While many Chicago teachers boycotted going to work today to participate in the Chicago Teachers Union’s day of action, Lane Tech High School teacher Mike DeRoss showed up for work because he felt it was the right thing to do.
DeRoss has been a teacher at Lane Tech for 18 years, and this year he is teaching political science. This past week DeRoss said he resigned from the union via email.
“Chicago Tonight” spoke with him after he left work.
What do you think of today’s day of action?
DeRoss: I hope that everybody did what they thought was the right thing to do. I have no idea how it went. I spent my day at work. I don’t have a window that overlooks anything but the center courtyard at Lane Tech, so I have no idea what went on. But I hope that everybody did what they thought they needed to do, what they thought was right.
What do you think this particular day was about?
DeRoss: The stated purpose, of course, was to go and rah-rah and show people that something’s going on. Honestly, I think the real purpose was for—that the union leadership, or my former union leadership, needed to be able to say they were doing something. And I think they had a big plan to do things, and we were about to get a 7 percent whack on our pay and then when the board backed off, much like the grand mobility plans of World War I, they were already in place, they couldn’t back off of them.
Now, you say former leadership, does that mean you’re no longer a member of the union?
DeRoss: I’m not one way or another. I emailed them to resign, and they responded. And since I went to work today their rules say they will kick you out. One way or another, I’m no longer a member.
What are your thoughts on the day covering not only teachers’ stuff but also the Fight for $15 and raising awareness of universities that are struggling without state funding?
DeRoss: When did we turn into France? When the French protest, everybody quits work, you stay home. It’s a European thing. Socialists. Let’s have our great day of sit down and not work, and we’ll show them. I just think it was foolhardy.
If the teachers really want their cause to be front and center, then why dilute it with groups such as Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15. That’s just not going to do the cause well.
Why didn’t you participate today?
DeRoss: I didn’t believe it was the right thing to do.
“How can I with a straight face every day and a clear conscious tell these kids, ‘You gotta obey the rules,’ when most of the people teaching them said, ‘Screw the rules. We’re going to do it the way we want to.’”
What was it like going to class today and crossing the picket line?
DeRoss: I got there at about 6 o’clock in the morning, which is just a little earlier than they normally get there—not much but just a little. And I didn’t see any picket lines or any other signs of life when I walked in from the parking lot.
So, what was it like? I went to work. I did what I was supposed to do today.
What did you do today at work? There were no kids in class, correct?
DeRoss: That’s correct. I graded papers. Then I did a number of things that I couldn’t well have done with kids there. I did a bunch of research on various websites for review for my kids because they’re all about to take state AP tests here in the second week of May and things like that.
What kinds of repercussions do you expect from CTU? I know you said you had resigned already, but I had read reports that they were going to fine teachers for participating.
DeRoss: I didn’t know that CTU had the force of law to fine anybody. A fine to be enacted involuntarily must come from some type of coercion and said coercion can only come from government, not a union.
I want to go back to December 2015 when the full membership strike vote was taken. What were your feelings then?
DeRoss: I voted for that. I’ll tell you what the difference is. That was a real strike. It would’ve been a strike that would’ve been legal in May or whenever we decided to break off bargaining when the cooling off period ended. I wouldn’t have had a big problem with that.
I’ve got to sit in front of 140 kids every day and I’ve got to tell them to obey the rules, wear their IDs, don’t do this, don’t do that because it is the rules and they need to respect the rules. How can I with a straight face every day and a clear conscious tell these kids, “You gotta obey the rules,” when most of the people teaching them said, “Screw the rules. We’re going to do it the way we want to.”
Interview has been condensed and edited.
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