A tale of (teaching in) two cities: Chicago, Illinois, and Charleston, South Carolina

On Oct. 17, 2019, the Chicago Teachers Union launched a citywide strike. Throughout the Windy City, almost 360,000 students are 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 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:

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.

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's license in 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.

In short, the state of most CPS classrooms was "contained chaos" at best. 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 take-aways: teacher morale was abysmal, student behavior was appalling, and the size of the bureaucracy was positively stunning.

Following my graduation, I began my teaching career in Bluffton, South Carolina, a beautiful "Lowcountry" town near Charleston, Hilton Head and Savannah, Georgia.

Bluffton, unlike Chicago, was booming. Midwesterners and New Englanders were (and still are) flocking to the Charleston area in droves. 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.

Again, 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, to come full circle. A few years ago, I decided that teaching was not the ultimate occupation for me. So I joined the libertarian Heartland Institute, conveniently located in Arlington Heights, right outside my old Chicago-area stomping grounds.

At Heartland, I follow education policy and am watching the CTU strike. Yes, like a bad case of oft-recurring déjà vu, CTU is up to its old "tricks" of holding students' futures hostage, all for a few more dollars and a few fewer 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."

Chris Talgo,, of Buffalo Grove, is an editor at The Heartland Institute.

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