An Update from the Inside

I’m a day late for Slice of Life Tuesday but it’s been hard to find a time to sit down and gather my thoughts about the mess in Chicago right now.  So I’ll just tell it like it is.

Today, after picketing in front of our school for four hours we were asked to drive to one of three high schools that have been slated for turn around and show our support.  I marched with thousands of teachers through a neighborhood that would usually cause me to lock my doors and not get out of the car.  It was over 90 degrees and with the sun bearing down the heat was oppressive.  As I waddled along, holding my belly, I wept silently behind my sunglasses.  Part of it was the stress of this entire situation, part of it my over emotional state as a pregnant woman, and part of it was the energy of the people, many of who probably aren’t used to having so much support right in their community.   As we walked backed to the car I couldn’t help but notice how much garbage littered the streets, the group of suspicious men gathered in an empty lot, the shuttered and barred windows.  I thought to myself how hard it must be to live here, be a child here, be expected to succeed here.

Every morning we stand out on the street.  We are well fed and watered by supportive parents and community members.  We are met with honks of encouragement from citizens and city workers.  We are also greeted with angry faces, a negative comment, or a thumbs down.  Although we always have children with us, some teacher kids and some students who have come to show their support, we are also subjected to occasional profanity and rude hand gestures.  I have taken to looking above cars so that I miss this negativity.

The media war is intense.  Our union leader, being a teacher herself, is not the best at dealing with the press which makes us look bad… often.  I know she’s doing the best she can, but it needs to be better and I find myself apologizing for the union rhetoric and trying to explain the issues to everyone I meet.  I go between feeling a great sense of pride in being able to stand up to the political machine and feeling like a pawn in somebody’s game.  After three days I wonder what the hell is going on in that room and why they can’t come to an agreement.  At night I dream of being back in my classroom with my students and everyday I go home and cry, then fall into bed exhausted.  When I wake in the middle of the night I check my Facebook, my Twitter, the News for any sign that this will all end.  But it never comes.  In the morning I get up and do it all again.

Inside the walls of my school, behind the door of my classroom, when I was able to focus on the joy of teaching I found great meaning in my day.  I found great purpose in being an urban educator.  Now as I stand exposed on the street corner I begin to ponder bigger questions and issues.  I begin to wonder if it’s better somewhere else and if Chicago is the right place for me anymore.  If they even deserve me.

I desperately need to get back to my students to remind myself why this is all worth it.

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Categories: Uncategorized | 23 Comments

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23 thoughts on “An Update from the Inside

  1. I think of you (and those students who need their tech-savvy, inspiring, literacy-loving teacher) every time I hear something about the strike. Thanks for bringing us an update from the front lines.

    Several years ago, when I worked in NYC, there was talk of a possible strike. Thankfully it never happened since a deal was reached before it was too late. I say thankfully because I couldn’t imagine NOT teaching my students. I don’t know how you’re bearing it since I know how dedicated you are to your profession (note: it’s not a job for you and for so many others).

    I hope that the two sides come to an agreement soon… for the sake of the children.

    Finally, stay hydrated. They say 8 – 10 glasses of water/day when you’re pregnant, but if you’re out there in that heat, make sure you’re drinking a lot more than that. You have to stay well for that baby of yours!

    • Thanks Stacey! I am trying to drink lots of water, it makes it tricky with no bathrooms on the picket line. But several of our local businesses have shown support which helps.

  2. BTW: I just posted a link to your slice on the TWT Facebook page. Just because you’re a day late doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all of those wonderful comments!

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience with the strike with us. My heart ached as I read it. Wishing you, the students, the communities affected a fast resolution and respect for one another throughout the process.

    • Respect is the biggest issue in Chicago right now, or lack thereof. It’s been a long time coming. I hope we can start to rebuild soon.

  4. Mary

    Teachers in New Jersey appreciate what you’re doing. Just as you gave support to your cross-town neighbors, we send you support from the Garden State. Hang in there!

  5. Amy

    Katie-

    Hang in there. You are doing the right thing. Perhaps the neighborhood walks will inspire conversation as to how to pull in the neighborhood even more and challenge everyone to be a part of a REAL turn-around.

    Take care of yourself; rest, drink water, relax your feet.

    Amy

    • Amy
      I think our neighborhood is pretty supportive, at least they are of US specifically. I am in a unique neighborhood school situation though. Yesterday was a stark reminder of the abject poverty in this town. I don’t think our strike will solve that, but I do hope that it has opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that we don’t have viable solutions for these children and we need to figure something out.

  6. mandyB

    Stay strong and fight for what is right for you, your coworkers and most importantly your students. Since I’m a teacher, and busy as can be, I’m not caught up on the news, but I’m sure you’re doing this for a great cause.

