Monday, March 5, 2012


Yesterday I received requests from past participants in my professional development workshops to re-post a letter that I had sent to President Obama in 2010. Re-reading it again made me angry and frustrated about public education in this country. Having worked in schools for the past fourteen years, I know the brilliance of some teachers and the mediocrity of others. I know the challenges of poor and under supported students as well as the joys. But I am struck by how the intrusion of "experts" and "politicians" into the daily goings on in public schools is as misguided as a man deciding what a woman can or cannot do with her body.

This lack of vision in the Chicago Public School system is astonishing. The view that the only thing wrong with our schools is bad teaching? Ludicrous. Imagine going to your job everyday with the intention of nurturing students to challenge their ideas and perceptions about the world only to be told at the door that you are a failure... you aren't doing enough. This is what our teachers, good and bad, are told daily. While it may be true for some, it is not true for the majority. This constant mental pressure is damaging the fabric of the teaching profession, and it is forcing many of us out of the profession we were called to enter. When I realized that my data showed my students were learning, I knew it was the results of asking them to think outside the box. But I was not able to share my expertise with others in my school because the leadership's system demanded compliance, not invention. Imagine this place I am describing, a place where critical thinking is not as important as the simple regurgitation of facts. Do we want our world to be inhabited by well rounded people, or test takers?

Where I stand now, I can clearly see that blaming teachers is a convenient way to defer attention from failed leadership at the school and district level. Everybody comes in with ideas and the first thing you are told is "there is no common planning time" and/or you are meeting every free moment of the day with no time left to write assignments, grade papers, talk with students who are struggling and need extra help, or truly plan units of instruction.

Who are these people who seem to know what is best for teachers and schools? When have they been in schools and really tried to understand what we do? I cannot imagine a financial firm in the loop taking advice from a small, public high school teacher, so why should we take advice from the business community about the complex process of teaching and learning?

When a system is under performing you look at the whole system, not only one part of it. I know many talented teachers who are silenced when they raise any issues about reform. It is always placed back on teachers as if they are the sole reason schools are failing. As I write this I realize that talking about education is never truly about the children. If it was, asking kids if they are hungry or safe, would precede asking them to improve their scores on standardized tests (Maslow's heirachy of needs warned us students cannot even achieve intellectual results if these needs were not met). Instead of focusing on measuring failure, why don't we dedicate time to improving the instruction that would actually improve the data? At my last school, 95% of the time was dedicated to meetings, data, and discussing failures. I am talking about schools - 5% of the time spent on instruction?

In Chicago our decisions are made downtown as if this process can equitably meet the needs of all of our various neighborhood. It is no different there than what I am describing on a school level.. inadequate and ineffective leaders are rampant. The same tired and worn out people are ineffectively communicating what is coming. There is a difference between standards and stupidity. How many times have they told me that I need to be capable of differentiated learning only to have them not return the favor by at least acknowledging that there is not a one size fits all solution to the problems we are facing. I am slowly coming to accept that CPS cannot communicate what it does not have - awareness, humility, integrity, intelligence, and manners.

Last night, two colleagues forwarded me some news about what is coming down the pike:

This is what CPS is offering teachers:

· 7.5 hour school day for students – non-negotiable
· 8 hour school day for teachers – non-negotiable
· No pay increase/hourly rate decrease
· 2 additional weeks added to the end of the school year
· Increase in health insurance premiums
· Eliminate pension funding
· Eliminate step and lane increases
· Teachers will be paid by “merit pay”
· Cancel 2 of the paid holidays
· Raise retirement age for teachers

The union is asking for:

· 30% pay increase for 30% more time
· Have the right to recall displaced teachers before hiring new graduates
. Currently we have the highest number of displaced teachers EVER seen!

The argument being used to justify this absurd contract is financial. Yes, we all know there is no money. However, this is our children, the future of our country. As I recently said to a friend, even if your kids are not in public schools when they go into the real world they will be asked to work together to achieve unity as a country. My question is, can we afford not to fight this? We need qualified, dedicated, and creative teachers in our classrooms. Those of us displaced, who have experience and are expensive, know that it is likely we will not be rehired. As a professional who dedicated me time and loyalty to my employer I find this offensive. Just imagine this type of logic in corporate America. This contract will not make our system better, it will only promote the festering bitterness that forced my resignation. Please stand up for teachers and teachers, please come together and stand up for yourselves: Get involved. Ask questions. Write letters. Make phone calls.

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