Recently, I had the good fortune of spending time with teachers from Chicago Public Schools. In many ways, I felt solidarity with them and gratitude that after a rough year, surviving 50 school closings, budget issues, and insecurity about the future of Chicago’s commitment to its teachers and unions, 30 teachers came out to a weekend training jazzed and ready to learn. I was in town to lead training, or in eduspeak “professional development”, on behalf of Little Kids Rock, an awesome nonprofit that supports music education in our schools. In stark contrast to the fun we had at our workshop, check out this video of a recent professional development for Chicago Public School Teachers:
Times have been tough indeed for teachers in Chicago and with stakes so high, how is it that Chicago Public Schools, or Atlanta Public Schools, or any school system in our country continue to stay the current course? Why are we not addressing the need for sustainable systemic change?
I spoke with one teacher who had recently lost her job after her school closed. She has been on interviews and hasn’t been able to find work. She confided that she felt that Chicago Public Schools was deliberately trying to weed out older, veteran teachers; a sentiment expressed privately by several teachers over the weekend. Despite this, she attended the training because of her passion for teaching music and her desire to learn new methods and strategies. A friend of mine expressed exasperation when asked about this sentiment; sharing a real concern for her career – “I have taught for twenty years; if I lose my job, I have to find another career”; this coming from a teacher who is so passionate that she took to the streets with her peers and maintained a picket line to give voice to the real concerns of hardworking teachers in Chicago.
Despite the risks of speaking out, teachers in Chicago continue to do so. At Saucedo Elementary Scholastic Academy, teachers are refusing to administer the annual state examination ISAT even while the district threatens their jobs and certification. Check out this article:
Seeing committed passionate teachers working through the weekend despite their concerns inspired me but whether real or perceived, I observed teachers feeling that they are under attack, that they are not valued by their city, and that current educational policy is decreasing their ability to teach effectively. When speaking with my friend, she shared that the prospect of being afraid and stressed out about increasing demands for student achievement, academic growth, and mandatory assessment for students (they are Kindergartners!) was too much and they she has chosen the alternative; to be unconcerned with the demands of the state and pressure from district and teach what she knows as an experienced professional to be effective for her students. If she takes a hit on her evaluations, so be it. For her, the goal now is to create an environment that is safe, joyful, creative, and positive, where she can focus on teaching because she created a classroom where students can be encouraged, celebrated, and honored.
Education for this teacher is being co-opted by corporate profit, the common core an extension of Pearson’s growing bottom line. To her, education is about people, not pennies, relationships, not profit. If teachers are aware of possible educational manipulation by publishers and test services, how is it that administrators and legislators are not? Where are the teacher’s advocates? If an administrator is truly concerned about creating a positive learning environment and having effective teachers, wouldn’t they want to protect their teachers, get their input; preserve the rituals, traditions, and best practices born out of experience and time?
I do know this, it is time for teachers to stand up and work together; to change the educational narrative. I learned that there are great teachers doing good work in Chicago and I know there are great teachers in Atlanta as well! We here too little of the success of the classroom and far too much of the problems; and this is what legislators are focused on! We need to illuminate the bright spots, tell the good stories, and take back our curricula and schools; perhaps then the politicians will reflect the will of their constituents; people like you and me.