A cycle of poverty leads to a myriad of problems that effect school age children—working parents with no time for their kids, neighborhoods without services and with high crime, addiction, mental health issues, physical health challenges, poor food choices and a lack of civic engagement. This is the baggage that community schools have to deal with. While schools try to grapple with hunger and mental health, they also try to teach. These are not excuses for the poor performance of teachers or our educational system. They are reasons why teaching and having a great teacher is even more important than ever.
I decided ten years ago that the best way that I could effect change in the city of Chicago was to help develop great teachers. This decision led me to study teacher education, coach, teach and support current and future educators. For the entirety of my 17 years of teaching, I have taught English and Language Arts, from the 6th grade level through community college composition; each year I grew as a teacher and I became better at my craft. I learned. I studied. I adjusted. I changed.
I feel invigorated seeing students, parents and community members stand up and stand together in the face of sweeping changes in our city; however, I have to ask…where were you before? How did you let the schools get to this point? Why weren’t you proactive by participating in the local school council, PTA, PACT meetings, meetings with teachers, principal selections and forums, volunteering that the local community center, chaperoning field trips, helping your fellow teachers, working together and working your hardest. Where were you when the attendance was dwindling? Where were you when 8th graders aren’t able to read?
We live in a reactive world. We wait until we are dehydrated before we request a drink of water, until the problem has gotten too far out of control before we stand up and try to make a difference, until another group of students has been overtested, undertaught and factory educated to accept the programming of their cultures, communities and lives.
The recent student protests in support of teachers warms the heart. Most teachers understand that our gratification is delayed. We hope a student returns from middle school, high school or college and says, “You were right.” or “You really prepared me for what was to come.” It is the rare time that students are reflective in the moment, so for students to feel the urge to walk out of school to support teachers says a lot. However, students come and go. It is difficult to sustain something when the population turns over. The adults remain. If I am a student and aware of the problems within the Chicago Public Schools, I wonder when the adults are going to say to each other what is the best thing to do for the students. On one side, the politicians say the schools are in need of change and the teachers say the schools are fine. Is there a middle ground or is one group of adults not revealing their true intentions for rhetorical purposes?
There are amazing teachers all over the city doing amazing things for kids. There are also marginal teachers all over the city doing okay things for kids, and there are terrible teachers all over the city doing a disservice to kids. It is time to bring more educators over into that first group. I am soon going to complete a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and will become a full-time teacher educator. Currently, I am studying why people enter the profession, what they believe the profession entails and the sort of training teachers are given once they enter the profession. Chicago's schools are in crisis and great teachers are more critical than ever to the fight for keeping our children safe and prepared to take on the world. I hope that I can help to increase the number of those who are not only willing, but able, to do the work.