Saturday, January 9, 2016

My Kids are Learning DESPITE Edreform

The thing that gets me about all the ridiculous policies coming down hard on teachers, especially teachers teaching in neighborhood schools serving low-income African American communities, is that despite everything, my kids are learning! I am SO proud of them.

I teach special education for third and fourth graders in a resource room. My kids-almost all of whom were non-readers when I met them in September-are ALL reading after just a few short months. With simple exposure to almost excessive amounts of high-interest books (and never restricting them to reading books only "at their level"), beautiful culturally-relevant and diverse literature, and lots of small group/1:1 reading practice, they are getting this thing called reading. We celebrate books and our reading in the classroom, and the kids are eager to share what they are learning. Yesterday, during our Friday Peace Circle, kids were so excited to share their favorite stories, that we went well over the usual time allotment. One girl, a struggling third grader, chose to read an entire short book to the group. And we applauded and cheered her success.
This is only a fraction of the thousands of books I have collected over the years. Like so many other teachers out there, I have scoured used book stores, craigslist, ebay, library sales, amazon, befriended retiring teachers to amass a huge selection of high-interest books for my students.
 Many of my students went from difficulty sounding out CVC words, to reading whole sentences and stories. The teacher before me did a great job of reinforcing those basic letter-sound relationships, and skills like writing of the alphabet and numbers, and so when they got to my class, they were ready for the next step. Now they are reading whole pages, and some are so hungry for reading practice they ask to try the grade-level work I had intended to read orally. And they are doing it-choppy, with plenty of errors-but they are doing it!

Most of my kids could barely add single digit numbers, but now nearly all have mastered multiplication, division, fact families, factoring and multiples, etc. They are even writing, and are excited about Science and History. They are asking important questions about their world, their communities, all the protests on the news, about injustice and racism.

My student wrote this, completely unprompted, to help another student.
And my kids are kind. They have developed true empathy for others in our class. Yesterday, one student came in after gym class very upset about some encounter with another peer in her homeroom. And our little boy with autism went up to her and said, "You need to relax, let me help you relax." He went around the room and offered her toys, feeling balls, drawing items, and even wrote a list called "How to relax" on the board for her. And it worked! That little girl was soon laughing and smiling thanks to a little boy's kindness.

My kids love "playing school". They act out our peace circles, they practice their spelling words, they read books to one another, they quiz each other on math facts. They learn more in the small moments of "free time" we have built into the day as a reward than they do with all our computerized programs, Common Core standards, graphic organizers, and complex text. Their best learning is not coming from a scripted lesson plan from a scripted curriculum and is not happening because of draconian, harsh discipline strategies. They are learning because they like it, because they have had been able to experience some successes. Successes that I have had to intentionally carve out from our educational world of bogus "rigor", improper expectations, developmentally inappropriate standards, and constant ridiculously difficult and confusing standardized testing. I have had to do everything in my power to protect my kids and create a space where they are comfortable and excited to learn, instead of the dread they often feel in the cutthroat educational climate edreformers have built.

I am no superteacher. I don't have that charisma, that spark, that would draw outsiders to my classroom in awe. But I'm a decent teacher who lets my kids be kids. I am lucky enough to have support in my classroom in the form of quality paraprofessionals, so each child is getting that important one on one/small group attention-something we have had to constantly fight our district to maintain. My classroom is well-resourced, but not because the district shelled out. No, the district pays for things like test prep computer programs or all the latest fads in education like STEM. It is teachers who are paying out of pocket, through our dwindling bank accounts, and through our own sweat and tears to collect and create the kinds of materials that actually benefit our kids. We are given the Common Core workbooks, told to follow the horrid Common Core Curricula, and implement the latest computer programs with "fidelity", but then must supplement everything with our own resources-the games, the interactive art projects, the child-friendly materials off of, the advice from our colleagues and veteran educators, and the accumulation of years of experience. And most importantly we are guided by the power of those teachable moments that our curious little ones bring with them every day.

