Caught in the Middle: Chicago’s Student Teachers During the Strike

While schools sat empty and teachers marched downtown, Chicago's student teachers were lost in the middle.


Downtown Chicago was packed with striking teachers and schools across the city sat vacant: stark contrasts to each other. But unseen by many of the public, the city's student teachers had no where to go. Instead of being with their kids or standing on the picket lines with their colleagues, they were told to stay home and stay out of the way. Trapped on a gray-middle ground, in world of black and whites. 

What Was The Strike?

During the last two weeks of October, the nation’s third-largest school district was shut down for 11 days while the Chicago Teachers Union clashed with Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Among the issues the union was fighting for was reduced class sizes, more preparation time, and increased nurses, librarians and social workers. 

The strike officially ended on the afternoon of Oct. 31, allowing classes to resume and more than 300,000 students to return to school for the first time on Nov. 1. Part of the deal struck between the union and city met the teachers' demands of putting a social worker and nurse in every school. The overarching deal did not accomplish everything the teachers were marching for, but Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said that was okay.

“Did we accomplish every single little thing? No," said Sharkey, as Vox reported. "But I can say that we moved the needle on educational justice in the city." 

What Happened to the Student Teachers?

Chicago is known for teachers strikes – the most recent occurring for seven days in in 2012 – and there’s often plenty of press coverage on the students, parents and teachers involved. But one particular group is seldom included in such conversations. Occupying both spaces of both their kids and their mentors, student teachers are told to remain on the edge of the entire situation.

Many of the student teaching contracts around the city are made through universities and the city of Chicago. The students are not allowed to be part of the teaching union until after they are hired, so to march on the picket lines would be a violation of their contracts, just months before many are looking to begin working for the Chicago Public School District. 

Shelby Kluver spoke to two senior education majors at Loyola about what it was like to be forced into a long and stressful waiting game. A game where they weren’t allowed to take a stance either way, and were instead made to watch those who might become their own colleagues and students in just nine short months, from the outside. 

Kelsey McCracken, studying to teach middle school math, and Mary McDermott, a high school English student teacher, are both seniors at Loyola University Chicago's School of Education. During the strike, they said they felt a little more useless as each day went by. 

"When I find my purpose that's my purpose," said McCracken. "I love teaching and when I’m not allowed to I feel like I’m useless and have nothing to do. I went from being able to be this big person in the classroom to this person who just kind of had to sit and wait and that’s very opposite and not fun at all." 

You can watch their story in the above video.