CPS Teachers, Bring Your Kids to Work

A CPS teacher on why, if your paycheck says Chicago Public Schools, your own children should be in CPS too

In my first few years of teaching, I loved my students so much that it seemed almost impossible for any other educator to care about their kids more than I did. But after having children of my own, I realized that while I still love my students, I’ll always love my own children more. Although I’ll always go way above and beyond for my students, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for my own children.

I don’t say these things lightly. I’ve made a conscious effort to work for my students and the community. I’ve constantly worked to create a curriculum that teaches my students to question power structures and to work to create change when inequalities exist. I’ve written countless articles about my students and ways to improve our schools. I’ve been arrested for fighting to keep Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from closing fifty schools in 2013. At times, this commitment to my students has put me at odds with my administration, incited fear of write-ups, and produced threats from strangers. These risks sometimes make me question my desire to defend my students.

But like any parent, I would do anything for my own children, risk more, and ignore idle threats. My drive to protect my children and their well-being, education, and opportunities is stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s like that moment when you have children of your own and finally realize how much your parents actually love you. It is a window into the emotions of a decade’s worth of my former students’ parents. I now know more completely what those parents wanted for their kids, and wonder if I had fought hard enough. Did I fight as hard as I would have for my own kids?

I was recently interviewed by a reporter for the Weekly about my decision, as a CPS teacher, to send my kids to CPS. The interview was a follow-up to a study by the conservative Fordham Institute done back in 2004 which said that thirty-nine percent of Chicago Public School teachers didn’t send their own kids to CPS.

As a parent, I can understand why some teachers wouldn’t want to send their kids to CPS. Since 1995, mayors of Chicago have had absolute control over Chicago Public Schools. This power lets mayors appoint the CEOs of CPS and the school board members; therefore, the school board, without question, follows whatever terrible idea the mayor may have. In my eleven years of teaching in CPS, I have had eight different CPS CEOs. The Chicago Public Schools system is and has always been a mess at the leadership level.

Believe me: like many other educators, I am beyond frustrated with the way that CPS is and has been run. Working to improve CPS as a teacher (and parent) is extremely hard and, at times, absolutely demoralizing. It would be great to shield my own children from the struggles that every kid in CPS faces. But that wouldn’t help improve our city, nor would it fight against structural racism and inequality in our school system.

It hurts to have underfunded schools for my students, and now I feel that same hurt exemplified with my own child. It hurts that during our oldest son’s first year of preschool in CPS, they tried to cut the preschool special education teacher from his school. A few active parents made me aware of this. These parents created a petitionand contacted CPS, the alderman, and the media. I wrote an article about it, and together we organized a “Play In” to bring attention to this proposed cut. During the “Play In,” kids simply played while parents spoke at the school board and met with the principal, and it became a celebration instead of a protest. On the day of the “Play In,” CPS decided not to cut that position.

At the time of the “Play In,” I was exhausted. The only reason I marshalled enough energy to fight as hard as we did was because it was my son’s school. If it hadn’t been my son’s school, I likely would simply have felt upset for that school and moved on.

For this reason, I believe that if you work for Chicago Public Schools, you should send your kids to CPS.

I would go so far as to say CPS employees should be required to send their kids to CPS. Chicago Public Schools teachers are already required to live in the city, a policy that I actually agree with. I believe it creates a connection to our students and gives us responsibility for their success that can only be fostered by common ground and common experiences.

To fight for the schools our students deserve, we must also live in the city, send our kids to CPS, and fight for the city that we all deserve—as frustrating as that may be at times (or all the time).With skin in the game, CPS’ actions become personal, and the intensity with which we fight for a just education becomes stronger and more meaningful.

As teacher-parents, our involvement benefits everyone because we are able to evaluate a school unlike any other parent. This year, my partner and I made our son’s school administration aware of a teacher that needed more assistance, helped get the morning entrance policy changed, and made the school aware of an unlocked and open outside door by the preschool.