We teachers do this in the middle of mass "budget crises" where threats of layoffs, reductions in vital services like special education, cuts in pay, and the destruction of our retirement looms close on the horizon. We do it with time and money we don't have as edreform robs us of our autonomy and the resources we need to reach our students, especially our kids who live in deep poverty and have experienced untold trauma.

I know my other teacher colleagues are experiencing the same sorts of everyday successes. But I want all the edreform cheerleaders out there to understand-the learning is happening DESPITE your reforms, not because of them. We are teaching the way we know works best for kids "in the cracks", done in hiding or between mandates.

And the biggest kick in gut of all is how we are punished for doing what's right. Too many excellent teachers in my school are being given poor ratings due to a flawed and cruel evaluation system. Our school gets budget cut after budget cut when we serve the kids that can least afford these types of disruptions. Already this year we have lost four teaching positions resulting in split classrooms, large class sizes, loss of Social Studies in our middle grades, and the chaos of rearranging classrooms and schedules weeks into the school year. We lost a much needed clerk, we lost our Climate and Culture coordinator who was overseeing our restorative justice program. We lost our Japanese program. And now we are bracing for the worst cuts in living memory to hit us thanks to ideologues and the 1% elites in political office.

My kids are doing such great work. But none of that matters. We are living in a time where the kind of teaching that I believe deeply in is being intentionally destroyed with the ultimate goal of the demise of public education.

But damn all of you edreformers, I will keep celebrating my students and all their hard work. I love my kiddos. And I'm not afraid to step out of my classroom into the streets along with thousands of my union brothers and sisters to fight for what is right.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

We Can't Talk About Discipline Without Discussing Mental Health

I try to follow closely the discussions around school discipline including zero tolerance or "no excuses" discipline policies, restorative justice, and the school-to-prison-pipeline. I applaud many of the groups of youth, youth workers, educators, and parents working to dismantle the StPP and implement more restorative practices in our schools, especially in schools serving low income Black and Latino students. There is no question that Black and Latino youth are being mistreated by racist and misguided discipline policies.

However, I feel there is a huge piece of the conversation that is missing: mental health. As we discuss student behaviors and appropriate contexts and reactions to those behaviors, I feel like we are glossing over the very real and very serious implications of trauma, depression, or other mental health effects that are exacerbated by poverty and racial oppression. Too many of our students and their families and communities are daily being bombarded by such incredible injustice and obstacles that the mental health toll comes out in their behaviors. Children and youth are responding in very normal and predictable ways to absolutely untenable circumstances. Poverty is often racialized in our city and poverty matters.

Back last fall, I finagled my way-by  practically begging my administration-to a CPS training on Restorative Justice. It was a good training. I appreciated practice in alternative ways to handle disputes, student conflicts, and especially the focus on "repairing the harm". Instead of "punishment", students are encouraged to come up with ways to fix whatever damage their behavior caused. I could see it working for many smaller problems that arise daily in schools, teaching children and young people responsibility while giving them a voice in the matter.

But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking back to my time teaching at a psychiatric hospital. And I thought about the kinds of absolute horrors some children have been exposed to. Hearing their stories of abuse that make you want to come home and weep. Kids being exposed to all kinds of violence. Children being thrown-unwanted-around foster care and group homes. Poverty and racism were so often at the heart of these stories. Parents who sought refuge in alcohol and drugs when there are no jobs, only housing insecurity and pain available. Families ripped apart by the prison-industrial complex. Babies who watched their siblings burn to death when they were left alone in a subpar housing complex during winter. Kindergartners being shot while sitting in their living rooms.

These stories sound extreme and certainly not every child or family living in poverty experiences these types of tragedies. But far too many people do. Far too many.

Being back in a neighborhood school located in a neighborhood experiencing deep poverty, I am reminded daily how ineffective even the best-intentioned discipline strategies are.

I appreciate the fact that restorative justice advocates are trying to reduce suspensions. But who is working on addressing the underlying reasons behind tough behaviors? People, especially children, will not be cured from major PTSD or depression by good intentions. No, we should not make things even worse through punitive discipline, but let's also not pretend that switching to restorative practices is nearly enough.

