They Say We Don’t Love Our Students

So why do I feel so guilty leaving them?

In my twelve years teaching social studies in CPS, I’ve taught at two different high schools. I have recently made the decision to go to my third.

When I left TEAM Englewood, the first public high school I taught at, I felt like I had to. TEAM, which opened in 2007, was where I started teaching and where I learned how to teach. I was a part of that school. Our principal used to call the original teachers the “founding teachers.” She gave us credit for helping to create that school. We gave input on everything from the hall pass policy, to the hiring process, to what we learned in professional development, and everything in between. When I left TEAM after seven years, it had changed to a point where I didn’t feel it was healthy for me to stay. The principal and assistant principal who I learned so much from had left and we had gone through two other principals who I felt were not helping the school. I was also grieving the loss of a baby. So personally, and professionally, it became necessary for me to make a change.

The next school I worked at was Chicago Vocational (CVS), which is in the Avalon Park neighborhood. When I started teaching there, I wasn’t really prepared for the guilt I would feel about leaving TEAM Englewood. I felt like I didn’t belong at CVS, not because of the kids, but because it wasn’t TEAM. At TEAM I helped create the culture and influenced how the school ran. At CVS I was just another teacher.  However, I quickly built connections with students and began establishing my presence in the classroom and school.

This past school year at CVS has been one of my favorite years in the classroom. I have worked hard with my colleagues to create a curriculum that connects to kids while also pushing them to think, reflect, and analyze the world. I brought in twenty guest speakers from Chicago to speak to my students. These speakers included award-winning writers, poets, singers, rappers, veterans, and community activists. I helped coach our academic decathlon team. Our librarian and I created a spoken word program that got kids excited to write and perform poetry. Our students competed in Louder Than a Bomb, a youth slam poetry festival.

I was happy at Chicago Vocational.

Then in May I heard about a job opening for a social studies teacher at the high school in my South Side neighborhood.

At first, I didn’t even apply to the opening because I was not ready to leave CVS. But I eventually decided to apply due to some major personal and professional reasons I couldn’t ignore: it is a neighborhood public school located in the same neighborhood that my partner and I chose to live in twelve years ago for its racial diversity; it is the school where my partner works; and it is where eventually my kids will most likely attend high school.

The whole application, interview, and acceptance process took about one month. Throughout the entire process, I cycled through a huge range of emotions that I have been working through.  I had to decide when and how to tell my students that I was leaving and heading to a new school. When I left TEAM Englewood, the decision was made during the middle of summer, so I sent every student I taught an email telling them that I was leaving. But I made my decision to leave CVS during the last few days of the school year, so I decided to tell my students in person. I experienced a range of reactions from them. One student became angry and asked, “Mr. Stieber, how can you leave us?!” Another reaction, that was even more difficult to hear, was the student who simply said, “Mr. Stieber, I will miss you,” and then walked away. I told the kids that I am not leaving because of them, and I am not. The kids are what I love. But the kids don’t understand that, and to be honest, no matter my reason for leaving, I am leaving the kids.

In fact, during an interview, I was asked, “Do you even want to work here? Your body language seems like you don’t.” This caught me off guard because this person sensed how I felt. I had to tell them that I felt guilty for leaving my students at CVS. I told them that I am a loyal person. In fact I am so loyal I felt guilty for my first son, when my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our second son. I thought I might have blown the interview, and I was okay with that idea, but I also hoped that my explanation let them know that I was interested in switching schools—but the decision was extremely difficult.

For better or worse, teaching defines who teachers are. Schools can shape teachers as much as teachers can shape a school. Our schools, then, also become who we are. So when a teacher decides to leave a school, it is almost like they are losing a piece of who they are.

A colleague told me, when I talked to her about switching schools, that teachers can’t be martyrs for their students. Ultimately, we have to do what is best for us. I agree. The issue is since our city has many issues (hyper-segregation, lack of democracy in our schools, police violence, intra-community violence, resource theft), if we all did what was best for us, many of us would want to leave Chicago.  As teachers, I believe there must be a balance between our willingness to stay and fight for our students, our schools, and our city, and our own mental health.

