Right now, our city’s teachers and central office administration are at an impasse. Much has been made in the media and in conversations on the picket line that this strike is about power and respect. The sticking point seems to be who decides who teaches our children, with the Board of Education demanding unilateral autonomy for principals linked to accountability and the union refusing to accept nothing less than full job protection for all of their tenured workers city-wide.
As a school principal, I can’t help but think that both sides are missing the point. They are so focused on who gets the power to say who is in the classroom with our kids, that neither side has demonstrated, at least publicly, an aptitude for developing creative and cooperative solutions to the competing needs. All they can see is the product, when true compromise and collaboration can be found in the design of the process.
It has been my privilege to work with and lead some of the most talented educators in the city of Chicago for the past two years as principal of a Chicago public school. I trust these teachers. I trust them with the success of the neighborhood’s children, with my career, and in a few years with my son’s education.
As principal, I trust them above all with the ability to select, in partnership with me, who joins our faculty. Teachers do not want to prop up colleagues who cannot contribute. That is not to say that they don’t often do so out of care for their children, but ultimately they desire colleagues who stimulate their thinking and share ideas. They don’t want to get kids that they have to catch up or send them to teachers who they know will next year lose the ground gained so far. That is why the most successful and strongest teachers are hired in a collaborative process that has teachers and school administrators sharing the leadership of selecting faculty. Great faculties are built by teachers and principals sharing the responsibility of interviewing and hiring.
Perhaps there is compromise, as well as better opportunities for students, if both the CTU and the board can worry a little less about who the end candidate is at each school or who is available to select from, and work together to design a process that gives teachers and administrations (and hopefully one day students) a voice in who facilitates each classroom.
Instead of fighting for a displaced teacher pool and hiring rights when displaced, what if the union fought for rights for their teachers on staff to be part of the hiring process? What if the board fought for processes that envision and create schools as teams of people working together for kids instead of enshrining autonomous rights for principals who can be blamed for failure or knighted for success? I believe agreement could be found there.
With my faculty, I have hired five displaced Chicago Public Schools teachers because we all agreed after seeing them teach that they were the best candidates. We were proven right. So far, only once have we been forced to hire from a pool of displaced teachers with only three candidates. In that case, not one teacher or I considered the candidates qualified or able to teach our children. If the teachers in the building cannot envision working with the person, why should teachers and principals be forced to hire them? More importantly, why should we be forced to subject our children to them?
Perhaps it is time that the two organizations stop paying lip-service to their respect and trust in teachers and cooperatively demonstrate that trust for teachers and leaders at a local school level by building a process rooted in the power and potential of teamwork.
Adam Parrott-Sheffer is principal at Peterson Elementary in North Park.