I want the conversation to go deeper and get more real. Teachers are in classrooms every day having to decide how to address truly dangerous and debilitating behaviors. A peace circle is great, but it's not enough. We are experiencing concentrated negative behaviors with no where near enough resources. And school policy is creating more concentrations of poverty and further segregating our school by race, class, and ability. It's one thing to be an advocate on the outside calling for restorative practices, it's quite another to be the teacher or school staff personnel confronted daily with the behavioral realities of working with kids in deep poverty. Kids who are in a constant state of fight or flight-ready to fight at the smallest provocation. Kids who cannot sit still, cannot focus, and even with modifications and accommodations, end up monopolizing a teacher's time.

There is racism in our school discipline systems. I don't want to take anything away from that fight. I have no doubt that there are white teachers who are making racist discipline decisions which accounts for some of the disparities. But isn't a greater racism that children of color are far more likely in our city to be exposed to trauma, to toxic stress, to have a greater number of adverse childhood experiences which lead to very normal but very disruptive behaviors in schools?

Can we talk about that please?

The Ugly Truths of Choice and That Which Divides Us

I spent the summer working on the Southwest side of Chicago-knocking on doors, organizing, and helping plan education justice events. I met amazing people who care deeply about equity, about justice, about improving the educational opportunity for their children.  I saw thousands come out in support of their neighborhood schools. I heard powerful testimonies of the great work happening inside the schools from students, teachers, staff, and parents.

I had not spent a lot of time on the Southwest side before. There is so much good, so much community involvement, so much kindness. It was beautiful.

But I also saw a less attractive side of the area. The SW side has a growing Latino population which is expanding into once formerly white working class or working class sometimes poor Black communities. I saw the tensions as demographics change and the racism or prejudice that arises when people from different backgrounds mix. I met older working white people talk about "those people" (referencing the Latino population) moving in which is why the schools struggle today, how there are only a few of "us" left on the block. I heard from Latino families that would NEVER send their children to "that school" even though it is just a block away with the unspoken understanding that "that school" is where Black students go to school. I met Asians who would never send their children to the closer neighborhood high school because it had too many "bad kids", but instead send their kids farther afield to a school with more middle class and stable families. And at the heart of the battle over charter schools in the area, giving parents "the choice" to run away from the parts of the their community they don't want to associate with. The kids with behavior problems, the kids with disabilities, the kids from deeper poverty or who live in public housing.

In other words, the Southwest side is like every other corner of my hyper-segregated city: race and class throw up seemingly insurmountable divides. Selective enrollment schools certainly fill this role. They are a "life raft" for families that want nothing to do with the "others" in the city, and ostensibly serve as an anchor for the middle class. And the charter movement, at least at face value (ignoring the obvious privatization, union-busting, and profit-motives involved with charters), offer that opportunity to "escape" to more families. Because that's what's equality looks like apparently: giving all people an equal opportunity to discriminate. To divide communities. To force families into cutthroat competition for the scraps of funding allowed to trickle down to the working class.

Now the "who" parents are fleeing is subjective. Sometimes it is the racism of white families fleeing Black kids or Latino kids. Usually it is more subtle. It's about class. It's about degrees of poverty. It's about real fears for safety. A common refrain was anger over the gangs in the area. It's an understanding that a school with shrinking resources, but high special education needs, will not adequately serve all students. It's also about real and demonstrable disparities in funding in certain schools and certain areas. Schools serving more white and middle class students get more funding in this city. So do the charter schools with our ideological Mayor and Unelected School Board in charge. Parents aren't making that up.

Which is why I think it's important to say that parents aren't actually crazy to choose discrimination. It is in fact, in many ways, the only "choice" given, as neighborhood schools are defunded and sabotaged. It's a pragmatic choice.

I don't have the answers on how to overcome these barriers. But I look to the fight for Dyett High School as a beacon of hope for our divided city. The fight for the last open enrollment high school in this city's historic Bronzeville neighborhood is being fought by a coalition of people from around the city. The Hunger Strikers were predominately African-American people from the community, but they were joined by a Mexican-American man from Pilsen, by a white man from Uptown, by grad students and teachers from around the city.

