Thousands of people marched through the streets of downtown Chicago in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers strike on Thursday | Photo by Kay Yang [The Real Chi]
This story is published on in partnership with The Real Chi, an experimental “learning newsroom” in North Lawndale for young adults.

Here’s the thing. The Chicago Public School district is a system made up of mostly Black and Brown students. Of the more than 360,000 children who attend any of the district’s 500 or so schools, 37% identify as Black and 47% as Latino. So when teachers like Andrea Parker, a 15-year CPS veteran, walks out of her Back of the Yards classroom to rally and march through the streets of Chicago, she wants everyone to know she’s doing it for her students who, by the way, don’t have the basic textbooks and tools for their education.

“I just feel a lot of this is racist practices,” Parker said about the lack of funding and resources in CPS schools on the South and West sides. “I don’t feel like students on the North Side deal with the curriculum issue or even the resource issue as much. The disparity is very overt.”

It’s day two of the Chicago Teachers strike. About 35,000 Chicago teachers, including Parker, continue to fight for equity in schools and classrooms across the CPS district. That means smaller class sizes, having full-time nurses and social workers in every school, offering affordable housing perks for students and families battling homelessness and more. 

On Thursday, progress was made at the bargaining table after thousands of teachers and CPS supporters marched through downtown Chicago. According to Chicago Teachers Union spokesman Chris Geovanis, the CPS team presented a class size proposal, but it still fell short of the union’s needs. 

“Unfortunately, it took a day on the picket lines to motivate them to produce something, but they at least are willing to bargain on this critical issues,” Geovanis said. “CPS must come up with a more equitable path forward to meet students’ needs.”

Photo by Deylon Jeffries [The TRiiBE]
Photo by Deylon Jeffries [The TRiiBE]

For the strike to end, Geovanis said, Mayor Lori Lightfoot needs to put her promises in writing. During her historic run for mayor earlier this year, Lightfoot’s platform included equity and educational justice for students. In a mayoral Q&A with The TRiiBE before her election win, Lightfoot talked about the need to heal the rift between communities and CPS after the closing of schools in mostly Black and Brown neighborhoods. She also spoke about the need to address the effects of violence and trauma on Black youth in Chicago.

“When you think about how many young kids are growing up with fear as their norm, and how that literally affects their brain development, and also just their outlook [on safety], that’s a huge problem,” Lightfoot told The TRiiBE during her mayoral campaign.

Geovanis said Lightfoot needs to put her promises in writing.

“We need progress. We need real commitment — and we need it in writing, the only way we have to hold CPS and the mayor to their promises,” Geovanis said.

This week, Lightfoot said that the Chicago Teachers’ demands would cost the city $2.5 billion, which the city can’t afford. Her team offered pay increases to CPS employees, but many Chicago teachers said it’s not all about pay.

“It’s never been about pay. It’s about getting kids what they need to succeed and what they deserve, and not just the rich kids. We all deserve the same,” said Heather Predziwiattr, a teacher at Lawndale Community Academy.

Predziwiattr’s school doesn’t have a full-time nurse. When students are sick, they are sent to the school clerk’s office for help. And when it comes to books, Predziwiattr has spent about $1,000 of her own money to build an in-class library for her students. 

“As a district made up mostly of Black and Brown children, for you to say, ‘No. We don’t have the money for nurses and we don’t have the money for libraries,’ you’re making a choice,” Predziwiattr said. “You’re saying, ‘I don’t care about these students.’”

Parker, who teaches English and Language Arts to 6th and 8th graders at Robert Fulton Elementary on the South Side, doesn’t have reading, grammar or spelling books for students in her classroom. When making her lesson plan, Parker turns to the Internet to find free worksheets that she can print out for homework or various literary excerpts for the students to read and analyze in class.

Heather Predziwiattr, a teacher at Lawndale Community Academy, posing with her strike sign at the Chicago Teachers Strike march | Photo by Kay Yang
More supporters marching during the Chicago Teachers Strike | Photo by Kay Yang

Then, there’s the issue of computer access. Parker’s students are at a disadvantage when it comes to taking standardized tests, she said, because those tests are administered online, and many of her students struggling with typing and using a computer.

“I know one teacher on the North Side, they have a laptop for every single student,” Parker said.

At her school, Parker said multiple grades share a computer lab. 

We give them a lot of paper assignments and they don’t know how to do it online,” Parker added. “There’s a lot of disparity in our school system.”

For many teachers, trauma is one of the biggest issues inside and outside of the classroom. Parker said she’s expected to be a teacher, psychologist and social worker for students suffering from gun violence, domestic abuse and homelessness.

At her school, Parker said, the social worker and psychologist could be pulled into hours and hours of meetings for diverse learners, those who require individualized education programs. Those meetings take away time from students who need someone to talk to about their trauma.

She said full-time social workers, psychologists and nurses are need to give students the individual attention they need for educational success.

“I feel like Black people ask for something that they need, and deserve, as citizens of America and we are crucified. Like, ‘How dare you ask for that?’” Parker said. “I don’t feel like this same hostility is thrown toward police officers not the Chicago Fire Department, but it’s always thrown at teachers. I don’t understand what the problem is.”


** This story has been updated to reflect a clarification in Parker’s statements about CPS schools on the North Side.