We have a trained eye for what works and what doesn’t. We have the experience and the skills to identify needed improvement, and do not tolerate inefficiency—even more so with our own children at the hands of CPS. We have the capacity to understand the system, and we know the right words to say to get the change we need to meet the expectations we hold.

If we want to make Chicago change, then our professional lives and our own personal lives must intertwine. They must coexist. We must be invested beyond our paychecks. Our fights, rallies, strikes, and decisions must become more passionate and personal.

I believe that Chicago Public Schools must end mayoral control of schools, that Chicago needs an elected school board, that Chicago must stop stealing TIF funds from Black and brown neighborhoods for downtown projects, that there is no reason to close a public school, and that money should go to students and schools as opposed to police, jails, and a new cop academy.

However, given the hyper-segregation of Chicago and the systemic racism of our school system, it is evident that even within CPS—where all schools need support—schools that teach predominantly Black and Brown children need even more resources. So while I believe that all CPS teachers should send their kids to CPS, I am much more understanding of a teacher of color choosing to or feeling forced to send their child(ren) outside of CPS than I am of a white CPS teacher doing the same. If, as a white teacher, you are willing to teach Black and Brown children in CPS, but unwilling to send your own kids to the same system from which you profit financially, it says more than a few things about your savior-like mentality.

Teaching is about building connections with our students. We teachers may differ from our students in terms of race and/or economic status, but when we live in the city, pay taxes here, and send our kids to the same public schools, our students will see that. They will see that despite our differences, we share many common bonds—most importantly, the desire to improve the city that we all call home.

To view this piece on the South Side Weekly click here.

FB Live Ed. Chat

This is a FB Live conversation (link at bottom of this post) with the amazing Dr. Roshunda Allen, Professor at Tougaloo College and myself.

We addressed educational issues impacting Jackson MS, Chicago, and our country.

We specifically talked about the idea in Denver of having a 4 day school week and also about gun violence in our schools.

(Skip the first 2 minutes and 20 seconds of technical issues/me staring at the screen to get into our convo.)

https://m.facebook.com/dfstieber/posts/10155502076561676

Closing Schools, Increasing Policing -The Chicago Way

Closing Schools, Increasing Policing -The Chicago Way
Courtesy of The News-Gazette

Chicago spends 40% of its entire operating budget on policing. In addition the city has paid out over $500 million on police brutality cases. On top of that Rahm thinks it a wise choice to spend $95 million more on a new cop academy.

Meanwhile those that run Chicago Public Schools (don’t forget Rahm appoints them) voted to close 5 predominantly Black public schools. Add that in with the 50 plus Black schools closed in 2013.

It is not conspiracy to say that Chicago wants to incarcerate, not educate, its Black youth.

It is policy.

Many in the city see the connection. If you underfund and then close schools, while continually increasing funding to police it becomes apparent what the goals are.

A budget is a political document, not just a financial one. It shows what the city prioritizes.

Chicago prioritizes criminalizing our youth, NOT educating them.

Rahm says he cares about kids, but he does NOT send his own kids to CPS. So he can say whatever he wants, BUT unless his own kids are in the CPS system his words mean jack.

Never forget that Rahm said, “25% of CPS students won’t amount to anything.”

Chicago is filled with harmful policies past and present such as redliningblockbusting, and gentrification. Actual policies created and implemented by the city that targeted and harmed Black communities in our city.

School closings, school turnarounds, and school phase-outs, is just the new or continued version of these policies that target and harm Black communities.

While these policies continue to destroy education for the children in our city, Rahm and his crew make sure to always fund policing.

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) is responsible for torturing and killing Black Chicagoans. CPD has been proven to cover up its own crimes and illegally detain people in secret sites.

In Rahm’s Chicago, if a school is deemed unsuccessful, under his bogus school rating system, then that school is punished. Charters will be built in the area and then the school will be closed or phased out after having it’s funding systematically cut.

