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Chicago teacher protests for her students

St. Ed grad says public schools need more resources

-Submitted photo
Ellen Chalstrom is a St. Edmond graduate and a kindergarten teacher in Chicago. Chalstrom, a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, spent Thursday and Friday in a protest that has brought a halt to the nation’s third-latest school district.

CHICAGO — Instead of preparing herself for the daily duties of teaching, Ellen Chalstrom has positioned herself alongside more than 25,000 educators in protest for better services for the students in Chicago’s public school systems.

Chalstrom, a St. Edmond High School graduate, is a kindergarten teacher on the south side of Chicago. She spent Thursday and Friday in a protest that has brought a halt to the nation’s third-largest school district.

“I personally believe this is the right choice because the students deserve the very best,” Chalstrom said. “My students come from experiencing lots of trauma and their experiences are then brought into the classroom. We are striking to have a counselor in every school for the kids. They must be able to have access to talk to a trained professional when needed. Their mental health is so important.

“Schools don’t have a full-time nurse, so when a student gets injured, our ‘nurse’ is an ice pack in the office. That’s not fair to the student or the teacher to play both roles of nurse and teacher. I am not a (registered nurse) so I can’t provide the best care when a child has a rash, a deep wound or any other injury. Many times we have to call home or in other cases the student is taken to the emergency room due to lack of medical providers on hand.”

Chalstrom is part of the Chicago Teachers Union that is making similar demands teachers around the country are requesting including smaller class sizes, more support staff and higher raises.

“Even though I am fortunate enough to have a counselor, nurse and fabulous co-workers and support, I know that is not true for all,” she said. “That is why we strike because we stand as one.”

The decision to strike forced cancellations to classes both Thursday and Friday, and according to most reports, negotiations are proceeding, but very slowly.

“Many think it is only about pay, however, that is certainly not true,” Chalstrom said. “While pay is part of the issue, teachers should be treated like other professions that receive comparable raises. Other professions do not expect employees to provide their own supplies and it is so common for myself and teachers across the city — and this country — to buy supplies for our classrooms.

“In terms of academics, we are given all of this pressure to have students perform well on tests and to have high reading levels, yet schools don’t have librarians. That just seems backwards if you ask me. Class-size is another issue on the table. It is very common to have 30-plus students with one teacher and no aides or para-professionals. That results in less differentiation of instruction and more whole group teaching, meaning the individual needs of students can’t be met.”

Chalstrom, who graduated from DePaul University in Chicago with her degree in elementary education, said the reaction has been very positive from the community.

“In terms of support, family, friends and even parents of students certainly have made their voices loud and clear and given us support,” Chalstrom said. “Chicago Fire and Police Departments have come over and given us coffee and doughnuts on the picket line to show their support. Hundreds of cars and city buses drive by honking and waving. There are always a few that are not happy, but overall it has been positive.”

“At the end of the day, we aren’t doing this for ‘time off’ or ‘fall break.’ We are doing this because it matters and it really is important. I would much rather be in my classroom with my leaders than standing on the corner of King Drive and Michigan Avenue, but it’s that important to us that we invest now for the future.

“I believe there are more good people than bad in this world and I certainly believe that the majority agree that every child deserves a great education. I know I love my Panther Leaders in the classroom and I believe they deserve nothing but the best. No matter this outcome, I am so grateful for the school I teach at, and my co-workers.”