Throughout this semester, I have had the honor to engage with many phenomenal individuals that care deeply about the communities that they serve. One person in particular, as they would like to remain anonymous, has decided to share their insight with us about their journey within the Chicago Public School (CPS) system, serving 5th graders for about 7.5 hours each day, 5 times a week (minimum), and navigating through the system as a second year teacher in Network 7 of Chicago.
The teacher, who was also once a student of CPS, writes:
“They definitely don’t prepare you for this in your undergrad experience” another teacher said to me. A much more seasoned—in terms of tenure and year experience—teacher who was referring to severe behavior issues among students and the inevitable teacher stress. The copier kept copying, and I had a few quick flashbacks to days sitting in my undergrad education classes, reading literature that helped me acquire the vocabulary to understand and articulate my experiences as a student from Chicago Public Schools; these experiences were my own, and some I observed in friends, families, and teachers.
“They do and they don’t” I said. “But, going to Chicago Public Schools as my whole life has helped me understand.” The copier kept copying, and the white-middle-aged-much-more-seasoned-than-I teacher kind of smirked as if that experience was irrelevant. In reality, it is what has helped me the most these two years.
“Well, good luck.” As a second year teacher, check-ins at the copy machine usually go like this. They begin with a “so, how’s year two?” continued with some despondent griping, and end with a “well, that’s how it is.” This despondency is understandable when sometimes the weight of missed preparation periods because of under-staffing of substitutes, furlough days, budget cuts, looming strikes, possible early end to the year, standardized testing, not having a counselor to counsel students who have dealt with trauma, and teacher evaluations weighs heavy. I definitely feel the weight too. These struggles are so real. And, as a teacher in CPS, you need to balance these struggles while having a whopping class size of 33 children staring at you expectantly, and looking to you for guidance. The list never ends. But, we need to find a joyous moment in every day and acknowledge at least one “win” –in ourselves and our students–in order to grow.
As a second year teacher, I constantly feel like I am building the plane while it’s in the air. And “flying” in Chicago can be full of turbulence; this is a result of corrupt leadership at the city and state levels. I have this tool box that is full of different experiences to help me construct wisely. I choose from my experiences as a student who was bounced around from 5 Chicago Public Schools, as a graduate with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education, and as a member of Golden Apple, a teacher preparation organization in Chicago. Every single day requires different tools, different strategic maneuvering, and returning trips to the schematics when reconstruction is necessary. To be honest, it is really stressful. These first few years entail so many “firsts.” While these “firsts” are happening, the show must go on which is what makes it difficult. In order to keep going, I’ve found it necessary to find a win in each day even when the struggles seem greater. I am able to do this because of the amazing people I work with and others I have met in Little Village.
The community is strong in little village. My school, and the little Village Community, definitely work hard to stick together and empower one another. I think my school, surrounding schools, and Chicago public schools will be able to grow even more when equity is actually a word understood by those who have leadership rolls. However, public education was never meant to be a world class education for all. It was meant to educate the white male to be able to pursue work. In my opinion, teaching is heart-work, hard-work, and countering work; schools are constantly trying to counter the ramifications of unequal funding, structurally and institutionally supported poverty, and the lack of resources that come along with this initial model of public education. I think we need to continue to move away from this model and demand equitable funding in order to thrive.
- Pre K-8th Grade:
- 99.5% Hispanic
- 0.2% White
- 0.1% Black
- 0% Asian
- 0.1% American Indian
- 0% Two or More Races
- 0% Pacific Islander
- Low Income: 99.3%
- Students with Disabilities: 11.8%
- Students that receive special education services
- English Learners (Whose primary language is not English): 49.9%
- People whose primary language is English: 50.1%
- Chronically Truant Students: 15.4%
- Students who miss 5% of school days per year without a valid excuse