The police do not receive this same treatment. In fact it seems as if the police are rewarded for the more flawed that they are. Students and schools punished, police rewarded.

The Chicago Police Department is getting a brand new $95 Million Cop Academy on the Westside. More for incarceration and less for education.

Our children in CPS are treated like they are in a police state. Metal detectors, police with guns in the school. Limited resources. Terrible Food.

Yet, students are told, if you work really hard you can overcome all of this. You can make it.

No doubt the amazing kids in Chicago do overcome. BUT kids should not have to overcome. Kids should just have what they need.

So instead of building a new cop academy invest that money into the schools.

Instead of policing and incarceration we could try fully funding education.

But Rahm says no.

Rahm closes schools.

Closing over 50 elementary schools in 2013 was not enough. He wants more closures. Now it is TEAM Englewood, Roberson, Hope, and Harper high schools. Eliminating all of the public neighborhood high schools in Englewood.

But even that is not enough, so he takes out a high performing elementary school in the South Loop, National Teachers Academy. This closure is done to appease white parents afraid of sending their children to school with a majority of Black students

Rahm says screw the Black community. Because surely if Rahm truly cared about the Black residents of Chicago he would be upset by the fact that over 200,000 Black families have left the city.

But not Rahm.

He would rather close a school than fix a neighborhood.

Put policing over education.

Blame the victims.

Put Incarceration over improving communities.

This is policy. These are calculated choices. This is Chicago.

Courtesy of In These Times

An Ode to the CPS Librarian

An ode to the dope librarian
Gatekeeper to tranquility
Checker of passes
Keeper of calmness

Provider of
safety
a place to
research
write
read
nap
chill
unwind

Recommender of books
Counselor for kids

Now tech coordinator
Changing with times
Collaborator with teachers

Will do any job that is asked
Most out of love
But also fear of being cut
Needs to feel needed

Is needed

But teachers aren’t used to you
There are so few of you

Self described unicorn

CPS librarians once flourished
Now all combined
Barely fill a room

Like all things good for kids
CPS cuts you
Attempting to eliminate you
Almost extinct
Just to save a mismanaged buck
Value ignored
Enrichment for students lost

By nature librarians aren’t loud
CPS knows this
So it attacks

75% of schools
no librarian
Librarian a luxury
Luxury too good
for CPS kids

Rahm’s Lab School
kids
1 librarian per 285
kids
CPS
kids
1 librarian per 2671
kids

Someone once confronted you
“why librarians
when we have Google searches
and a computer?”

Clearly this person never knew
You
Never knew what librarians
Can do

But we see you dope librarian
We appreciate you
We need to do a better job of fighting for you
Building w/ you
Working w/ you
Getting to know
you
Listening
to you
Appreciating
you

If you are interested in learning more/ wanting to advocate for librarians for our schools and our children then click here to get involved.

 

To view this piece on ChicagoNow.com click here.

Never Enough Money For Education, But Chicago Always Finds Money For Incarceration

Every year, for the past 11 years that I have taught in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Chicago claims it doesn’t have enough money to properly fund its public schools. And every year there is some “justification” for not giving our students equitable funding.

 

In 2010, CPS didn’t have enough money and threatened to cut extracurricular programs and non-varsity sports.

 

In 2013, it was “necessary” to close more than 50 public schools, the most schools ever shut down at one time in our country’s history.

 

Now, every year our students watch as librarians, counselors, social workers, support staff, security and teachers are cut. They see how special education has been criminally mismanaged. They wonder why the technology in their school does not work, why paint is peeling off their classroom walls, why their track is unusable, why their heating and cooling vents spew out white clumps of powder, or why there are broken asbestos tiles in their classrooms.

 

Yet through all of this, Chicago always finds money for policing.

