When the Wolves Decide What’s Best for the Sheep

How one suburban Illinois board of education is illustrating a major problem in education.

Back when I taught and I would be introduced to someone as a high school English teacher, I almost always got one of two responses: Oh, you’re a saint—I don’t know how you do it or Must be nice to get out at 3:30 and have summers off…

The disparity in respect for the teaching profession is nothing new—there are those who feel that teachers should be esteemed as essential to a healthy and thriving community and future…and there are those who embrace the adage “if you can’t do, teach” and feel that teachers have it easy. Apparently, because we’ve received an education, we must know the realities of being a teacher.

That’s like me saying that because I have received medical care I know what it’s like to be a doctor. But the big difference in this comparison is that laypeople are not directing the medical profession—but they are directing education.

To me, there are two major challenges to our fostering a healthy educational system in the United States. The first is the way that education is funded. Unlike most other countries, the majority of funding for education comes from the state and local levels, with less than 10% coming from the federal government. (Where they can establish standards like Common Core and withhold that funding if those standards are not met.) Since property taxes are a major source of funding, where a student lives can have a great impact on the quality of education they receive—creating a very uneven (and unfair) playing field.

Additionally, since referenda are the vehicle for taxpayers to decide on increases in educational support, they are frequently voted down. My theory on this is that…since we have so little direct voice in what is funded with our taxes, when we do get a chance (i.e. referenda), the frustration level is so high that whatever we can vote on faces a ridiculous uphill battle. Educational funding is the “dog” that gets kicked because we don’t get a chance to directly say no to things like military spending or “roads to nowhere.”

The second major challenge is that those making the decisions for education—from the federal level down to the local level—have little or no experience in education or what it’s like to actually teach a classroom of students. Too often administrators haven’t been in the classroom for years or they haven’t taught at all, yet they—along with the board who hired them—are the ones deciding what happens in those classrooms. At best, this results in having those who make the decisions try to understand and do what’s best for students, and at worst, it gives them the ability to push their own personal agendas.

The latter seems to be the case in a teachers’ strike in District 156 in McHenry, Illinois.* Though the National School Boards Association itself states that effective school boards should “have a collaborative relationship with staff and the community,” McHenry’s board of education has members that include a man whose public agenda to get elected was “I want to make the teachers suffer.” And…he was elected.

Contentious is an extremely diplomatic way to assess the relationship between District 156’s BOE and the teachers’ union. Though the teachers have been working in good faith without a contract, board members have said that they are willing to move on nothing.


support 3


The board’s reasoning for not offering teachers an increase in pay that reflects the teachers’ previous sacrifices or better insurance compensation is centered on the community’s lack of education. They have stated that since only 24% of the people in McHenry have college degrees, and since the average income of the community is $50,000, why should their teachers make more?


this infographic actually existed on the school’s website for a while–attempting to illustrate that Joe Teacher is making too much


I wonder if the board members are willing to share what their income is…and if it’s over $50,000, shouldn’t they give it back? After all, if we are deciding professional compensation based on average incomes, then shouldn’t it be done across the board? (Pun intended.)

Sadly, board members do not see compensating the teachers in their district as an investment in education and their children or a way to make the community more attractive to home buyers. Offering a fair and competitive salary schedule will make teachers want to stay and continue to grow as educators rather than getting their resumes in order to find a district that values its educators.


the students know the teachers’ value


Rather than valuing the teachers in their district, a board member was actually overheard saying, “I f***ing HOPE they go on strike—and I hope they’re all in the same building and a bomb goes off!”

I am at a loss for what to say in response to those words and that kind of mindset.

Having BOE reps say multiple times in news coverage that they are not interested in truly negotiating, the intent seems to be to have it be a lengthy strike so that the teachers look bad and the community’s ire grows. And, while some in the community are very angry…


angry parent


…their plan may indeed be backfiring. The striking teachers have been met with growing support as the days wear on from students, parents, community members, and local businesses. Perhaps they are seeing that the wolves shouldn’t be sitting on the dais after all.



support 2


As combative as this strike is, I continue to hope and pray that there is a positive end result.

But even if there is, the bigger challenge still looms.

This issue is too important to ignore. It is our heart because it is about our kids—all of our kids—and our future as a society. Those who feel that teachers shouldn’t be paid as the professionals they are should shadow a teacher and find out what life is really like. Perhaps they will grow respect from the inside out instead of assuming what they don’t really know.

