My children have electively attended 7 different Chicago Public Schools in the last 11 years. I dare say I have experienced my fair share of teachers, administrators and teaching environments. So when the teachers stood up and said, “enough is enough” and went on strike September 10, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Instead I was relieved to see them finally standing up and demanding better for themselves, and most importantly for our children.Yes, for our children. It has become increasingly clear to me over the last 11 years that I can’t really trust the board of the Chicago Public Schools implicitly to make choices that help my kids, our kids. My children have gone to 7 different schools because I have been chasing a good education for them. They have been to tuition based preschools, gifted programs, a language academy, a scholastic academy, and an academic center. What they haven’t been to is a neighborhood school, because where we live simply doesn’t offer a solid choice for a quality education. So from the very beginning I had to hunt down the best education I could for all three of my kids. It has not been easy. For one thing my children have very different educational needs. My parents moved heaven and earth to meet my individual needs growing up. I could do no less for their grandchildren, but it has been a journey frought with pitfalls and hurdles. We have left schools because of a lack of recess, a lack of air conditioning, a lack of social services, a lack of curriculum challenges, a lack of arts enrichment, bullying, and harassment. I could fill a book with all of those stories. But as heavy as the load can be at times I still feel it is my duty to bear it so that my kids can achieve.
My son graduated from CPS last June. He’s now at a private high school. Not since he was in kindergarten have I felt so right about his education. Just last week my son came to me with joyous news. He is getting high marks in Honors Algebra. Just the fact that he is in Honors Algebra is a huge accomplishment and a surprise if you looked at his math grades while at CPS. But when he tested for high school he defied the CPS role he had been cast in, that of, dare I say, dumb jock, and earned himself an academic scholarship to a private high school. He came to me the other night thrilled with his current math achievement, but also a little confused. “Mom, how am I getting such good grades in high school Algebra when I got such bad grades in elementary school?” I told him then what I had been telling him all along. “It wasn’t that you were never good at math it was that you required more repetitions of the math lessons than many of your classmates. And being in a classroom with over 30 students, with multiple math rules being tackled each class period, with next to no processing time available to allow the information to sink in because most of the year needed to be dedicated to preparing for the isats, you had no real chance to chew the curriculum let alone digest it.” In CPS the farther behind my son fell the more discouraged he became. The more discouraged he became the farther behind he fell. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was only because of the care and dedication of two of his math teachers that he was able to bring his math average up to allow him to graduate. Those teachers knew what I knew, my son had math in him he just needed a little extra time and guidance to get it out. Now that he is in a smaller classroom where the only tests he has to worry about are those that relate to the actual material he is presently learning, he is free to chew, swallow and digest every morsel of the curriculum before him. And isn’t that what education is supposed to be? So why did my son have to goto private school to find it? That’s what this strike is about.
When I told my son’s godmother about his math revelation she was far from matter of fact in her response. Priscilla Dee Dixon Esquire is a mother of three current and former CPS students. She is also a lawyer, a professor, an LSC member, a community advocate and the smartest woman I know. She told me, “If I could get every CPS parent to understand one thing to start, understand public education was never about educating the public. Public education was about training workers. You weren’t supposed to think, you were supposed to get up on time, do your work, go home and do the same thing the next day. That was it. Now there are a ton of people in positions of privilege and power who beleive you don’t want to offer access to the possibility of unlimited income, (quality education) to everybody because it creates too many problems. It unsettles the World. As far as they are concerned the playing field is level. They don’t want everybody to have an equal chance.” She went on to say, “What does education mean? Does education mean you can just fill out a form at the post office? The problem is CPS is putting out students who can’t even fill out the form.” In listening to Priscilla’s assessment I remarked that it sounded like institutional slavery to me. She agreed. “It is and it isn’t directly tied to race. But since poverty is so inextricably tied to race so is this issue.” That’s what this strike is about.
Poverty and race are subjects that have been used in various ways in commercials for the coming Presidential election. But those weren’t the commercials clogging my airways this week. Instead all I saw was the pro Chicago Public Schools propaganda commercial. When that started airing earlier this week I was floored. Where did that money come from? I understand that CPS didn’t pay for it, but if CPS has friends with pockets deep enough to support a manipulative media blitz then why couldn’t they dig into those pockets to get air conditioning in classrooms, libraries in schools, books in children’s backpacks? Why wasn’t that a financial priority? Famed Chicago Television anchor Walter Jacobson is taking our Mayor Rahm Emanuel to task for just this issue. He is calling the Mayor out. If he is the fundraising savant that everyone, including himself, claim him to be then he should put those talents to use on behalf of this city’s schools and students. That’s what this strike is about.
