Teachers strike a test of bond between teachers and parents

October 1, 2012

It's been almost two weeks since Chicago teachers ended their seven-day strike.

On the first week back after the strike, at Blaine Elementary School in the city’s Lakeview neighborhood there’s lots of enthusiasm but also, relief.

“I think things fell right back into place,” said Stephanie Biederman as she picked up the youngest of her three daughters outside the school.

But during the final days of the strike, teachers on the picket line worried it could damage Blaine’s tight knit community.

"I think the first week, people understood, they were with us," said Patrick Clancy, a middle school math teacher at Blaine and the school’s union delegate. “But once we got in to Monday and Tuesday, we lost a very large amount of support that we had.”

This reporter stopped by Blaine every morning during the strike and talked with Clancy.

He explained that the last two days were excruciating, especially the day after union delegates voted to continue the strike despite having reached a tentative agreement with the school district.

Clancy flipped through some pictures he took with his phone—on the sidewalk that Monday where messages scrawled in pink chalk.

“From the front door of the school all the way to the corner… good bye pension, hello 401K… signed CPS parents. It didn’t say Blaine, but… it was just kind of, like, ‘Oh ok, this is a great welcome.’” Clancy said.

For Clancy, the strike was a roller coaster of emotions, including a deep worry about what would happen to the relationships he has formed with parents during his five years at Blaine.

“When we get back to school, what do you say when we’re back? It’s time to sit down for report cards, and “Hi, yeah, remember me? The devil. By the way, your son or daughter got a C in Math,” he said, laughing in dejected way.

Blaine is one of the highest-performing neighborhood schools in CPS.

It’s in the largely middle-class Lakeview neighborhood and parents are very involved. Many deliberately moved here and chose to send their kids to a public school.

They fundraise thousands of dollars every year and, unlike at a lot of other Chicago Public Schools, they don’t have to worry about not having enough books or making sure students get music and art classes.

Biederman said sometimes at Blaine, parents forget they are part of a larger system.

“I yes, came here for the school, I’ve been here 11 years and I trust them so I’m not going to have that animosity toward them,” Beiderman said. “I think it’s over now. But maybe CPS in general, people are questioning it. You know, do I go to private school? … if you want to control your teachers, control the class size, then you need to pay for a private school, because this is CPS.”

At the school’s first Parent Teacher Association meeting of the year last week, Clancy was one of the only teachers there.

He said it was great to be back in school, but still sensed some awkwardness.

“There’s an auditorium full of parents, and they all know that I’m the union guy, and I’m sitting next to the assistant principal, and the principal and I feel it,” Clancy said. “But it’ll be fine. We’ll all get back and whether it happens tonight or this week or whenever, we’ll get back.

PTA president Cara Moroze said “getting back” to Blaine’s positive environment can and will happen by keeping communication between teachers and parents open and positive.

“If we don’t start understanding each other’s perspectives, we can’t have the conversation and we can’t move in any one direction,” Moroze said.

Moroze and most of the parents I talked to say they love their teachers. They think they’re the best in the city.

But some admit it got hard to separate that from their own frustrations about their kids not being in school.

Rachel Glaser is vice president of Friends of Blaine, which runs fundraisers like the upcoming Walk-a-Thon at the school.

The money helps, of course, but Glaser says the effort itself may be just as important.

“We’re actually hoping that this fundraiser is going to be a good opportunity for everybody to kind of come back together as a whole community, including the teachers and the students and the parents and sort of move forward together as opposed to this larger unpleasantness,” Glaser said.

Now, thanks to some parents, there’s a different message that greets people outside the school building.

Written in big blue letters across large banners are the words, “WE ARE BLAINE.”