February marks the 1-year anniversary of the start of contract negotiations between the Oak Park and River Forest High School Faculty Senate and the District 200 school board. 

The two sides are close to hammering out a new agreement to replace the last one that was ratified in 2014. In a statement, Faculty Senate Chairwoman Sheila Hardin said that the two sides “currently have a tentative agreement with the board of education and hope to present the offer to the faculty this week.”

In interviews and written statements throughout the negotiation process, D200 school board members expressed their commitment to balancing deep support and appreciation for teachers and students with their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers.

But that didn’t stop a few hundred teachers from packing the school’s old library space during a Jan. 24 board meeting to remind the public about the rigors of the job.  

Paul Collins, a lifelong Oak Parker who teaches special education and coaches wrestling at the high school, said teachers have been working “as if the contract had been settled months ago.”  

The four teachers who spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion described a job that requires total dedication; that consumes nights and weekends and eats into family and personal time; and that is both satisfying and frustrating.

“This is a very difficult job,” said Matt McMurray, a history teacher and varsity girl’s golf coach. “The hours required year-round to do this job at a high level are grueling and seemingly unending, but we do it — day in and day out.

“We do it and we do it at an elite level,” he said. “We do it at a sacrifice to our families, our social lives and our own personal desires. We do it in spite of the negative perceptions and constant attacks on our profession, often from those who have never done this job themselves. We do it because we love our students and the difference we can make in their lives. We do it because of our deep commitment to serving our community that we all hold so dear.”

Veteran teacher Naomi Hildner described the experiences of her son, an OPRF graduate and former corporate attorney who “decided he needed to live a life that would have meaning and count for something, so he quit, went back to school and is now completing his student teaching at OPRF — his own high school that he fondly remembers from years back.”

Hildner said every day her son “frets about every one of his students” and changes his lesson plans multiple times. He is learning “that this tortuous practice is the life of a teacher. … Just wait until he surrenders his weekends to grading.”

Hardin, an OPRF math teacher, echoed the sentiments of the teachers who spoke before her and thanked “the 285 faculty members for their professionalism as they’ve worked without a contract this year.”

“While the thousands of periods that we’ve taught represent a large part of our day,” Hardin said, “it does not represent the full story of what we do.” The scope of teachers’ work goes well beyond what’s defined in a union contract, she added, then went into a litany of off-the-clock tasks that, when considered in totality, explain why teaching is such a life-consuming profession.

The before- and after-school and lunchtime meetings with students, the summers spent prepping for new curriculum, the extracurricular activities teachers attend to show support for students, the 1,200 college recommendations teachers write for each senior class and more, Hardin explained.

“We are here for the students of OPRF,” she said. “They are our focus and this focus has never faltered as we’ve worked without a contract.”

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com

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