If we want our children to blossom and flourish, then we must cultivate and support the garden in which they grow.

If we value education, then we must value the educators.


*In the interest of transparency, my sister is a teacher in District 156, and a damn great one. However, while I am related to someone involved in this strike, the facts are the facts, and that is what I base my writing on.


All photos are my own or used with permission.
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16 thoughts on “When the Wolves Decide What’s Best for the Sheep

    1. This is a flawed analysis of unions. While unions are not perfect by any stretch, they are not the reason our school system is what it is. Though the video claims it is not anti-union, the choice of language and what they choose to include and exclude clearly makes it so. You are entitled to your opinion, but I certainly disagree with it. How the board in District 156 is behaving is precisely why unions are important to our educational system.

  1. It’s a catch 22 – I feel the teachers aren’t doing their jobs OR our State ranking would be better – but if the teachers aren’t getting the support they need, how do we expect them to do a better job? Something has to change and everytime the Teachers get a raise, the homeowners suffer – perhaps the BOE can cut their salaries to make up the difference???? Or we can afford to cut the Superintendents and Principals salaries??? Probably NEVER going to happen! How does the District plan to pay for the raises and insurance??? How do the Teachers think this is going to be paid for??? Sometimes I just feel everyone is between a rock and a hard place!

    1. Kitty, the money needed to meet what the union is asking for would come from a $4.5 million SURPLUS that was created in large part from the sacrifices teachers had previously made.

      As for our state ranking, and issues like merit pay, etc., until we come up with a truly workable and fair “ranking” or merit system, it will continue to be flawed. When I taught, for example, I would have a student as a freshman who was an immigrant coming in with a second grade reading level. In one year, he may improve three grade levels–but since they don’t assess growth in that way, they would simply see that a 9th grader is reading at a 5th grade level instead of recognizing that the student’s ability grew three entire grades in a single year. There’s a lot that needs to be taken into account in order to fairly judge teachers.

  2. BOE is not paid. They are elected (volunteer) officials. Not to be confused with paid administrative staff. When a strike happens all suffer, it takes years to heal. Both sides have the accountability now but a board that refuses to negotiate and make some sort of progress really ticks everyone off, especially the union. Time to get different board members in there that have some basis of reality to move things forward.

  3. Before you spew that kind of nonsense, you might want to follow the modern day practice of providing sources for quotes and statistics. This blog post is a joke and a pretty poor reflection on you as a writer.

    1. Perhaps you are not familiar with hyperlinks? All of my statistical information is supported with sources. Just click on the different colored text, and it will bring you to the source of the information. The “bomb” comment is the only statement without a direct hyperlinked source, and I chose to protect my source given that the content of the statement threatens violence. No joke there.

  4. Teachers and government workers have been promised a Pension for life after 30 years of working, which is far more than the vast majority of regular workers attempt to save for over 40+ years. COL adjustments, an average of your last 4 years (inflated) salary and an auto adjustment upwards after 5 years of retirement. The idea behind the guaranteed pension system was for teachers to do a job most didn’t want to do for less pay than the private sector for the “greater good” and it would result in a better than average retirement for life on the back of the taxpayers. It is one thing for a union to strike against private business but not against their neighbors who pay their salaries. Many in the private sector pay for for their own healthcare out of pocket and can get a “reasonable” and affordable insurance plan under Obamacare for $3000-5000 for an individual with reasonable deductible… The insurance stipends available to these teachers is generously high to say the least. Many comments indicate if we improve the schools (at the cost of higher tax rates) we will attract better business and higher property values, when in fact the truth is inverse to that. People are fleeing McHenry and Illinois due to our insane property taxes. Look at your tax bill, when over 70% goes to schools and pensions, another increase to this will drive values down and more people away. The school board is looking out for the best interest of the community, which includes students, taxpayers, businesses and some teachers, and all are very successful PRIVATE business people who actually produce a product as opposed to government which produces nothing. Keep up the good fight Board and hire a whole new staff if necessary! The only ones losing in this who sham of a strike are the kids… Wait, the same people the teachers say they are there to help, teach, enrich and support. Funny how self interest gets in the way of that mission….

  5. Wonderful blog post. Communities who value education and teachers have high performing schools. It’s that simple.

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