Back in class

Tonantzin Martinez, left, listens to her third-grade teacher Dorothy Johnson as class resumed at Manuel Perez Jr. Elementary School in the Pilsen neighborhood. (Heather Charles, Chicago Tribune / September 19, 2012)

It was back to school -- again -- for hundreds of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students this morning, including Carter and McClaran Shirley who were excited to get back with their friends.

Carter, a sixth grader at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, had just become accustomed to switching teachers for different subjects when the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike, suspending school for a week and a half. His sister, McClaran, is in seventh grade.

Their mom, Liz Shirley, said she kept her kids busy with math workbooks as her second-grader, Durham, practiced his handwriting.

Shirley, who works from home, was understanding at first but became frustrated when the CTU's House of Delegates didn't vote to send children back to school Monday.

"It was a little bit of a roller ride," Shirley said. "I never picked a side. I understand the mayor's and teachers' challenges."

Shirley said she didn't understand why the CTU couldn't meet again Monday, when there normally would have been school.

"I've hit the reset button emotionally," Shirley said. "We're back to routine."

Amy Bryant accompanied her daughter Madison and son Carson to Bell Elementary.

"It feels like the first day of school again, because I was just nervous by waking up," fourth-grader Madison said. "I'm really excited to see my teacher again."

Bryant said her son Carson, Madison's twin brother, has separation anxiety.  "The anticipation of the first day is hard enough for my kids," Bryant said.

At Tilton Elementary School on the West Side, school officials ushered dozens of energetic students through the front doors. "Welcome back, welcome back," they said.

As she dropped off four of her grandchildren, Eardia Bassett, 67, said she was happy to have them back in school. "I'm glad that bus picked (my granddaughter) up this morning," Bassett said as she sat in the passenger seat of a van next to her son-in-law. "I love her dearly, but give me a few hours."

Bassett said she understood why the teachers went on strike, but thinks the issues should have been resolved during the summer. "These kids are already far behind," she said.

Less than a mile away, children trickled into Hefferan Elementary.

"We get to do good stuff" in school, said Matthew Temble, 7, who walked to Hefferan with his uncle.

Marlena Jacobs, 25, said she had been relying on her mother to take care  of her daughter, 4-year-old Mycaiya Curtis. "She's just ready to get the kids out of the house," Jacobs said of her mom. "She woke up at 4 a.m. today."

Antionette Smith, 30, took her 7-year-old daughter to work while the strike dragged on.

Her daughter was anxious to get back to reading and math lessons. "It didn't make any sense how long she was out," she said. "I thank God we're back. My baby needs the education."

Delegates for the Chicago Teachers Union voted Tuesday to call off the strike, paving the way for CTU's entire membership to approve a contract in the coming weeks that will secure them a double-digit salary increase over the next three years, including raises for cost of living while maintaining other increases for experience and advanced education.