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Loyola Students Studying Education Feel Impact of Chicago Teacher Strike

The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher strike is preventing more than 300,000 children from attending classes as their teachers walk picket lines, pushing for better wages and better resources for their students. 

The walkout has prevented another group from getting into CPS schools: Approximately 250 Loyola education majors who teach and observe classes. 

The strike began Oct. 17, with a walkout and rally in front of the CPS headquarters downtown. Classes remain canceled as negotiations between unions and CPS officials continue, The Phoenix reported.

Loyola students traditionally don’t visit CPS classrooms if teachers are striking in order to respect their right to strike, according to Amy Heineke, an associate professor and a co-chair of curriculum within Loyola’s School of Education. She said this means Loyola students won’t cross the picket line in order to tutor students or help administrators who are still in the schools even if class is canceled. 

Heineke said Loyola has a unique role in the event of a strike because it supports teachers’ right to strike, but doesn’t get directly involved in hosting rallies or joining the picket line. She said Loyola’s School of Education views the strike as a “teachable moment” in which students can “take an opinion” and “grapple with these ideas” as the strike happens.  

“This is a great opportunity for our candidates to learn about the process of bargaining and to think about the role of the union in promoting change in schools and to follow what’s going on in the news because this is their future profession and unions play a big role in that,” Heineke said. 

Heineke said administrators within Loyola’s School of Education started planning how to handle the teacher strike a month in advance. For example, she said they made sure each class had a classroom on campus to use instead of meeting at CPS schools. She said the department also worked to adjust curriculum and due dates for projects that require being in CPS classrooms. 

“We knew it was coming right around this time in mid-October, so with enough advanced notice we were able to do quite a few of those things,” Heineke said. 

Heineke said students won’t be put at a disadvantage due to the strike because Loyola education majors already get significantly more experience in the classroom than students at other universities, so missing a few days won’t impact them hugely. Education majors at Loyola begin visiting classrooms throughout Chicago as first-years, she said. 

Kristen Fedor, a senior studying elementary education who student teaches, said she had to film herself teaching a lesson a few weeks earlier than expected in preparation for the strike. She said the video is part of her practice edTPA — a test education majors take during student teaching that’s part of getting licensed for teaching in Illinois, according to Loyola’s website. 

Fedor said she won’t have to make up the days she isn’t able to be in the classroom due to the strike. She said she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on anything because she’s had lots of time to observe classrooms throughout her time at Loyola.

Frances Bartolutti, a junior studying secondary education and history, said she’s working on a project where she teaches mini units and gives pre-tests to students in a CPS high school. She said the strike means she has to readjust when she works with students.

“We basically just have to plan for the short term and if it becomes long-term we have to adjust,” Bartolutti, 20, said. “We make it work in the school of education.”

Bartolutti said the way the strike impacts her classwork can be difficult, but overall, she supports the mission of the teachers who are striking. If the strike goes longer than expected, Bartolutti said her professor plans to allow them to do their projects by pretending other people in their class are their students, rather than teaching the kids they usually work with.

“There is that element of frustration where we do get graded and our grades come from our fieldwork experiences and if you’re not in the classroom, it’s hard to do your assignments and make sure that you can do your work,” Bartolutti said.

Another student in the School of Education, sophomore Eve Cone, said she felt lucky because she finished a project involving CPS students just before the strike began. She said her class met in a classroom on campus Friday morning for one of the first times all semester due to the strike.

“[The strike] definitely affects everything we do,” Cone, 19, said. “When you’re an education major, every single class you have is in a Chicago Public School. Every single class, I observe students and a lot of other students within the school of education do projects where they’re observing students.”

The teacher strike is also affecting those who’ve graduated from Loyola’s School of Education and now work in CPS.

Rebecca Staton graduated from Loyola in 2019 and works at Roosevelt High School in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood. She said she’s picketed outside of her school and attended rallies. She said going to school at Loyola made her “fall in love with inner-city schools” and the students there. 

“Me and the rest of the people I graduated with — I saw some of them at the rallies — believe that education is a fundamental human right and it’s not just for the people who are rich and white,” Staton, 22, said. “Everyone should have access to an education that’s going to forward them.”

Staton said her school has 1,000 students, but only two social workers, four counselors and one nurse who’s only there once a week. The school hasn’t had a librarian since 2016, Staton said. She said getting smaller class sizes is one issue teachers are striking for that’s important to her because the smallest class she teaches has 31 students.

Ashley Langer, a 2019 Loyola graduate who teaches at Helge A Haugan Public School in Albany Park, said the school she works at doesn’t have a nurse or an on-site social worker. She said Loyola’s focus on social justice was part of the reason she chose to picket outside her school during the strike.

“I think part of it was Loyola’s push on social justice,” Langer, 22, said. “[Social justice] is a big part of this, just helping the kids … making sure they get the education they deserve.”

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