Make no mistake Chicago Public Schools need money, some more than others. Teachers know this better than anyone because it is often from their own pockets that supplemental funds come to pay for supplies that are necessary for learning. Simple but vital supplies, like paper, pens, and box fans. Yes, box fans to combat the heat in rooms sweltering without air conditioning. My eldest daughter struggled with just such an environment 2 years ago at A.N. Pritzker. If that name sounds familiar it’s because it is the name of one of the wealthiest families in the World let alone Chicago. But the school that bears the great patriarchs name didn’t even have air conditioning until last year. Pritzker is one of the lucky schools because they did finally get AC, but so many others are still without any relief. Yet teachers report to the those schools. They bring their box fans and their passion for education and they battle the odds to teach their students. That’s what this strike is about.
Trying to learn attending those hot and depressed schools is an uphill battle. The challenge is supposed to come from the curriculum not form the conditions of your learning environment…or your neighborhood. Yet thousands of children each day are battling the elements inside and out of their schools just for the chance to learn. A chance that is supposed to be their right. The teachers who walk beside the children through the minefield of depressed education, economy and environment do so because for the most part they are fully committed to their roles as educators. They believe in every childs’ inalienable right to receive a quality education. But they don’t believe that it is fair to be evaluated on their students’ academic performance given the vast disparity in the distribution of funds to schools, and the household incomes and accessibility to resources within communities. The way I see it, if current teacher evaluations were a science experiment it would be thrown out of the science fair because it lacks controlled variables. There are too many independent variables to properly measure the dependent variable, teacher effectiveness and ability. Former Chicago Teacher’s Union President Deborah Lynn on the WTTW television program Chicago Tonight commented,
“The teacher evaluation, it’s a symbol of a system that dumps people out who’s only crime was teaching in a high poverty school.”
We shouldn’t be penalyzing teachers who give so much of themselves to children who are having to settle for so little. All teachers should be fairly evaluated by a consortium of administration, their peers and parent advocates. And they should be offered the proper professional development support so that they can get better and be better for our kids. That is what this strike is about.
We have many children living with poverty based struggles, but all children are susceptible to health struggles no matter their station in life. When my youngest was in Kindergarten, just the 2nd month or so, both her classroom teacher and her music teacher approached me independently to say that they were concerned about her decline in energy and focus. They told me that my daughter is normally so vibrant and they had noticed a dimming in her internal light. I had noticed that my daughter was more tired than usual but I had dismissed it as normal for first quarter in a new school. But with her teachers raising concerns I took a second look. And then I had her doctor take a third look. And all of those looks led to the discovery that my daughter was ill. It wasn’t a little illness. It wasn’t a diagnosed illness. It was a medical mystery that hampered her for two years. She is a year and a half into her recovery post surgery, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened to her if her teachers hadn’t mentioned their concerns to me. My daughter, despite the extensive nature of her illness, was lucky, because it’s not technically a teachers job to watch over the medical needs of their charges, that job is supposed to fall to a nurse, or in the case of emotional trauma, a school social worker. But there wasn’t a regular, daily nurse at my daughter’s school. Honestly I am not sure I have ever met the nurse at her school and I have at least one child at that school since 2007. How many children are slipping through the cracks because there aren’t enough nurses on hand to keep an eye on kids, paying attention to those little changes that could indicate big problems. That’s what this strike is about.
Monday marks the beginning of the second week of this teacher strike. I must admit I didn’t think that the strike would stretch into week two because I knew that it could hamper the support of parents for the teacher’s efforts, because having kids out of school is a hardship. But I am hoping the parents will stay steadfast and true to the teachers who do the same and more for our children. My mother marched for integration in the Milwaukee Public School System when I was very young. If she and others, including many teachers, hadn’t stood up and fought for me to have equal access to education I would not be Miss Lori today, I am sure of it. I want my kids to have the opportunity to grow up and become the best of self they can be. Protesting, marching, striking, that is what we all have available to us to change the status quo. Just because Chicago teachers haven’t exercised those rights in twenty five years doesn’t make them any less valid or useful. But if children were in the classrooms while teachers reviewed the proposed contract there would be no leverage, and change requires leverage to move the seemingily immoveable.
Yes, not every teacher is a saint out to change the World. They are human afterall. I have absolutely had my share of difficulties with a few individuals over the years, but those experiences have done nothing to dampen my belief that teaching is a noble profession that is grossly undervalued. Education is a right that we should celebrate and protect, not dread and discount. And that is absolutely what this strike is about.
Miss Lori can be found Musing from her Minivan at MissLori.TV, Wearetherealdeal.com, YoungChicagonista, ChicagoMomsBlog, and ChicagoMoms.com. You can also see her Activating to Be Great at Miss Lori’s CAMPUS on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter , Pinterest, Instagram, TOUT and LinkedIn.