CTU should focus on education, not making public policy

Contrary to a recent publication by Chicago Teachers Union president Jesse Sharkey, CTU’s goal is not to address the social problems of our city.

Teachers and other CTU members play a valuable role in educating Chicago’s youth, but our primary responsibility is not to formulate public policy or manage the city’s multifaceted political agenda. While there is nothing wrong with fighting for the right reasons, one should think about what it is and how much to take on to distinguish desires and needs.

The upcoming CTU elections provide an opportunity for healthy discussion and respectful debate about what members really need. It is unlikely that all CTU members will have the same priorities. However, it is possible to resolve the working conditions we continue to face and make proposals based on those conditions.

Teachers and other CTU members have experienced unprecedented difficulties that complicate our work astronomically. This has led to labor shortages, growing mental health needs and problems balancing new and current work responsibilities. Educators are often criticized for not doing enough, and judged by subjective recommendations based on performance and unfair school assessment. We need a union that can cope with staff shortages, inaccurate assessments, occupational safety (especially during a pandemic) and unfair work practices, which ultimately affects our students.

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Schools include vital integrated services, sports and extracurricular activities, which are another way many of our students receive vital lessons. It is absolutely important to prioritize classroom learning and school resources and address these issues first before addressing any other social or political issues.

In addition, members definitely need to be more aware of the key decisions of our leaders, and they should not be asked about 11 a.m. for input or feedback. The opinions of all members should be valued and respected, even if they differ from the opinions of CTU executives. Participation in key CTU committees should not be entirely at the discretion of management. More needs to be done to keep in touch with parents regarding their children’s needs in the classroom.

Finally, our union needs to be more accountable for our contributions and financial management.

The livelihoods and future of CTU members are at stake. Is CTU a social justice organization? Are we the third political party in Chicago? Or are we a union that recognizes the common good but gives priority to education?

I urge CTU members to explore the caucus platforms undertaken to lead the union and compare what everyone has to offer – not necessarily to address the city’s social or political problems, but to address education and prioritize issues in the first place.

Froylan Jimenez, a teacher of civil affairs and a member of the Teachers Union of Chicago

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