I am a Dictator: A Chicago Public Schools Teacher Responds to Rauner and Claypool

Recently Governor Rauner said, “…the Chicago Teachers Union shouldn’t have dictatorial powers, in effect and causing the financial duress that Chicago Public Schools are facing right now.”

This statement from Rauner comes just a few days after Forrest Claypool our newest CEO says that teachers need to have “shared sacrifice” by taking a 7% pay cut.

The shared sacrifice Claypool speaks of means that my wife (also a CPS teacher) and I would lose about $11,000 in combined income for this year alone.

I could go on and on about how Claypool is just another puppet of Rahm, in a long line of puppets appointed by the mayor or how Chicagoans demand en elected school board (remember Chicago is the only district in the entire state without an elected school board). But since Rauner thinks that the teachers union run by 40,000 teachers is a dictatorship and Claypool says teachers need to sacrifice I will share my stories, so maybe, just maybe, they both (along with Rahm) will realize what it means to really sacrifice.

Two weeks ago I found out that a student who attended and graduated from my high school was shot and killed. I did not know this student well as I had never taught him, but what I have found is that his death has triggered many other emotions and memories that I have suppressed.

There is a study that says that people who live in violent areas (like many parts of Chicago) show sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) similar to soldiers returning from combat. My father was in combat in Vietnam and for the first 23 years of my life he never once talked to me about Vietnam. It was one night that he decided to watch a fictional movie about Vietnam that it all came back to him. I can see how he has days where his mind is consumed by traumatic experiences that he had. He has been able to cope and now is working to prevent people, students especially from going into the military.

I have worked in CPS for 9 years now and have had students share tragic stories of losing their friends and loved ones to violence. I have seen how certain events can trigger their traumatic memories.

I never thought that a teacher (myself) could have this happen too.

When I found out that the student from my school who had just graduated was killed I was deeply saddened for his family, for everyone who knew him, and that our city continues to let young people die.

However I have found that now nearly two weeks after his death I have been thinking nearly every day of the first student that I ever knew who was killed.

Nearly 5 years ago a young man named Trevell was shot and killed. I taught Trevell as a freshman in high school. He was an outgoing, intelligent, and confident young man, but it was clear that he had some difficulties outside of school. As he continued through high school into his senior year he had made many positive decisions to steer his life in the right direction and had got himself into college. I received a phone call on a cold January Saturday morning from my assistant principal saying that Trevell had been shot and killed. I still remember that day that I found out about his death and also what it was like to go into school that Monday and cry with students and staff and share stories of Trevell.

The following school year I was teaching my senior Urban Studies class. I had taught many of the students in this class when they were freshman. There was one student Deonte who as a freshman I never thought would still be at our school, let alone close to graduating, for how involved he seemed to be as a freshman with life on the streets. Deonte as a freshman in my class would typically be focused on anything and everything as long as it was not academic. But amazingly Deonte had turned it around and now, as a senior had become one of the most liked students by staff and students. He had dramatically improved his grades and got himself accepted into many colleges. This one day in late May just a few weeks before graduation he was not in class. When I asked where he was, another student whispered to me that he had been arrested. I didn’t believe it, because he had put that part of his life way behind him. It wasn’t until I saw a mug shot of him wearing his school shirt and read his charge that I finally accepted it. He was one of my favorite students. I still think of him often.

Then about two years ago my wife and I experienced a miscarriage 17 weeks into our second pregnancy. My students all knew my wife was pregnant and while I was out of school grieving the loss I dreaded having to come back to school to see 150 students who knew that my wife was no longer pregnant. My students were amazing and helped me grieve. My students were actually much better than even some of the adults who knew we had experienced that loss.

I share these stories because my “shared sacrifice” is that every time a student dies I think of these things. I don’t even realize that I am thinking of these things at first, because I usually just get angry or frustrated and don’t know why.

There are days that I wonder like many teachers in Chicago, why do I still stay here? Why do I stay in a system that is run by the mayor with an appointed school board that clearly has no clue what is doing. Why do I stay in a system that has a new CEO every one to two years? Why do I stay in a system that allows its schools to be funded often times $10,000 less per student than schools in the suburbs?

Every answer to all of those questions is because of the students. The students are the reason why 40,000 teachers in Chicago don’t just pack up and move out of the city. We love our students. We love to guide, mentor, coach, counsel, teach, listen, and laugh with and at them.

So Mr. Claypool we teachers have “skin in the game”. My personal stories are sadly not unique; we teachers have and continue to make sacrifices every day by being a teacher in Chicago.

Mr. Rauner you want to blame us, teachers, for the fiscal crises of our city? How about thanking us for doing what we do every day. Thank us today, thank us tomorrow, and continue thanking us for your entire four years as governor, because you will never know what we do for the students of this city.

