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Fighting Poverty, Drugs and Even Violence, All on a Teacher’s Salary

They were asked to preside over classrooms of up to 60 children, many of whom could not speak English, in a city surging with immigrants and struggling to control rampant child labor and typhoid in the water. All for the equivalent of $13,000 a year in today’s dollars.

Thus, in 1897, the Chicago Teachers Federation, and the modern teachers union movement, was born.

Wages have gone up and class sizes down in the ensuing 121 years, but one thing has remained constant: Almost every major strike since then has come as teachers have been asked to shoulder society’s biggest challenges, from disease to racial inequality and, today in West Virginia, a drug crisis on top of a growing nationwide fear of bloodshed in the classroom.