynamic teachers — and future CTU leaders — ignited a fire in her to become an advocate as well as an educator.

Then, in 2005, CPS announced it would shutter Englewood as part of then Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Renaissance 2010 scheme to close “underperforming schools.”

“It was really disheartening,” Foster said. “It felt like the district didn’t care. They referred to our school as a culture of failure.” Of course, that “culture of failure” had graduated such notables as Timuel Black, Gwendolyn Brooks and Lorraine Hansberry.

Foster and her colleagues fought to keep the school open. They worked in coalition with parents and attended CPS Board meetings, but the district refused to relent.

In 2007, seeing the writing on the wall with just one senior class left at Englewood, she accepted a position at Harlan Community Academy. She taught there until 2012 when she joined the Summer Organizing Institute and shortly after became a field rep, just weeks before the historic 2012 strike.

“I had never participated in anything like that — it was amazing,” she said. “The strike was a hard battle but our members were on fire across the city and determined to make changes in our schools and communities.”

As a field rep, she loved meeting with members across the city and helping them navigate problems in their buildings.

“No one calls a field rep on their best day,” she explained. “We hear from members when they are overwhelmed and it feels good when they say, ‘thanks, you made me feel better.’”

Her best days are when she empowers members to advocate for themselves. Her worst days were during the fights over CPS reopening during the pandemic.

“It was a life or death situation for our members — that was a heavy burden to carry,” she said.

Last May, CTU promoted Foster to director of the grievance department, a position that puts her across the table from CPS more than in front of rank-and-file members. But she appreciates being able to escalate issues with the district when members can’t resolve them on their own.

In her free time, Foster enjoys spending time with her large extended family, especially her three boys, Jaden, a college sophomore in Atlanta, twins Justyn and Jordyn, seniors at Currie High School, and her husband of 20 years, Alonzo Foster.

Foster credits her grandmother, one of the strongest women she knows, with instilling in her a deep respect for education that helped inspire her to always be in the fight for the schools our students deserve and a safe and just Chicago.