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Phelan: Loving teachers; not liking teacher strikes

Published: Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

According to its 2011 Illinois school report card, Geneva High School has a 96 percent graduation rate. Our average ACT score is 24.1, putting us about four points above the state average.

The average instructional expenditure per student in 2009-10, according to the report card, is just above $6,000 for the district, which is lower than what is seen in some other area districts, meaning my teachers excel at taking resources and using them to create student success.

Recently, as the Kane County Chronicle has reported, the salaries my teachers receive have come under scrutiny.

This school year, my teachers have been wearing buttons that read “United We Teach,” frequently donning electric green T-shirts with the same logo, and I’ve been staying informed by reading about contract negotiations. At the same time, I was watching how the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike and kept kids out of classes. As a senior in high school and future educator myself, it’s all been rather poignant and downright scary at times.

I know that some people will say I’m not entitled to comment on unions. I’m only 17; I’m not in the workforce; I don’t know what it’s like in the real world. At 17, I’ve spent the past two summers working. I know what it’s like to have problems with contracts and how tough negotiations can be when the other side is dead set on its point. And I know what’s going on in the world because my parents have raised me to always be informed.

The idea of my teachers striking absolutely terrifies me. At this point in my life, I am a student.

I go to school. That was one of my biggest concerns with the Chicago strike – students were out of the schools. Oftentimes for innercity students, school is the only place to go. Many children eat two out of their three meals there and stay off the streets with after-school activities. No school? It can become harder for kids to find a safe place to go.

But my personal issue is not what would happen the day of a strike but the year after. I need to go to college next year. And I need my teachers to help me with that. I need my essays to be reviewed; I need opportunities for my resume to be continuously built; I need counselor forms; and I need the emotional support from the educators I have known for four years.

I understand how labor strikes work. I understand wage negotiations. But I also understand that teachers and school staff are there to help students. They, at some point, made a choice to devote their lives to others, and that’s what I want to do, too. So, how can that devotion continue if they refuse to teach? I need my teachers so I can go to college, and I don’t see how they can help me if they refuse to work. That being said, I know they work tirelessly day in and day out to help their students, and I thank them for all they do.

I love teachers, but I do not like teachers strikes. 

• Courtney Phelan is a senior at Geneva High School. She is an outgoing and energetic young writer who likes to swim, read and participate in general teenage activities. She can be contacted at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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