  7. Now I know why my heart aches. It is not just because I am a teacher, and I know how it feels, but because I am you, and you are me. We are all in this together even though we are a country’s length apart. Our teachers are stressed and tired and wondering why we are doing all this. The disrespect that educators are receiving these days is deplorable. Hang in there! Know we are all on the picket line with you. You are worth more than this.

  8. Maureen Beyrer

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. People don’t realize that most teachers live and breath trying to make things right for their students.

  9. Oh dear. I am so sorry. Thank you for taking the time to share your story.

  10. Dixie

    How brave and inspiring you are! Thank you for sharing your story.

    I am sorry that you, and so many other teachers, must suffer the games of politics and policy. As a Canadian (teaching in Mexico) I worry that my own Ontario peers may be forced to the picket lines soon; it saddens me deeply that educators are scapegoats and so often demeaned. Who do they think plays such a large role in making a country’s citizens innovative, empathetic and determined?

    As a mother of young children I also feel your plight fighting through such a stressful time while pregnant. You are amazing.

  11. Nancy Albritton

    Thank you for your poignant thoughts. Your students are very blessed to have someone as inspiring as you.

  12. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been looking for news ever since several mentioned you were a Chicago teacher (which I didn’t know), & sending my most positive thoughts. I don’t understand how it can’t be different, & better, for all concerned, & for your needs, that directly relate to the children’s too. Best wishes to you every single minute!

  13. Natasha

    Katie,

    I am a Chicago resident without children, but both of my parents were teachers who instilled in me the importance of education and a strong advocacy for kids. My father taught most of his career in an affluent community. My mother spent her career in poor districts, rising up through the administrative ranks over decades to become a superintendent (in a different state.) Despite being fortunate enough to attend “wealthy” schools, this allowed me to witness the disparity in education (and in life) that exists between the haves and have-nots at a very early age, and the different perspectives that come with being a teacher vs. an administrator. I had such great respect for teachers and the teaching profession (is there a more important job?), but I have to admit, after watching my mother labor arduously on a daily basis as superintendent against a union that all too often focused on what could or should be done for them rather than what was best for the students, much of that collective respect has eroded. Your post, however, was very refreshing, honest and well-written, and serves as a reminder that there are so many good teachers who do this job for a greater purpose (the purpose that makes this profession a noble one to begin with) and who are often held hostage in these situations not only by the general politics, but also by the union to which they belong. I do not believe in this strike, but I do believe that you represent the best in teachers and hope you stick around. Chicago needs you!

    All the best to you and the baby!
    Natasha

    • Natasha,
      Thank you for your thoughts. I can see how Unions can be a block to progress at times. I frequently balk when they talk about teacher recall policies. However, I am reminded by my current teaching partner…one of the best teachers I have ever met, that good teachers are punished by the boards unilateral closing of schools and area wide positions. The biggest issue is that once you’re out of a job no one wants to hire you because you’re “tainted.” (As an NBCT I received numerous emails begging me to apply for a teacher coaching job. No Way! I know those jobs come and go like the wind blows. Which is sad because I think I would be pretty good at helping teachers out.) That being said we do need to find a way to coach struggling teachers and counsel them out of the profession if they can’t make it. Based on the description of your mother I have no doubt that she worked for policies that were good for children. Our board of Ed has yet to demonstrate that ability. The day they present a plan to incorporate more quality education and less test prep I will gladly get behind them. What we need is a real leader!

  14. Lori

    Thanks for your words and your work. The teachers in New York and elsewhere thank you for your courage. We are will you in spirit, and I hope you remain united in sticking with it until the changes you all are fighting for come.

  15. Thank you everyone for your comments! I am off to the picket lines once again, Plato and his stubby tail in tow. Everyone loves a Golden Retriever.

  16. I hope that today brings some respite for you, Katie! Whether that comes by way of being able to have your furry companion, or maybe someone that drives by and makes eye contact and provides a smile, or hopefully, something bigger, like the end to it all… My heart hurts for you. Reading your piece made me ache. I was on the picket line once, for one day, and I would never want to be there again, but to be there in the setting you described so vividly, seems unbearable. I could feel your teacher-filled spirit be stripped away. So sad! I agree that there are so many bigger issues… sending lots of thoughts and prayers!!

  17. rhonda k busch

    Teachers in Michigan appreciate what you’re doing! Those same thoughts and feelings are exactly what I hear in my daughter’s voice every night when she calls me after her day of walking the picket line! From a mother and Michigan teacher!

  18. This is so powerful. Your line “I go between feeling a great sense of pride in being able to stand up to the political machine and feeling like a pawn in somebody’s game” is particularly powerful. You are following your conscience, advocating for children and teachers. This is not the stuff of pawns. Thank you so much for sharing this front line perspective.

  19. I read your post this morning at the gym and you have been in my thoughts all day. I have struggled to find good words to leave in this comment but all I keep going back to is that I hope and pray – and will continue to pray – that there is soon a fair resolution to this fight so that you and your students can return to the classroom where you both wish you could be. Keep cool and well hydrated, mama.

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