The struggle is what brought this unlikely group of people together, fighting united, for a common cause. I believe it is only being a part of the struggle that will change people's hearts and minds. I've seen parent groups from the north side take up the fight for great schools for ALL children after being exposed to the savage inequalities through the struggle. I've seen African-American, Latino, White, Asian, and people of all backgrounds march united through this city for the schools Chicago's students deserve. When people across the city unite, we become a force that might actually change the realities that try to reinforce our divides.

The advocates of "choice" want us separate. They want us to fight each other. It is that competition which drives profit and the expansion of choice.  We must choose a different way.

AUSL: A Pale Immitation of Good Teaching

The other day, I was at a professional development at an elementary school near mine on the south side of Chicago. I'm a Social-Emotional Lead at my school, so once a month, we go to a different school in the Network and learn from our peers about what works in their schools. We always start the meeting with a walk-through of the school, looking for inspirational new ideas.

As we walked around this school, we entered a classroom and one colleague noted, "Oh! I love the curtains!" Another answered, "Oh, that's an AUSL thing, I bet this teacher was AUSL."

[For those readers outside Chicago, AUSL stands for the Academy of Urban School Leadership. It's a private turnaround company which our unelected school board now gives every single turnaround contract to. I'm sure that monopoly has nothing to do with the direct links of our former school board president and Chief Administrative Officer who both worked for AUSL before coming to high positions inside CPS. But hey, we're used to serious and unabashedly open corruption in our city, right Chicago?]

This remark really got me thinking. How are curtains an AUSL thing? Apparently, this private turnaround company mandates curtains in every classroom. Mandates them. They also mandate things like having plants, couches, and rugs.

I have nothing against curtains and plants in a classroom. In fact, teachers have been adding touches like that probably since forever. But what started to bother me was that AUSL was copying something they thought was good and forcing it in every classroom, which completely negates the purpose of those darn curtains: to create a homey positive environment for kids. AUSL, like so many reformy groups, completely misses the point about what makes a positive atmosphere. It's not the curtains, it's the teacher who uses little touches like curtains to foster positive relationships with students.

And AUSL is not known for it's positive teaching environments. In fact, what they are most known for is oppressive environments where students are carefully policed and pushed out and teachers are given huge workloads with little autonomy or joy.

Does AUSL somehow believe that putting up curtains is going to negate the effect of draconian relationship-destroying discipline policies? Will teachers be more likely to create deep, positive relationships with kids under strict surveillance and long lists of "non-negotiable" mandates? And how does AUSL's policy of firing at least half of the staff when they take over a building affect kids' trust in the adults in the school? You cannot build strong relationships on a foundation of intentional chaos.

Of course AUSL is not about relationships. But neoliberal edreform is all about image. If you walk into an AUSL classroom, you might think it's a beautiful place. Just don't stick around long enough observe a child being berated and ultimately pushed out of the school. Don't watch the primarily new, young teachers be beaten down daily with mandates and heavy work loads. Ignore the hyper-focus on tests scores or the inhumane "data walls" put up next to those curtains.

AUSL fakes relationships. They go through the motions of creating positive environments while stifling the actual autonomy, creativity, and joy that is necessary to build those relationships.

Like so much else in edreform, AUSL is a phony.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Shame on Noble Street

Despite negative community impact, Noble Street Charter Network seeks to expand on the southwest of Chicago in the midst of a devastating budget crisis.
The Chicago Public Schools is experiencing a manufactured budget crisis of immense proportion leading to truly debilitating cuts to vast numbers of schools around the city. Schools are reporting the loss of teachers and support staff, as well as reductions in after-school programs, elementary sports teams, librarians, and special education services. In addition to over $200 million dollars in cuts announced at the beginning of the summer, another round of layoffs-including nearly 500 educators being pink-slipped-took place just this past Monday. The schools hardest hit by these cuts are schools serving high numbers of students with special needs and schools designed specifically for students with significant disabilities.
And it was on that date, the day thousands of CPS workers were told they would not be returning to their school communities, that the Noble St Charter organization came out to cheerlead for a new Noble campus on the southwest side at a Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) meeting.
Noble St has an ambitious expansion plan that has nothing to do with community need. In a leaked Teach For America document obtained by the education blogger EduShyster, you can see Noble St and other charter operators' plans for massive growth:

Charter operators actually have a financial need to expand at any cost, or risk defaulting on public bonds they have taken out. UNO Charter Network notoriously came under federal investigation for misuse of those government bonds. 
And so Noble St has been scouring the city, desperately searching for a site to build, despite the obvious lack of need and potential negative impact to communities. Noble St first tried to open on the northside of the city, but was met with strong community and elected official opposition forcing them to yank that proposal. They also tried to move an existing school to a different location on the northside and again that proposal was yanked after meeting strong neighborhood resistance. Noble then turned its sights on the southwest side, beginning with at least two proposals, then dropping that number down to one after yet more resistance.

Now Noble St is focusing all its attention on a southwest side location at 47th and California. There is absolutely no need for a school just five blocks away from Kelly High School and down the street from a new UNO High School. A number of other new high schools have already been built recently in the area including Solorio and Back of the Yards High Schools. All neighborhood schools in the area will be severely impacted if this Noble expansion is allowed to proceed and students and resources are allowed to be siphoned away. Despite repeated Noble St representative claims, most high schools have space for more students and many are seeing dramatic declines in enrollment. As we saw during the school closings debacle of 2013, CPS utilization numbers are way off as leadership and staff of schools report vastly different realities. Kennedy High School has a whole wing that is currently being rented out to an elementary school and could be re-opened. Kelly High School has lost over a thousand students in the past ten years. And Gage Park High School is dwindling down to a few hundred students, to name a few.

Thanks to CPS' ridiculous and unfeasible student-based budgeting system, even minor drops in enrollment will have major implications for local schools. Schools are already reporting losses in after-school activities, arts, library, and special education services. These schools have shown impressive improvement over the past 10 years despite cuts, yet they are being starved out of existence. And the building of a new school will be the nail in the coffin for some community schools.

July 23rd Meeting at Kelly High School
organized by Brighton Park Neighborhood Council
1,000 community members saying "No new charters!"

How can Noble St  continue to push its plan to expand? Even the charter-friendly Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan has come out against this charter expansion. Do these people truly not give a damn about the impact to this community? Do they really have the gall to pull proposals from the northside after largely white resistance, but ignore the THOUSAND mostly Latino southwest side parents, students, teachers, principals, staff, elected officials, and community members who came out to support community schools and say "NO TO NOBLE" on July 23rd?

The CTU alongside community and parent groups across this city have launched a campaign to fight for revenue for ALL students in Chicago. We have been pushing the Board of Education to seek money from a financial transaction tax, releasing TIF funds, progressive tax sources, and to pressure the banks to end toxic financial deals. Noble St has never joined us in the streets or at Board meetings. Instead, they turn their people out in order to steal money from schools that can least afford it. From the schools which serve the most students with mild, moderate, and profound special needs or Limited English proficiency (Noble does NOT serve these kids-see graph below.) From the schools that take in the students Noble callously casts aside every year thanks to oppressive discipline and academic requirements. From the schools lacking the social capital, political power, and access to wealthy donors to fill their coffers despite hard times.

From Jersey Jazzman (Graphic should read 2010):
Shame, shame on Noble St for siding with the very people destroying communities across this city and state. Noble St ridiculously has a campus named after Governor Rauner who is currently at the front of the attack on working people and public services. The new President of the Chicago Board of Education-the wealthy Frank Clark-also has a campus named after him. Their donors represent a who's who of the top 1%, the very forces looking to dismantle public education.

If Noble were noble, they'd pull this proposal for a new charter school on the southwest side immediately.

Noble St, this is your chance to show you have an ounce of moral fiber. I cannot believe the students, parents, and teachers at your schools truly want to participate in such a nefarious plan. Show some solidarity and work with your community instead of splitting the community. Pull the proposal!!!


Hope to see everyone out at a second NAC meeting graciously scheduled by NAC members after CPS purposefully picked a meeting venue far too small to accommodate all who wished to attend. 

6pm (Best to get there early!)
August 18th, 2015
Kelly High School

4136 S California Ave

Until then, get the word out about the need to end charter expansion and to invest in our existing community schools!