 

Throughout my time teaching in CPS, I have heard stories of the abusive nature of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) from my students. At first, due to my whiteness, I had a hard time believing my students, because what they were telling was so different from my own experiences. For me as a white person, the police are at worst a minor annoyance. But for my black students, the police can mean danger, abuse, harassment, brutality and death.

 

It has been well documented that CPD has been terrorizing Chicago’s black and brown communities for generations, going back to the 1960s, with the murder of Fred Hamptonwhile he slept, to the 1970s, with acts of torture led by Commander Jon Burge.

This year, Chicago Public Schools students will be learning through the Reparations WON curriculum of the standard torture practices during the Jon Burge era. For about a 20-year period, Commander Jon Burge and his officers would pick up innocent black men and force them into confessing to crimes that they did not commit. His standard methods of getting forced confessions was torture, which included suffocation, putting loaded weapons into mouths and electric shocks to the genital area.

 

Although the Burge torture era has ended, the corruption within the Chicago Police Department has not.

 

CPD has and continues to operate using a code of silence, with secret detention sites like Homan Square, the planting of evidence, falsifying reports and killing people of color in our city. All of these standard operating procedures are well documented.

Through all of this, the “union” representing the CPD ― the Fraternal Order of Police(FOP) ― proudly continues to justify these practices. This is the same FOP who is upset about the Reparations WON curriculum, because they want the curriculum to tell both sides. Both sides of torture?

 

Instead of working to improve policing to make sure acts of police torture, abuse and murder come to a stop, the FOP is working to make sure the mandates in the FOP contract protect cops who kill. Over the years, the FOP has negotiated items in the police contract that allows the police to make up stories and intimidate people who might file complaints against them, to name a just a few.

 

Now, Mayor Emanuel thinks the police are deserving of a new $95 million training facility. Just another example of Rahm using taxpayer money for anything and everything besides our students. Rahm will fund River Walks, Navy Pier, basketball stadiums and hotels while stealing TIF funds from the neighborhoods and schools that need them. His policies lead to the cutting of librarians, social workers, counselors, teachers, and support staff. School budgets continue to be cut. Parents go on hunger strikes to keep schools open. Still more schools are proposed to be closed, in Englewood.

You must survive on less.

 

At the same time schools and our students are having to operate with less, in conditions the mayor would never tolerate for his own children, Chicago is increasing funding to systems, like the police, that harshly punish black and brown children and families.

The Chicago Police Department costs taxpayers $4 million a day in operating costs, which makes up 40 percent of our city’s entire budget and totals up to $1.5 billion dollars per year. Police brutality cases in Chicago have cost our city more than $500 million dollars. To put this spending on policing in perspective, the daily cost of CPD is:

“… more than the city spends on the Departments of Public Health, Family and Support Services, Transportation, and Planning and Development combined. Mental-health spending receives $10 million per year, and only $2 million per year is allocated to violence-prevention services.”

Just recently, a case involving a Chicago police shooting and killing of Ronald “Ronnieman” Johnson shows once again CPD planted evidence, showcasing continued corruption. Ronald was shot while running in 2014. It was claimed that he had a gun and, according to an image put out by CPD, it showed he had a gun. This was a claim his family has disputed. The officers weren’t charged. But now, after a forensic scientist reviewed the image, it has become evident that it is a false image.

 

Meaning Ronald didn’t have a gun. Meaning there is no justification for his death.

Before Rahm gives any money to the CPD, he should follow all of the recommendations of the Department of Justice report. In case you missed it, the DOJ investigation was the largest civil rights investigation into a police department in history. The DOJ findings included that CPD was responsible for the use of excessive and deadly force against people who pose no threat, use of force in health crises, exhibit racially discriminatory behavior, having officers with no accountability and who are poorly trained.

 

On top of addressing the DOJ concerns, Rahm should also have a democratically elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), as many community organizations have been advocating for years. (While he is at it, he should have an elected school board, too.)