Despite my own personal and professional reasons for switching schools, it is still true that CPS, and especially on the South Side, schools experiences extremely high levels of teacher turnover. A 2009 University of Chicago Consortium on School Research study found that a hundred CPS schools, many of them with majority-Black student populations, lose at least a quarter of their teaching staff every year due to reasons like “principal leadership, teacher collaboration, [and] student safety.” Losing twenty-five percent of a teaching staff per year causes many issues. Students feel like they are the reason that their teachers leave them, and will refuse to allow themselves to get close to their teachers because of the likelihood that their teachers won’t be there the next year. According to the report, having to rehire a quarter of the staff every year also leads to the hiring of “inexperienced, less effective teachers” and can also “produce a range of organizational problems for schools, such as discontinuity in professional development, shortages in key subjects, and loss of teacher leadership.” Why is it okay for certain schools, many of which serve Black and Brown students, to have teachers with little experience, while others have more experienced teachers? What would schools like the one that I am leaving need to make sure teachers are supported and want to stay?

Ultimately, CPS needs to solve the rampant issues it has with inequality in resources and support for the sake of not only its students but also its teachers. Every school deemed “Level 2” should get twice the support of every school deemed “Level 1.” To make this happen, I am not saying we take from one school to give to another, but rather to get funding from other items in the city budget. One of the largest chunks of the budget is policing, which takes up forty percent of the city’s operating budget. Schools and the communities that they serve need resources, not more cops. There is currently $95 million slated for a new cop academy on the West Side, which many activists from the community have organized against.

As I am about to begin my twelfth year at CPS, I have learned that it is only through giving all schools the equitable resources they need that teachers can dedicate their careers to educating their students. With more funds directed towards CPS and schools that need more support, these schools could afford to have more counselors, who could work with students and staff to provide trauma services and individual counseling. A Level 2 school could have a teacher aide for every single class. By fully taking care of our students, you are also taking care of teachers.

This piece was originally featured on the South Side Weekly to view it click here.

CPS is Harming Kids With the Most Need

Chicago Public Schools has provided further proof that they could care less about what is best for students; regardless of the rhetoric they proliferate. The most recent proof of this is their plans to cut the Pre-K Special Education program at Bret Harte Elementary on the South Side.

CPS is intentionally and knowingly harming the kids who need the most, by cutting a Special Education Pre-K program for 3 and 4 year olds with various types of physical and mental disabilities.

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I should not be shocked that CPS would attempt a move like this.  This is not new for Chicago Public Schools. In my 9 years of teaching in here I have witnessed CPS hold community meetings in which students and parents begged and pleaded for CPS to keep their schools open, only to have CPS ignore the community and close the most schools in the history of our country. CPS claimed the cuts were to save money and that the schools were under-enrolled, yet at the same time they were increasing funding for charters and opening new charter schools.

But I guess I still am actually shocked by their desire to cut a Special Ed. Pre-K program. Apparently CPS has now shifted their destruction from schools on the South and West sides to programs that serve the South Side and West Sides.

There are other Special Ed. Pre-K programs on the South Side, but they are either filled to capacity, much too far away, or staffed without certified Special Ed. teachers. As a high school teacher I know from experience that many special needs students depend on a school routine that is consistent and safe. Forcing these very young students to switch schools can be especially traumatic.

One of the parents of a child in the Special Ed. Pre-K program created a Change.org petition to be delivered to CPS demanding that this program be saved. In the petition she writes, “My daughter has made remarkable progress through the efforts of the amazing and dedicated teacher in the special education preschool program. The class at Harte is an effective, loving learning environment for my daughter and her classmates, for whom stability and consistency are crucial. In addition, the special education preschool class is an important part of the school. It is often integrated with other classes for recess, field trips, special events, and sometimes just stories and centers. “

You had better believe that as a parent I will do what is best for my kids, because the school district that I choose to work for and send my children too, does not care about our children.

Here’s how you can get involved and help save Harte’s Pre K Special Education Program:

  • Sign the petition
  • Contact the Alderman of Bret Harte School Leslie Hairston
  • Call CPS and leave a message for Forrest Claypool and Janice Jackson 773-553-1000
  • Come to the “Play in” at Harte!

Finally, the parents of Bret Harte are organizing a “Play-In to Save Pre-K Special Education at Harte” on Tuesday the 21st from 3:30-4:30pm (1556 E. 56th St.) on the playground. Please bring your child and/or come out and support us as we fight to keep open an amazing program that serves amazing kids.

