Dealing With the Impact of the Teacher Strike
The strike is over. But for many educators and school personnel it will have lasting effects.
The Chicago Teacher Union and SEIU members returned to their schools and classrooms on Friday, November 1. Teachers and school personnel may no longer be on the picket lines, but the educators will feel the impact in the next weeks and months ahead.
Financially, the union workers on the picket lines will not get a full paycheck until after the holidays. Because school staff and teachers do not get paid when they are not in schools, they do not get paid when they are on strike nor during holidays. With Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving break, and winter break coming up, the next several paychecks that union members get will be small. This means several things for teachers. First, it will feel like teachers are working for nothing, because in the coming weeks that they are working, their pay will be zero or low. This low paycheck makes member feel like they are working for free. Many school personnel may be living paycheck to paycheck, and if something out of the ordinary happens, such as a car breaking down or a health issue, the financial strain on teachers will increase.
And, even though members were out on the picket line together, not everybody was in agreement with the strike. Some members even crossed the line and continued to work. These tensions on the picket line don’t end when the strike is over, and now all school staff need to work together to help educate students. If school staff aren’t getting along, students may feel the impact of this discord. Additionally, administrators were tasked with keeping schools going. Because of this, they were often demonized by the unions, even though, more often than not, administrators support what unions are fighting for. Many principals and assistant principals are former union members themselves and agree on the principles of what members are asking for.
The impact on students is considerable. They lost 11 instructional days, putting them behind on year-end goals. But, for the most part, students will only be impacted by the strike if it negatively impacts their teachers and staff. Even so, students get mixed messages of what the strike was about. Through Twitter and the media, teachers can get a bad rap, sometimes demonized as greedy and out for themselves. Students don’t always get the correct notion of what the strike is about, and instead they get a biased view.
Mentally and emotionally, being on the picket line and out of work can be draining and it is an adjustment coming back to your typical routine. Many teachers love being in front of kids and not being able to be in their classroom is difficult. School staff does a lot to build routines in the beginning of the year and the strike can feel like a set back in many ways.
Despite all of this, the strike doesn’t have to be a setback for school staff and students. We’ve put together some ways to develop resiliency after the strike in your classroom and school.
- Ask for and be open to help
Don’t be afraid to reach out to colleagues and family members for help, whether that be emotionally or financially. Many principals know what it is like to be on the picket line, and your colleagues are going through similar financial struggles. You never know, there may be ways to carpool and work together to reduce the financial and emotional burden in the months to come. It may also be time to start planning ahead and making a budget for yourself. Take a look at some resources for budgeting.
- Talk to your students about the strike
Ask your students to share what they know about the strike and what they did during the strike. Sharing some of the frustrations and sadness will allow students to feel less alone and isolated. Understand that they may have heard a more biased opinion or myth, but it’s important to share what the strike was about and what staff were fighting for. Use stories like Click Clack Moo or The Story of Ruby Bridges to discuss with your students the history of standing up for what they believe in.
- Keep Going
Students did miss 11 days of instruction, so don’t waste another minute. Attendance might be low but keep going with instruction and building skills. Maybe you don’t want to introduce something new, but review of concepts students learned in October can still be beneficial. Just because only a few students show up, those students came to learn and deserve instruction. Additionally, don’t let the strike be a reason that your students don’t do well and an excuse for the rest of the year; we’re back, let’s get moving!
- Build Relationships
Take time to connect and build relationships with your students. The strike was a difficult time for all parties involved. Let’s acknowledge each other’s struggle and grow from it. Take time to ask students how it impacted them and reach out to families, too. Everybody learns best when they are in relationship with others. If all students aren’t back in the classroom yet, take the time to build relationships with the ones who are!
- Utilize breaks for yourself and students
The upcoming months are going to be tough. So let’s take care of ourselves. During prep periods, take time to reset and recharge. You may want to listen to soothing music or make a phone call home. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. When your students return after their lunch break, you can be calm and ready for them; Headspace offers free access to educators- take advantage. Give your students movement and mindfulness breaks—this will help them absorb your amazing instruction that is to come!
- Reset routines, rituals, and expectations in your classroom
Everyone was out for 11 days, so don’t assume that your students remember classroom procedures or expectations—this is a time great to review them. Be patient while students relearn routines and expectations. Take time to celebrate your students with rituals: “All About Me”, “Student of the Week,” or “Family Heritage Month.” Allow your classroom and curriculum to reflect your students.
- Have fun!
Everybody learns when they are having fun! Bring joy, music, and games into your classroom to get through the upcoming difficult months. Feeling down? Talk to your students about ways to cheer the whole class up.
- Be Self-Aware and Mindful
After the joy of returning to school wears off, the weeks and months ahead may be challenging. Be aware that your fuse may be short, or your frustration may bubble up more quickly. Take deep breaths before you respond to your students. Adopt a mindfulness practice before school and during your prep periods, try taking five deep breaths, listing gratitudes, or stretching and find out why people call mindfulness a superpower.
- Welcome everyone back!
Whether they are those who were on the picket line, supporting school administrators, a parent, or students, welcome everyone back to school. Everyone is happy to have students and teachers back in classrooms, where they belong! You can say things like “So glad you are back!” “We missed you!” or “Happy you are here!”.
Whether you are an administrator, teacher, aide or student we can all work to bounce back from the strike in a positive way if we are mindful, intentional and positive. Now that students and teachers are back in the classroom work in your school to build a fun learning environment for all.
Andrea Rosenberg leads Mercy Home’s Resilient Schools programming, that lead efforts to promote relational, resilience-focused, and trauma-responsive practices in Chicagoland elementary and high schools. The programming does this by developing teachers, staff and leaders who are skilled at creating safe and effective learning environments for all students regardless of trauma experience. If you’d like to learn more about the Resilient Schools programming and training for schools, visit our website and get in touch!