A Tale of (Teaching in) Two Cities: Chicago, Illinois, and Charleston, South Carolina

Published November 11, 2019

On October 17, 2019, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) launched a citywide strike. Throughout the Windy City, almost 360,000 students were out of the classroom again because 25,000 teachers are demanding more money and other perks, such as smaller class sizes.

Never mind the fact that Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers are already handsomely rewarded (average salary is $71,150) and are not overburdened with huge classes. In fact, CPS spends $2,000 more than the average Illinois district in “instructional” and “operational” funding per pupil. CPS also does a much poorer job of educating their students, even with thousands of more dollars per child, than the average Illinois district.

Well, as an unbiased observer, I would like to offer the following tale of my recent teaching experiences in the Chicagoland and Charleston areas. Without further ado.

Several years ago, I decided to embark upon a career in education and enrolled in graduate school. I had always loved history and the inner workings of government, so I naturally thought teaching social studies would be a rewarding occupation. Eventually, I earned a master’s degree from National Louis University (NLU), a teaching college located near my hometown in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

While at NLU, I was somewhat shocked by the blatantly leftist policies openly flaunted by the vast majority of the “distinguished” faculty. However, I trooped on and did what I had to do in order to graduate and obtain a teacher license in the state of Illinois (a total nightmare in and of itself).

Because social justice was the top orthodoxy at NLU, I had the “opportunity” to spend lots of time in CPS classrooms. Apparently, CPS teachers and staff are more than happy to host/brainwash up-and-coming social justice warriors. They also provided snacks and other “goodies.” Honestly, this seemed more like a recruiting mission than an educational experience. However, I digress.

I spent countless hours in CPS hallways, mostly “shadowing” veteran teachers and observing their classroom management strategies—or lack of, more accurately. Unfortunately, my hours spent observing these classrooms resulted in a total waste of my time (a notion shared by many, if not most, of my fellow soon-to-be-teachers).

In short, the state of most CPS classrooms was “contained chaos” at best. Warning, yes, I am painting this situation with a very broad brush. However, in general, CPS schools were not the greatest “learning environments,” at least not compared to my experience as a student at New Trier High School (where I later completed my student teaching).

While at CPS, I noticed a few main takeaways: teacher morale was abysmal, student behavior was appalling, and the size of the bureaucracy was positively stunning! Other than that, it was business as usual, as sad as it was.

Following my graduation, I began to look for a full-time teaching position. As part of a larger “lifestyle move,” I decided to relocate to Bluffton, South Carolina (a beautiful “Lowcountry” town near Charleston, Hilton Head, and Savannah, Georgia), where I would begin my teaching career.

Bluffton, unlike Chicago, was booming. Midwesterners and New Englanders were (and still are) flocking to the Charleston area in droves. Almost immediately, I was hired as a long-term substitute for a fellow Chicagoan who was on maternity leave. Eventually, I was hired for a full-time position at Bluffton High School—go Bobcats!

As I became more enmeshed in the South Carolina education culture and the local political scene in scenic Bluffton (I served on a small-time town board) and attended various functions related to education and other things I cared about, I began to notice quite a difference between my time in Illinois schools and South Carolina schools.

Once again, trigger warning ahead: I am painting with a big broad brush. However, in the eyes of yours truly, South Carolina schools and Chicago schools were more opposite than the North and South poles. One of the main reasons for this seismic schism: the Palmetto State is a Right to Work state (you do not have to join a union) and the Prairie State is arguably the most union-friendly state in the nation. Perhaps this was a contributing factor to the socialist rhetoric bandied about in CPS, NLU, and even New Trier. In Illinois, the mantra is: Unions über alles.

And now, for this story to come full circle. A few years ago, I decided that teaching was not the ultimate occupation for me. So I applied to work at a libertarian think tank, conveniently located right outside my old stomping grounds in the northern suburbs of Chicago: The Heartland Institute.

At Heartland, part of my job is to follow education policy. Well, we are now in day two of the most recent CTU strike. Yes, like a bad case of oft-recurring deja vu, CTU is up to its old “tricks” of holding students’ futures hostage, all for a few more dollars and a few less students to look after.

According to CPS, “our mission is to provide a high quality public education for every child, in every neighborhood, that prepares each for success in college, career and civic life.”

CPS teachers are failing miserably in their mission. Maybe they should not be rewarded with more money, more posh positions, and all other sorts of “treats.” After all, with Halloween fast approaching, these teachers and their union bosses are more in line for a “trick” than a “treat.”

[Originally Published at The Daily Herald]