 

Sample Script for Leslie Hairston, Forest Claypool and Janice Jackson:

“My name is ____________ I am calling to ask you to save the Special Ed. Pre-K program at Bret Harte Elementary School. This a very successful and positive program at the school. Cutting a program that helps special needs children is wrong. I am asking you to keep this program open. Thank you”

 

CPS- A Petulant Child That Feigns Never Hearing “No” Before

When two sides enter into a negotiation, it is expected for the two sides to go back and forth on various points and details. One side will submit a proposal and the other side will reflect on the offer and then come back to the table to discuss what they like or do not like about the proposal.

Our teacher’s contract expired July 1st 2015 and it took until January 28th 2016 for CPS to make their 1st “serious offer” regarding our contract. The teachers that make up the bargaining team of the Chicago Teachers Union had been making proposals for months about how to help our schools, our students, and our teachers, while CPS had been unreceptive and/or unwilling to negotiate in good faith. But now almost 6 months after our contract has expired CPS submits one proposal and we are all of a sudden expected to take it, like it was the greatest gift ever presented to teachers?!

After the teachers of the big bargaining team went through each line of the proposal, they determined that it was not in the best interest of the students and teachers of Chicago to accept this offer. CEO Forest Claypool sent a threatening letter to Karen Lewis saying he now has no choice but to cut millions of dollars from schools.

Wait, hold up. It is not like the big bargaining team declared they will refuse all offers from CPS. They just refused parts of this offer. So the logical next step would be to come back to the table and figure out how make a contract for all parties to agree on. Just because CPS claimed it was a “good offer” and leaked parts of the proposal to the press making CPS look ‘oh so generous’ and teachers look ‘oh so greedy’, once again, does not mean it is a good contract.

So instead of continuing discussions, CPS has essentially given the middle finger to thousands of educators in this city. This is a big middle finger to the hundreds of thousands of students and parents who will be damaged by these draconian cuts to schools across the city.

All of this CPS madness comes from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who controls the schools. The same Mayor who is liked by only 18% of the people of Chicago. The same mayor that appointed CEO Forest Claypool (who has no educational experience) after his other appointed CEO got arrested. Both Rahm and Claypool control an appointed puppet school board that meets behind closed doors and ignores all public input to make their real decisions.

So once again I come back to the “serious offer” that CPS made. In the midst of all this corruption, we educators are just supposed to trust CPS and just accept their offer?

Teachers, unlike the Mayor, CEO, and Appointed School Board work with students and parents everyday.

We teachers send our kids to CPS.

We live in the city.

We will do what is best for the kids.

Yes, making sure a teacher is reasonably protected from the craziness that is CPS and paid fairly is still doing what is best for kids. A fair contract helps keep outstanding teachers from leaving this jacked up mayorally controlled undemocratic school system.

So CPS, grow up, realize that in a negotiation there will be times when you hear “No”.

We teachers are the experts in knowing what our schools, students, and profession need.

The contract negotiating process the Chicago Teachers Unions goes through with the big bargaining team and House of Delegates is Democratic. Just because the politics of this city are run by a “Yes, Rahm” mentality does not mean we will follow suit.

We are educated in what Democracy looks like and like it or not, CPS, we are educating you, just like we educate hundreds of thousands of students across our city daily.

This article on HuffingtonPost Chicago

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-stieber/cps-a-petulant-child-that_b_9145606.html?utm_hp_ref=chicago&ir=Chicago

 

The Chicago Teacher Residency Rule: One Thing CPS Gets Right

A former colleague of mine wrote an article recently that Chicago Public Schools should end the requirement that to work in CPS you must live in the city of Chicago limits.

There are a lot of things that CPS does that I strongly disagree with, from having mayoral control of the schools, to not having an elected school board and just the overall top down undemocratic way that CPS runs schools.

But the rule that to teach in CPS you must live in Chicago is one rule that CPS gets rights.

As teachers we have a moral obligation to helping make the lives of our students better.

One way to make our students lives better is to make the city that we all live in better. There at times is already a disconnect between the lived experiences of our students and the experiences that we teachers have. The thing is, even if we don’t live in the specific Chicago neighborhood in which our school is located we still are infinitely more aware of what life is like for our students than say if we were able to commute from surrounding suburbs. Yes, I could have my students share their experiences so I could attempt to understand and relate to them, but the disconnect between teachers and students will only be greater if they live in Englewood or South Chicago and I live in Orland Park, Oak Park, or Schaumburg.

We owe it to our students as voters, taxpayers, and parents to have a political, economic, and educational stake in this city.