 

Until the Chicago Police Department cleans up its act, it should not receive additional funding to build a new cop academy. Police can improve their training methods in their current training facilities. You don’t need a new building to teach police how not to be racist or why they should not kill innocent people.

 

If Rahm can’t find money for the education of our students, then there is no way he should find money for the incarceration of them#NoCopAcademy

 

Here is more information about the proposed cop academy, and here are ways to help pressure our elected officials to not support the cop academy.

 

Also consider donating and supporting the Chicago Torture Justice Center which, “seeks to address the traumas of police violence and institutionalized racism through access to healing and wellness services, trauma-informed resources, and community connection. The Center is a part of and supports a movement to end all forms of police violence.”

See this piece on Huff Post and Alternet

Both An NFL Player and Chicago Public Schools Teacher Punished for Fighting for Justice

How could an NFL player and a Chicago Public Schools Special Education teacher have anything in common? When they both are being punished for advocating for justice for others.

We are all familiar with the story of Colin Kaepernick who decided to peacefully protest the inequalities facing Black Americans, specifically in terms of police brutality. If you aren’t from Chicago then you may not be familiar with the story of Sarah Chambers. Sarah is an elementary special education teacher in Chicago who vocally advocates for the special education students she teaches at her school, as well as across the entire city. Chambers is now entering her 10th week of suspension. She is forbidden to teach her students and they have been forced to have a substitute teacher all of this time. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has not said why she is suspended. However, just as Colin Kaepernick is still unsigned because of his advocacy for justice, Sarah is suspended because of her willingness to vocally advocate for her students.

Colin Kaepernick and Sarah Chambers are both highly effective at their chosen professions. Colin Kaepernick has the 5th best touchdown to interception ratio of all time and last year he had 16 touchdowns as compared to only 4 interceptions. Sarah Chambers has consistently received distinguished ratings by her principals, the highest rating achievable in the current teacher evaluation system.

In addition to being highly effective at his profession, Colin Kaepernick is an active citizen who is committed to making our country better. As a social studies teacher myself, it is empowering to be able to show my students a celebrity who is aware of issues, makes others aware, donates to organizations trying to improve those issues and finally is willing to work to create change. Colin Kaepernick has pledged to donate $1 million of his own money to organizations working to improve our country. He also created an organization called Know Your Rights Camp, which he is intricately a part of.

While not a celebrity, Sarah Chambers is also an active citizen and an open LGBTQ teacher who created an LGBTQ club at her school to provide all of her students a safe space. She teaches her students about the gross underfunding of Special Education programs in Chicago, which directly impact their lives. She then educates the public about these issues and speaks to those in power in Chicago to bring about the change that will impact all students in CPS.

An unfortunate similarity is that Colin Kaepernick and Sarah Chambers both work for organizations run with nearly absolute control. To the head of the NFL Roger Goodell and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, being a civically engaged citizen like Chambers and Kaepernick is dangerous to their power structure. Many fans clearly like and support Kaepernick as evidenced by the fact of his top selling jersey last season and by the fact even though he is unsigned, his jersey is currently still one of the highest selling jerseys. His jersey (currently 17th most popular of any position) is outselling the starting quarterbacks of 24 teams. Sarah Chambers is also clearly respected as evidenced by the massive amount of support she has received from her students, parents, and teachers.

In Chicago, Rahm Emanuel forbids Democracy in our school system. Rahm appoints everyone involved in making decisions about education, from the CEO to the school board. Roger Goodell also wields similar power. He often suspends players and punishes teams without just cause. The NFL and Roger Goodell try to hide information from the players, like the league attempting to cover up the issues with concussions. Rahm Emanuel also engages in cover-ups. He tried to cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald by the Chicago Police for over a year.

The actions of Goodell and Emanuel may be supported by other power hungry elites, but their actions are clearly not liked by the masses they are supposed to represent. When either of them go out in public they consistently face booing fans/constituents. Rahm Emanuel got booed after a Chicago Blackhawks rally, at a street naming ceremony, at a basketball game, and most recently by school children.  Roger Goodell gets booed at every NFL Draft.

