Chicago school teachers picket outside Wells High School on Sept. 10, 2012 in Chicago, Ill. More than 26,000 teachers and support staff hit the picket lines this morning after the Chicago Teachers Union failed to reach an agreement with the city on compensation, benefits and job security. With about 350,000 students, the Chicago school district is the third largest in the United States. - 

Kai Ryssdal: Twenty-nine thousand teachers, 350,000 kids -- and a big mess in Chicago. The first school strike there in a quarter-century. You get beyond the dollars and cents, the performance standards and everything else that's on the negotiating table, and what you've got is a whole bunch of parents trying to figure out what to do with their kids now that they can't go to class.

Sheila Coleman is one of those parents. She's a single mom to a 12-year-old daughter. Sheila, good to have you with us.

Sheila Coleman: Glad to be here.

Ryssdal: So tell me first of all what you're doing with your daughter today. I mean, it's a school day, right?

Coleman: Yes it is. Today, she's just at home because I really didn't have anywhere for her to go because I have to be at work at 7:30. They said they have programs open from 6 to 12, but that's not good enough for me; I work 7:30 to 3:30.

Ryssdal: So you left her at home?

Coleman: Yeah, today I left her at home. I'm probably going to have to stay home tomorrow, we'll see.

Ryssdal: When you were thinking about leaving your daughter at home, what kind of economic calculation did you make? Was it, 'I need to take a vacation day?' or 'Can I afford to hire a babysitter?' or did you have to do the math at all?

Coleman: Yeah, I mean, I can't afford a babysitter, I can't afford one. I had to think, 'Should I take this day off from work or is she going to be OK?' I was up to 12 midnight.

Ryssdal: Trying to figure it out?

Coleman: Yeah.

Ryssdal: Wow. And up at 6 this morning to go to work?

Coleman: Up at 5 in the morning to get to work.

Ryssdal: Up at 5. And you multiply that by the parents and families of 350,000 kids in Chicago, and it's a whole big mess.

Coleman: Yes it is, yes it is.

Ryssdal: Are you angry?

Coleman: Somewhat, because I think the kids should be in school. They just got back to school a week. It's only been a week.

Ryssdal: Tell me about your daughter -- is she a responsible girl? Is she going to be all right?

Coleman: Yeah, she is. She's very responsible, but I don't want to leave a 12-year-old by herself.

Ryssdal: What's she doing? Is she sitting at home watching TV?

Coleman: Yeah, but she was saying she didn't want a strike because she didn't want to have to make those days up in the summer.

Ryssdal: Sheila Coleman in Chicago, dealing with the teachers' strike. Ms. Coleman, thanks very much for your time.

Coleman: You're welcome.

Follow Kai Ryssdal at @kairyssdal