The 40,0000 teachers who work for CPS are an important voice in the electoral process in Chicago, as we have seen with the most recent round of Mayoral and Aldermanic elections. The actions of the teachers who make up the Chicago Teachers Union are changing the way schools are run and the way this city is run. We would have significantly less tangible ways to exert positive change for our students if we had no voting privileges for our students.

We owe it to our students to pay taxes to this city to help improve it for everyone. Yes, the way the money is used or not used needs improvement, but the politicians need our revenue to fund improvements. These same politicians also need our voices to pressure them to use our revenue the way that it should be used.

We owe it to our students to be teachers who not only work in CPS but also send our kids to CPS. By having our children attend CPS, we obviously will have more at stake in wanting to improve the schools for all children in the city.

Teaching is about building connections with our students. We teachers may have differences between our students and us regarding race and/or economic status, but by living in the city, paying taxes, and sending our kids to CPS, our students can see that through our differences we also share many common bonds, most importantly the desire to improve the city that we all call home.

We teachers love and care about our students, which is why discussions about the teacher residency rule and any and everything else that impacts our careers as teachers are vital.

But to truly care about and fight for the schools our students deserve, we must also live in and fight for the city that we all deserve.

Published on Catalyst Chicago
http://catalyst-chicago.org/2015/03/teacher-residency-rule-one-thing-cps-gets-right/

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange — Maintaining the Status Quo in Chicago Public Schools

Karen Lewis (former CPS teacher) elected President of the Chicago Teachers Union proposed an idea to generate funding, to improve Chicago Public Schools and our city. Her idea is to place a small tax on shares bought and sold at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. In an interview published in the Sun Times Lewis said, “This is an opportunity to actually make heroes out of these (wealthy) people. Instead of everybody being angry at them about their money and their greed and all these other things. This is an opportunity for them to say, ‘You know what, we’re part of the city. We love this city. We’d like to see the city work. We’d like to be a part of the process and this isn’t going to be enough to make us want to go.’”

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange issued a statement in response to Lewis saying in part, “…we do not believe the way to accomplish a strong public school system is through singling out futures traders with a tax more than 200 percent higher than what the average trader pays to buy or sell a futures contract…”

For those non-math people like myself 200 percent higher sounds like a lot of money, but in reality if shares were currently being taxed 33 cents they would now be taxed about 67 cents more to make it a dollar tax. Saying something is 200 percent more is just a fancy way of saying something is tripled.

Sixty seven cents more to improve our schools which in turn improves our whole city.

In the same interview where the Chicago Mercantile Exchange claimed it basically couldn’t afford to pay 67 cents more the Mercantile Exchange spokesperson said, “The CME Group absolutely believes that our hometown of Chicago should have a strong, world-class public education system.”

So the Chicago Mercantile Exchange wants a world class education system yet will not give a minute fraction of its wealth and revenue to actually make this a reality?

Please keep in mind that the Mercantile Exchange gets millions of dollars per year in tax breaks. Meaning that all the money that they are not paying in taxes that would go to improving our city and in part our schools stays in their pockets making them even more wealthy.

This my friends is what maintaining the status quo looks like in plain sight.

Teachers and schools are blamed for anything and everything wrong with education. Yet, when teachers demand more money for our schools and our students we are labeled as greedy and the ideas we have to improve education are dismissed.

As an educator in CPS for the past seven years working in the Englewood neighborhood it is painfully obvious that schools need more funding.

Schools need support (i.e. financial resources) for our city to truly give ALL of our students a “world class” education.

Last year Chicago Public Schools reduced the budgets by about $2,000 per student. In a small school like mine that translates to about $400,000 that we lost just last year. In larger schools that number is in the millions of dollars that schools once had that they no longer have to use for school staff, supplies, field trips, and the overall functioning of a school.

In my school cutting $400,000 translated into supplies being cut, technology not being repaired and seven people who no longer work in our building. That means there are seven less adults (teachers, security, tech coordinator, and a teacher coach) that can no longer work with students and help make their education and safety better.

So the Chicago Mercantile Exchange claims it wants a “world class education” for the students of Chicago, but in the same press release basically says it can’t find 67 more cents to invest per transaction for the youth of Chicago to better our city.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange is just following the lead of our mayor who claims he wants what is best for the kids, yet steals TIF money that is supposed to go to our schools and neighborhoods and builds stadiums, parks, roads that benefit downtown while also sending his kids to a private school that has everything that ALL our schools should have.

Like Rahm Emanuel the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is just providing lip service claiming it cares about kids, while maintaining the status quo of Chicago and keeping this city a tale of two Chicago’s—One for the rich and one for everyone else.

