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‘Everybody needs to talk’: How Chicago teachers plan to talk to students about the strike

While she was on strike, Lane Tech High School math teacher Sandy Donahue pondered how she’d address the experience with her algebra and geometry students when school reopened.

“Everybody needs to talk,” Donahue said. 

Related: Wins, losses and painful compromises in the tentative agreement ending the Chicago teachers strike

Erupting just seven weeks into the school year, Chicago’s longest strike in more than three decades cut into a pivotal stretch in the academic calendar just after progress reports but before report cards come out. Students had just settled into a routine and rhythm, only to lose more than two weeks of instruction. 

Now teachers are tasked with getting students back on track and making up for lost time in what had been already-tight schedules.

Returning to a one-day week Friday, several teachers said they couldn’t just dive right into core subjects. They felt they needed to directly address their students’ questions and feelings about the strike, and how they took in the heated rhetoric from the union and the mayor that put Chicago in the national spotlight.

The strike also laid bare many educators’ complaints about the conditions in their schools and where they think Chicago falls short of delivering for its students, prompting some emotional conversations even before walkouts, teachers reported.

Sarah Howland, a second grade teacher in a bilingual class at Newton Bateman Elementary School, said she started preparing her students when delegates voted mid-October to authorize the strike. “It was important to me to let them know from the outset that the strike would end.”

She read them two books, “Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type” and “¡Sí Se Puede!/Yes We Can:Janitors Strike in L.A.,” and asked students to write and draw about their feelings from the strike on a worksheet. Some said they were excited to get time to play video games; others said they were nervous about whether and when school would resume. 

Returning on Friday, Howland planned to redistribute the worksheets and have students express, on the other side, their reactions to being out of school. Then they’d compare their remarks. “I’ll answer questions if they have them,” she said Thursday evening.

Kerry Brown, who teaches at Lake View High School, said she had asked her civics students to journal about the impact of the strike. She’s also planning a mini-lesson that will be driven by the teenagers’ questions — and considering an event where they share their perspectives on the walkout.

Other teachers told us they planned to share coverage and opinion pieces that showed different views on the walkouts, as well as the political context, and let students lead conversations about media coverage. 

Lennon Murphy, who teaches at Crane Medical Preparatory High School, said there was a long list of things to tackle once class was back in session. But students had started conversations about the strike in his class before the walkout, and those would resume. 

“Students want a chance to weigh in on not having a nurse or a social worker,” Murphy said, referring to two contract guarantees written that every school will have both, but not at all campuses until 2023. “Kids do understand. Their lived experience matters a lot. It’s their history. We’ll create space and foster those conversations.”

Related: Chicago teachers survey: How do you feel about the tentative agreement?