Dear Mr. Rahm Emanuel,
I am a teacher. For the past few years, I have been toying with the idea of returning to work in the Chicago Public Schools. I am a special education teacher with extensive experience teaching children and adolescents with behavioral/emotional disabilities, have a Masters degree with dual certification in special and elementary education, as well as six years experience teaching overseas. I became a teacher with the express purpose of teaching at-risk youth here in my home city of Chicago.
But I refuse to teach in your schools.
I refuse to teach in a school which your appointed Board purposefully starves in order to justify closure and privatization. I cannot watch the savage inequalities of school funding play out in children’s lives.
I refuse to administer standardized tests to children with special needs over and over and over again. I did that once in a school, and I consider it immoral forcing a child who is having panic attacks, crying, flipping desks in frustration to take a test far above the level we know that child is currently learning. And all for the purpose of judging, sorting, and punishing.
I refuse to teach the scripted curriculum forced on your teachers. My students need creative, responsive, individualized instruction. Not canned test-prep.
I refuse to let my skin color and lack of experience in the system allow you to force out my African-American veteran colleagues whose wisdom and experience my students cannot do without.
I refuse to be turned into a number. I will not let you turn some meaningless test score into an equally meaningless statistic about my value as a teacher. I want to be evaluated on my creativity and compassion in reaching every one of my students. I want to be measured in the smiles of my students as my reluctant readers shout out excitedly “when is reading time?” I want to be measured by the questions my students ask rather the multiple choice they answer.
I refuse to be paid according to that meaningless number. I want to be paid for my accumulated knowledge and loyalty to a school and community. I want to foster collaboration—not competition—with my colleagues as we work as a team to figure out each precious puzzle placed in our care.
I refuse to abandon my students with special needs. Your schools will likely fire the teachers who choose to work with the fragile, unpredictable children with disabilities, or any other traditionally low-scoring students such as children whose native tongue is not English. My students are a joy. They are so much more than a test score.
I refuse to be a part of the criminalization of my students, especially the African-American young men I work with. Many of these children tell me stories of their lives and I believe they have every right to be angry. Angry at how their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, and friends have been treated by this racist society. Angry at how their communities have been purposefully thrown away. Angry at the lack of opportunity, jobs, and even basic health care. They have a voice, and I will not silence it with suspensions, expulsions, and zero tolerance discipline practices.
I refuse to teach too many children at once. I suppose once we have reduced children down to a number, there is no end as to how many we can squeeze into one room. But I want to foster individual, caring relationships with each child and their families. And that takes time.
And speaking of time, I refuse to work in a place with so little respect for mine. Your longer school day will not be better without extra resources and staff. Most of what a great teacher does happens behind the scenes, in the planning and preparation and collaboration with colleagues. If you take that away from teachers, you will not get better learning. And in many cases, the experience of school will become even more boring and dreary for our students.
Your longer school day and new evaluation system were the last straw. I will not go back into your schools. I cannot go back because I know that I will become complicit in nothing short of child abuse.
Mr. Mayor, I suspect that there are many teachers out there thinking the same thing as me. Your destructive policies will drive great teachers away in droves.
That is of course, unless teachers actually stand up to the bully and say “no more”. Chicago teachers, I stand with you, and will become one of you again, as soon as we take back our schools. We have to...for our students.
And I refuse to go back to anything less than a revolution.