Or as I like to interpret the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s quote, it just comes down to (millions of) dollars for the rich and pennies for our kids.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-stieber/the-chicago-mercantile-ex_b_5282766.html

Outside the Loop Radio Interview

I’m interviewed on Outside the Loop radio about the TEAM Englewood Spoken Word group piece from Louder Than A Bomb 2014 in which our poets wrote the piece “Hide Your Schools, Hide Your Children, Hide Your Homes, Cause He’s Wrecking it All“. This is a poem written entirely by four Englewood public high school students about all Rahm Emanuel is doing to harm this city.

The interview is from 12:00-22:00

Hide Your Schools, Hide Your Children, Hide Your Homes, Cause He’s Wrecking it All

A poem written by 4 TEAM Englewood Public High School students about all that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is doing wrong in Chicago. These students wrote this piece and took part in the Louder Than A Bomb spoken word competition put on yearly by Young Chicago Authors here in Chicago.

Hammer in one hand paint brush in the other
Rahm Emanuel is single handedly destroying our city
Mr. wreck it Rahm
look what Chicago is becoming
bending the rules to fit in the lie of building a new chicago
building new streets
when his own plan got some pot holes

Tearing down our dreams
its getting really windy in these streets
Red X’s mark the spots where his wrecking balls are next to drop

We are not included in the Blue Print of the New Chicago: we’re being pushed out
our buildings transformed into condos – and we know those AINT FOR US
Thermal shock is setting in from the whipping wind of the heartless sins
of the mayor

Norfolk Railroads is pushing us southern folk out
Homes replaced with tracks
that will be laid
where our heads used to
If dry wall could talk
it would speak many prayers to keep our homes
now vacant lots that hold lots of remnants
of 60 years of backyard barbeques
baby showers
and when electric sliding was the super power of the summer
55th and Normal
we are losing all of this

Torturing, tormenting us as we choke on the ashes of our memories
*Cough Cough*
Let’s hope we don’t get sick
Because he’s closing all our clinics
He needs to get treated
And then maybe we can sew back on the other half of the middle finger
that he has been giving us

Its almost as if he’s E Manuel of E-Limination
Exportation!
Extermination!
Eradication!

Step one: Take away our schools
Step Two: Put them out their home
Lastly: Destroy it all and
Deny Deny Deny
But remember, to always keep a straight face when you lie!

Try to pour the cheap paint over our eyes while stealing dollars from under our mattresses
There’s not enough? Close their schools
But he’s building a new DePaul stadium
Using our TIF funds to Transform the South Loop into the Promised Land of redevelopment
and some river walk
of course downtown
The paint is starting to streak.
Building a new Chicago or extending a new lie!
How can a city so in debt blueprint something so expensive?

Banneker Elementary – Closed
Woods Elementary – Closed
Yale Elementary – Closed

The paint is cracking:
From every west side basketball brotherhood
To south side sisterhood bonds through pom-poms
And every poetry team that had dreamed of being on this very stage
has been ripped apart,
Goodbye

Bad foundation for our future generations
struggling with 40 students in one class
so they learn from the streets
There’s not money for our schools, but, there’s enough to build a New Chicago
But that New Chicago is NOT for us.
The paint is wearing thin and so was our patience
Irreparable damage has already been done

Time to stop the destruction of OUR city
Prevent the further corruption of our already twisted politics of Chicago

25% of Chicago school children won’t amount to anything
25
50
75
100% sure that we will be something
See Rahm we are mathematicians
your lies are adding up
and this new Chicago is just another one of them

Our poets featured in the HuffingtonPost Chicago:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/11/team-englewood-spoken-word_n_4941587.html?utm_hp_ref=chicago&ir=Chicago

Our poets featured in the Chicago Reader:
http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2014/03/12/englewoods-message-to-mayor-wreck-it-rahm

Featured & interviewed on CBS Chicago:
http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2014/03/14/youth-poetry-team-obliterates-mayor-wreck-it-rahm-in-viral-youtube-video/

Our poets discussed on Outside the Loop Radio show:(14:45-20:40)
http://www.outsidetheloopradio.com/2014/03/13/otl-episode-387-louder-than-a-bomb-poetry-slam-mayor-emanuel-needs-to-hear-from-the-kids-story-club-chicago/

Like & Follow our Spoken Word Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/TeamEnglewoodSpokenWord