A Letter to CPS Teachers
Dear Chicago Public School Teachers,
Today, although you were not officially working, I’d like you to know that you were still teaching. Sadly, though, it was a lesson I wish my young daughter and I had missed. We witnessed yelling in the streets, inappropriate and unprofessional behavior, and banter about how pleased you are to have such a beautiful day off. As I walked past the picket lines, I couldn’t help but wonder: who is fighting for our city’s children?
I support teachers. My dad is a public school teacher. My mother and her mother are both retired educators, and I attended public school and thrived. While deciding on my major in college, I even considered teaching and spent time working as a substitute in a local public school.
I can tell you exactly why I chose not to become a teacher. My teaching experience sucked. It was not only difficult and demeaning, but it literally sucked the life right out of me. I watched demoralized educators complaining in the teacher’s lounge that the weekend, the next school vacation, and even retirement seemed too far away. If there is another profession in which individuals actually wish their lives away, I have yet to experience it.
Teachers’ ambivalence and frustration, I quickly learned, was not a result of working with students. It was the result of working in a broken system that doesn’t fulfill its obligation to our children. Teachers are part of what is broken, but the system as a whole does not fulfill its obligation to society, nor does it appreciate, reward, or respect our teachers. Even as a sub, I knew that if I pursued a degree in education it would be almost impossible to grow, thrive, challenge myself while being duly appreciated. Despite my best intentions, I would be limited in how much I could help my students. Afraid that I too would end up disenchanted, I ran far away. Where I thought I was headed with a sociology degree is beyond me, but I knew teaching was not for me.
As luck and fate would have it, however, a few years later my career brought me back to public schools by way of educational technology. For almost a decade, I’ve partnered with teachers from literally everywhere and have been shocked by all of the amazing things happening in our schools. Yes, that’s right. Smart, talented, and passionate educators and administrators have been working together, making the best out of bad situations and doing the impossible to fulfill their promise of a better future to our children. The sad news is that these inspiring creatures are not in every school I visit – not even close.
Despite these professionals’ heroic efforts, our education system is broken, and where passion is lacking, excuses abound. I am aware that success does not easily replicate itself across different learning environments and that we’re losing the race, all at the expense of our children. That’s right. We are failing the very children whom schools were supposed to protect and lift up, particularly those who rely on a solid education to escape life’s most challenging circumstances.
Now, dear teachers, if you want my opinion – and by now I’m sure you’ve had quite enough – I think you should keep right on striking. It’s nice to see some passion. It’s time to shake things up, and it’s time for reform.
Let’s find educators who are willing to break from the pack, willing to teach throughout the entire year, as research has indicated that children lose a significant portion of knowledge over the summer. Let’s privatize, switch to a merit-based compensation model, utilize technology, and get scrappy. Let’s replace sorry administrators with ones who will get you the support you need to ensure that children thrive. Let’s make children our focus and at every turn ask, “What’s best for them?”
Maybe this challenge is not for you. Maybe instead you’d like to enjoy more freedom and fresh air. Maybe teaching isn’t your calling anymore and you’d like to enter a profession you deem as more fair and respected. That’s your choice.
You can cry me a river about how difficult it is to be an educator in this day and age. But here is what I say to you: “It’s been bad for a long time. And it’s the career you chose.” I challenge you instead to embrace the question, “What is best for Chicago’s children?” This should be your focus, not complaining while enjoying the fresh air. Our children deserve better than the example they saw today. Teach them how to solve their problems like the adults you are.