And after you thank us, give us power over our schools. Give us an elected school board. Give us counselors and therapists. Give our students the schools that they deserve.

Yes, giving more to the schools costs money, but let’s be clear, there are money and revenue options out there. You are just choosing to use bogus rhetoric instead of hearing and acting on the revenue options available.

The stress that I and the rest of Chicago’s teachers go through every day of the year to educate the children of this city that we love is not easy, but we do it because we know that our students matter. It is time for the politicians to do the same.

This piece on Gapers Block

http://gapersblock.com/mechanics/2015/08/12/i-am-a-dictator-a-chicago-public-schools-teacher-responds-to-rauner-claypool/

This piece on Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-stieber/i-am-a-dictator-a-chicago_b_7974616.html

An “Ode”: To the Appointed Chicago School Board Members

Let’s just get the following truths about the Chicago School Board out of the way:

  • It is appointed by the mayor and not elected by the people of Chicago.
  • It is the only school board in the entire state of Illinois that is not elected.
  • It closed the most schools in the history of the United States.
  • It allows our neighborhood schools to be criminally underfunded.
  • It has opened excessive amounts of new charter schools and allowed them to take public school money even though they do no better and often worse.
  • It allows banks to make millions off our students through toxic loans that the Board agreed to and refuses to renegotiate on.
  • It allows our kids to be in the most militarized school system in the country. As if our streets weren’t already violent enough, let’s give the military access to all of our kids as well. Yes, that seems logical.
  • It has board members on it like Quazzo who uses her role to cut deals and give CPS contracts to her friends.

Let’s move on to things we maybe don’t know about this board.

They are very afraid of losing their power. Yes, they will claim that they are just “volunteers” on the school board, who are dedicated to helping all students. They act is if they are volunteering to serve on this board, because no one else wants the responsibility. Well news flash:  David Vitale, Jesse Ruiz, Carlos Azcoitia, Henry Bienen, Mahalia Hines, Deborah Quazzo, and Andrea Zopp….Your appointed days are numbered.

Chicago will get an elected school board in the near future. Those of you on the school board are just essentially clinging to the “good ole days” when you could do what you want and not have much scrutiny.

The scrutiny is here School Board. But good for you, you do have some options:

  • You can fight tooth and nail for your “volunteer” positions. This is the path you seem to have chosen, unfortunately.
  • The better option, you can quit and then encourage your dear friend Rahm Emanuel to realize an elected board is coming, whether any of you like it or not.

The truth is regardless of whomever ends up being our next mayor in a few weeks (please, please, please, Chicagoans let it be Garcia or Fioretti) the days of the appointed school board are over.

Sadly, history has had far too many people clinging to power in fear, and not letting Democracy actually be carried out. These people who clung to power and refused to even give Democracy a chance are now often referred to in an unflattering light in the history books I use with my students. And yes, school board members you might be sitting there on your high and mighty throne thinking things like “I don’t care if people disagree with my decisions, because I am doing what is best for the kids” blah blah blah.

How can you do what is best for the kids, if you won’t even allow their parents to have a say in what is best for them? By not letting parents or anyone else in this city vote for the people on the school board you are playing the role of someone who thinks they know what is best for all of us. This action is attached to historical words like Paternalistic, Racist, or Privileged to name just a few.

The model you are following is one used by people who colonized other countries and forced the people in those colonized places to believe religions, creeds, and values that were not their own. This was all done with the idea that, “We know what is best for you, because we are better than you”. Don’t you see it School Board? This is the role you are playing.

You DON’T know what is best for the people of Chicago. Only the voters do, but here in lies the problem…you won’t let the people vote!

There will be a movement to oust you. It is coming, actually it has already started. Alderman in Chicago are taking notice, parents and the community have already noticed and are speaking out. Count your days, because they are becoming fewer.

Sure it will be embarrassing briefly if you just stepped down from your “volunteer” role.

But believe me it will be even more embarrassing when you are forced off your throne, by Democracy.

And believe me Democracy is coming.

Article Published on Gapers Block

http://gapersblock.com/mechanics/2015/02/11/an-ode-to-the-appointed-chicago-school-board-members/

Article on Huffington Post Chicago
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-stieber/an-ode-to-the-appointed-c_b_6655690.html

Live on Politics Tonight CLTV May 23rd 2013

On the night that the largest public school closings in the history of this country were approved by the appointed Board of Education in Chicago I was on CLTV talking about this.

Before me on the show was Jesse Ruiz the Vice President of the Board of Ed. It was tough for me to sit about five feet away from him watching him lie on camera while waiting my turn to speak truth.

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 8.19.49 PM

http://landing.newsinc.com/shared/video.html?freewheel=91047&sitesection=68_Politics_Tonight&VID=24837807