Use the hashtags: #NoToNoble #IfNobleWereNoble #BrokeOnPurpose #OurCommunity and follow Brighton Park Neighborhood Council on twitter: @BpncChicago

**UPDATE as of August 18th**

The August 18th meeting is STILL HAPPENING, but as a "Community Meeting" not a NAC.

CPS has canceled the second NAC meeting they promised. Noble St has unsurprisingly also pulled out claiming they won't attend as it's not an "official" CPS event. Of course, Noble has no intention of allowing community members to actually voice concerns in an open forum. CPS' event last week carefully controlled the crowd by telling the Noble folks a different time, purposely choosing a venue that was far too small, and then stacking the room in Noble's favor. They then only allowed people to write questions on cards, which they carefully vetted and only allowed maybe 10 of the 200+ people present to even speak and only to read their cards. Noble's representatives were given unlimited time to respond to questions in order to frame their PR spin. Noble cannot stand real democratic input.

If Noble were Noble, they'd listen to all members of the community, even if it's hard to hear. They'd show up to events that directly affect the community where they want to expand. They'd care more about meeting needs than the PR spin they're selling. They'd look the students, parents, teachers, and community members they are hurting in the eyes instead of hiding behind CPS smoke & mirrors.

But Noble not is not noble. Shame. Shame on this organization.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

It's Time to Bring Charters Back Into the Public Fold

Across the country, it is becoming ever clearer that the charter experiment has failed. Every glowing media story highlighting a charter "miracle" has been debunked. The so-called "success stories" are easily exposed to be examples of selectivity, school pushout, discrimination against students with significant special needs, behavioral challenges, or English Language Learners, obsessive test-prep focus, and oppressive "no excuses" discipline.

Charter school teachers in my city are organizing unions. Just this week, the teachers of the Urban Prep Charter Network voted for a union. I am so happy for my brothers and sisters who were being exploited, laboring in unacceptable working conditions, standing up for their students' right to a quality education. I applaud their courage in the face of massive pushback from slimy charter leaders. What they did was right for kids.

Charters, instead of providing quality alternatives by operating outside existing education laws and worker protections, have proven why many of those education laws and protection were passed in the first place.

The charter cheerleaders told us it was unions that were holding back innovation. Turns out, unions were all that were keeping even worse conditions from befalling our schools in the name of austerity-loving, greedy, and racist politicians and leaders. Without unions, charter teachers see how damaging having no protections can be. They work for lower pay, they have even less job security, they have no way to advocate for their students and the resources and time they need to teach well.

We were told charters would cut back on administrative costs. Instead, they duplicated and expanded useless, yet well-paid, administrators in our funding-starved system. Suddenly, instead of just one CEO in Chicago Public Schools, we have dozens, all making exorbitant salaries to oversee a small handful of schools. We also have seen the ballooning of middle-management, as each charter chain has its own HR department, marketing positions, legal teams, etc

We were told charters would bring transparency and honesty to a broken system. Instead, they have exploded corruption and unethical behaviors. We have seen scandal after scandal as charters have been called out on all kinds of greed and misuse of public funds. Here in Chicago, we've seen one our city's most politically-connected charter CEO Juan Rangel step down after a series of federal investigations revealed defrauding investors.

Charters did not even bring the spaces for experimentation as the system has gelled into one that favors pre-established corporate chains over the original inspiration of the "mom and pop", teacher-led school. In true Walmart fashion, cookie-cutter, "no excuses" factories are the norm in today's charter school "marketplace." Charters are not innovative.

At some point, even the politicians and leaders pushing charters and choice need to admit it is a failed experiment. One that has actually weakened the system as a whole.

It is time for public education advocates to talk not only about ending charter expansion, but to make the case to bring charters back fully into the public fold. I suggest we do it slowly-as opposed to closing these schools outright- to quell the disruption that is so damaging to our children. Allow all charter teachers to belong to their city's teacher union. In Chicago, instead of forcing these teachers into a separate local, I want to see all teachers in the Chicago Teachers Union.  And phase out the private management, city-wide attendance boundaries, and separate punitive discipline and retention policies which discriminate and pushout students who struggle in school. Let these schools become neighborhood schools even as we fight for the types of resources that all children deserve.

