Chicago Teachers' Contract Struggle:
Probeationary Teachers Must Have Full Rights

November 6, 2006

The following article is reprinted from the Chicago Teachers' Chalkboard.

Nearly 40 percent of Chicago's public school teachers are currently working on "probation," without the protection of tenure. These teachers, designated as "Probationary Appointed Teachers" (PATs), may be fired, laid off or not reappointed without cause. This probation period lasts for the first four years of work and no reason needs to be given for the dismissal.

Teachers who had tenure but left employment with the Board of Education for any period of time lose their tenure and must work another continuous four years to get it reinstated. Altogether there are 9,300 PATs working in city schools and the number is growing.

In 2005, the Board of Education laid off more than 1,100 "probationary" teachers and this spring another 1,000 were handed pink slips. Many of these teachers were in their third or fourth year and close to receiving tenure. Most had received ratings of "superior" or "excellent" by their school's principal.

PATs' salaries are $20,000 to $25,000 less than tenured teachers at the highest step of the salary schedule. By annually laying off "probationary" teachers, the Board of Education keeps salaries down.

Furthermore, the Board is saving millions in pension payments by firing PATs before they have worked the 5 years necessary for their pensions to be "vested," that is before they are eligible to receive pension benefits.

These work conditions make PATs second class teachers. Armed with the power to fire PATs at will, principals can impose arbitrary demands and extreme overwork on probationary teachers. Many PATs are forced to teach extra classes (over the contractually guaranteed workload), to teach excessively large classes, to take on an array of extra duties without choice or compensation, etc.

Since PATs are always under the principal's gun, they are not free to stand up for their contractual rights, to teach their conscience, to speak out about school conditions or to defend the rights of the teachers.

As the rights of "probationary" teachers are undermined so too are the rights of tenured teachers. How good is a contract which requires compensation for extra duties, if 40% of CPS teachers can be forced to perform these duties for free? How good are provisions on class size, if PATs are regularly forced to teach oversize classes? How can teachers in a particular school or citywide wage a unified struggle, when so many union sisters and brothers face immediate reprisals for standing up? In fact, as long as CPS has the right to employ so many "second-class," disempowered teachers, doesn't it have an incentive to find ways to replace tenured teachers?

For decades teachers and our unions have fought to win contractual and other guarantees of such rights as job security, safeguards against overwork, the right to teach and speak our conscience and organize ourselves, etc. But today, the widespread and growing use of PATs undermines the very foundation of union rights and collectivity by creating a large caste of teachers with no rights whatsoever.

The new contract must be a contract which guarantees rights and standards for all Chicago teachers or, in effect, none of us will have rights. The new contract must reduce the probationary period for teachers and all new employees to not more than one month.