While there are many similarities between the Kaepernick and Chambers situations there are some major differences. One of the differences that I want to focus on is the vastly different levels of support from people within their profession, as well as the unions that are supposed to represent them. Sarah has support from her union, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). While Kaepernick does not have the same level of support of the National Football League Players Association.

There have been many rallies and protests to support Sarah, organized by the Chicago Teachers Union. But what help has the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) provided for Kaepernick? Certain NFL players like Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman, and Brandon Marshall have come out to question why Kaepernick has yet to be signed. Last season Kaepernick also had the support of his teammate Eric Reid as well as multiple NFL players and U.S. Women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who joined his protest.

But through all that, why is the National League Football Players Association staying quiet? The NFLPA should be visibly fighting against the obvious banishment of Kaepernick. It should be helping to organize rallies, release statements, and build a movement of NFL players who are willing to speak up. Other players should also speak up and push the NFLPA to act.

As of now only one white male athlete has supported Kapernick in any sport. Current Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long has been the only white male athlete to support Kaepernick. Many Military Veterans, the people who he was supposedly disrespecting, have come out to support Kaepernick, yet crickets from nearly all white male athletes.

The Chicago Teachers Union has encouraged its members to speak up in support of Sarah. The teachers who are willing to speak up for her, know that it is a risk to speak up, because Rahm Emanuel wants teachers to stay silent.

Silence is exactly what the NFL and other sports organizations want. Being outspoken got former Chicago Bulls sharp shooter Craig Hodges blacklisted from the NBA, as chronicled in his book “Long Shot”.

Power likes silence whether in sports or teaching. Power adores systems like blackballing. Colin Kaepernick is not the first athlete punished for being an active citizen. John Carlos and Tommie Smith were punished for raising their fists at the ’68 Olympics. Toni Smith a college basketball player faced severe repercussions for her protest in 2003.

Sarah Chambers is not the first teacher punished for being vocal. In fact, Chicago Public Schools is currently punishing many other teachers for being outspoken, here are the stories of 5 of them.

In the cases of Sarah Chambers and Colin Kaepernick my final question is, why would the powers in place be more upset about an actively engaged citizen then what is causing them to take a stand in the first place?

The NFL should be proud of someone like Kaepernick, who can play well and be socially aware and active, just like Chicago should be proud of someone like Sarah Chambers, who is a great teacher and an advocate to make our schools better for all our students.

Power thrives by fear. To improve our country, athletes, teachers, and citizens need to support the truth tellers who are willing to risk it all. These truth tellers are not in the spotlight for themselves, but for the betterment of everyone in society.

If you are interested in helping Sarah Chambers and other teachers who have been punished get their jobs back, whether you live in Chicago or not you can click here for information on whom to contact to help.

If you are interested in helping Kaepernick get signed, start pressuring your favorite NFL team’s front office and the NFLPA. As a Bear’s fan, I know Kaepernick could beat out all of our backups and most likely our starters. I imagine that the fans of many teams around the league are not happy with their quarterback situation either.

As Dave Zirin in writes in The Nation, “The NFL is denying Colin Kaepernick employment not because he isn’t “good enough” but because he is being shut out for the crime of using his platform to protest the killing of black kids by police.”

 

*Important things to note and question about this piece. I focused on Sarah Chambers because she is and has been very vocal about her punishment. I believe publicizing her struggle will continue to help shine a light on all the terrible policies that harm all teachers, special education students and students in general in Chicago. By focusing on Sarah Chambers, a white teacher, it does not shine a spotlight on the gross injustices that teachers of color and specifically Black teachers face(d) in CPS. Chicago Public Schools has a history of firing Black and Latino teachers in large numbers and of not hiring Black teachers as well.

 

To view this piece on Huff Post click here.