Let's make charter schools nothing more than a sad chapter in the history of public education.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Say "Sayonara" to the Japanese Language Program at Langston Hughes Elementary

Banner at the entrance to our school reads: "Welcome to Langston Hughes Elementary"
For the first time in fifteen years, the students at Langston Hughes Elementary School in Chicago did not participate in a Japanese World Language program. Hughes is a high-poverty school in the heart of the African-American Southside neighborhood of Roseland. This school has had a special relationship with the Japanese Consulate which provided a unique opportunity to study the language and culture of Japan, allowed students to participate in local Japan-related activities, and most strikingly, brought a group of students and staff from Langston Hughes to visit Japan each year free of charge to the participants.

Fourth graders created some Haiku as a "secret assignment"
 we completed on a day when no substitute was available
This year, I was hired to fill the Japanese Language Teaching position. I was to replace a sweet, older Japanese women who decided to retire after experiencing the chaos of trying to teach in a receiving school after Mayor Rahm Emanuel viciously closed 50 schools in 2013. When I hear stories of the fights, the anarchy in the hallways and lunchroom, and the tumult for the staff trying to survive resulting in a mass exodus the next year, I am not surprised to hear she chose to leave.

Due to the destabilization of the school closing and consolidation process, Langston Hughes saw a decline in their test scores and attendance rates which led to receiving the lowest possible rating, a Level 3. Our administration and Network reacted with an obsessive focus on improving test scores. They asked me to begin the year filling a special education position until they could hire a replacement. Our staff spent countless hours pouring over test score data, creating lesson plans aligned to a meticulous test-prep focused pacing guide, and shifted most after-school programs to either a remedial or test-prep focus instead of enrichment activities such as art or dance. If you were to walk into our classrooms, you would see kids doing often content-free, skills-based, tedious work. There are no projects, science experiments, or even the study of history. The fights continue and there is little joy in our building for students or staff alike.

And so, in the name of higher test scores, the Japanese Program has been discontinued. I never taught a day. At first, the hope was that it was only a temporary break, but it is looking more and more like the program is gone forever.

I had such high hopes...

A small portion of the Japanese curricular materials
and Read-Alouds
I had planned to build a culture-focused curriculum with language infused throughout that began with the students' lived experiences. I had hoped to infuse art, music, dance, math, science, history, and literature into the lessons. I had purchased a whole curriculum series from Australia, bought dozens of Japan-related Read-Alouds, and invested in numerous games, toys, and cultural objects. A friend connected me with a former Japanese elementary teacher who gave me hundreds of flash cards and lesson plan ideas. I bought numerous CDs of Japanese music and collected age-appropriate songs to facilitate
Flashcards, projects, and lesson plans have been
sitting unused all year
teaching the language. I ordered DVDs such as The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Happy Family Plan to have movie events. I had planned a Japanese website where we could share projects and videos. I reached out to current teachers of English in Japan to setup real time language exchanges. I started researching ideal spots for field trips such as the Mitsuwa Marketplace and Japanese Gardens. I planned to organize cultural events like "Multicultural Day", "Japan Day", or a "Japanese Sports Festival." I had begun to reach out to Japanese guests to share Taiko, Awa Odori Dance, Calligraphy, and Martial Arts.
A small fraction of games/materials 

I had ideas around examining critical issues in both countries such as race/racism/xenophobia, testing mania, and bullying. I was planning a cumulative video project with each class contributing a small section entitled "Our Community, Our City, Our Country" that we could bring on our annual trip abroad to share a more complete view of Chicago and The United States.  Students could take pride in their community as they shared who they are with our partners in Japan.

I was genuinely excited to teach this subject, to continue this truly special program, to bring kids-some of whom have never left their neighborhood-across the sea.

But, no. Thanks to the school closings, thanks to high-stakes testing, thanks to Common Core, all of that is shattered.  This program is lost forever to these children, only to be replaced by joyless, motivation-killing test prep.