Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Exhaustion of The Longest School Day

I received this blog post from a special educator currently working in the Chicago Public Schools.   The writer wished to remain anonymous, understandably.  I have heard similar stories from far too many teachers out there.  Rahm and his politically-motivated Longer School Day are going to drive away all our very best educators.  This particular teacher is an absolutely phenomenal teacher and this story absolutely breaks my heart.

Chicago Public Schools defines the "Full School Day" as…
A richer school day… one that provides additional instructional time in both elementary and high schools.  This means more time on task in reading, math, history and science.  In addition, it provides time for a real recess so kids can exercise and refresh.   The Full School Day provides students with the time they need for quality instruction in the classroom with their teachers, as well as new opportunities for creative learning and extracurricular activities that were not available even just last year.  (
My students don’t spend the “Full School Day” with creative learning, enrichment, or exercise.  Instead, they spend a longer day in a classroom with substitutes, waiting in line to “play” at recess, being bombarded with data, all the while struggling to interact with their peers.  They are spending a longer day in a classroom where the windows don’t open, the heat doesn’t work, paint is falling off the ceiling in dangerous chunks, and where there is not adequate technology.  My students are exhausted, frustrated, and are having more behavior problems, because of the “Full School Day.”
Walking down the hallways of my school used to be one of my favorite things to do.  I would pass by classrooms and see all of the fun and creative things students were doing.  Bulletin boards were filled with colorful and imaginative displays of student mastery.  Since the implementation of Rahms “Full School Day,” the creativity has been sucked out of our classrooms.  Teachers are being forced to become robot while teaching.  We must say key words at certain times and must integrate a teaching strategy into our lessons whether or not it pertains to our teaching or will work for our students.  While new teaching strategies can be good, what is being lost, being sacrificed? 
My students have yet to see any of the enrichment promised to them.  My school has had three FSD positions go unfilled all school year.  These positions were created to give the students enrichment resource classes.  Instead, my students spent all of second quarter with a different substitute every day.  I spent my own time and money planning and creating activities to keep my students occupied.  My students deserve more than busy work to occupy their time!  Now in the third quarter my students have another resource class with another substitute.  I feel like my hands are tied.  I try to provide my students with some meaningful work to do, but I can’t keep spending my time, to plan for another hour of my student’s day when I am not supposed to.
Recess is another thing.  While technically students have 25 minutes of recess, day in and day out my students complain that they don’t get to play at recess.  They spend 1/3 of their recess time in lines.  We have two recess coordinators (who are doing the best they can), but logistically to think about two people supervising nearly 200 students at one time.  It’s no wonder they spend a lot of their recess time in line waiting for instructions!  Recess should be a time when students can enjoy the fresh air outside, and have the freedom to let off some energy.  But without any true planning or thought about recess from CPS, students are not getting all of the benefits they should from recess.
Student morale and attitude is at an all-time low, I have never seen the students at my school struggle to function through the school day before.  What the FSD is not addressing is the social/emotional needs of our students.  We are spending hour after hour throwing information and them and making demands of their reading and writing skills.  We are not being given the time to teach them how to get along with others, solve problems without fights, or even how to advocate for themselves.  I have been sneaking behind the closed door of my classroom, teaching my students character development.  I will pause academic instruction, and address the social/emotional needs of my students.  I have been lucky that I haven’t been “caught” yet by my administration, but I do know if they walk into my room and I am not doing exactly what is on my lesson plan, I will have a lot of explaining to do!
The mandates and expectations are no longer just affecting me; my students are feeling the pressure too.  Earlier this school year my classroom was subject to five different walk throughs and observations in just a couple weeks.  We had visits from our ILT, other school’s ILTs, the network, administration and from central office.  The central office visit really stands out the most to me, because of the experience of two of my students.  My students were working independently on their task, when the central office person came over to ask them questions.  I noticed that the questions kept coming, and my students were becoming more and more frustrated.  Finally one of the student’s starts saying loudly “This is a nonfiction text, and we are taking notes on it,” the student is pointing at the article she is reading with her partners.  The student continues, “That is how I know I am doing what the objective says on the board.”  I always try to prep my students for when we will have visitors, but I know that my students have become frustrated with the process.  They will always ask, “Why are they coming again?”
I am in just my fourth year of teaching, and I am starting to question if teaching is really the place for me.  I know that I am a great teacher, and can really make a difference in the lives of my students.  However, with the way this school year has gone, I know that mentally, and physically I can’t keep up this pace forever.  The Full School Day is not at all what Rahm and CPS promised it to be, things are worse for my students now than they were in years past.

So very sad...

How is the longest school day going in your school?  Please tell your stories.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Shout-Out to Education Activists

This piece was originally posted at

There are times when I feel overwhelmed by my good fortune to know so many powerful parent, teacher, student, and community activists across the country and the globe.  We have come together through the fight against corporate education reform and the call for education justice, equity, and democratically-run schools.  I feel lucky to have met so many amazing people at the many rallies, sit-ins, community meetings, and education events happening across my city of Chicago.  I feel fortunate for being able to witness and take a small part in the inspirational Chicago Teachers Strike.  I feel blessed to know many of the people behind the scenes of that historic event.  I feel privileged to work in solidarity across the nation with activists standing up against excessive testing, fighting for smaller classes, speaking out against corporate influence in education, and lending their expertise and voice to the struggle.   And today I feel honored to share a blog space with many of my education blogging heroes whose words tear down the false rhetoric of the education reform movement and inspire us to a new, equitable, and just vision of schooling.

As yet another School Choice Week comes to a close, I am again hit by the differences between Corporate Education Reformers and Education Justice Activists.  During the week, I took a moment to look through the school choice week hashtag #SCW and saw many of the tweets were from Astroturf organizations like Students First, conservative Think Tanks, or Education wonks and their publications.  Every tweet seemed so intentional, as if vetted by a marketing-expert or a social media manager.  And all the tweets seemed so far removed from the realities of schools.

StudentsFirst is the well-known Corporate Ed Reform run by Michelle Rhee.  Illinois Policy is a "free market think tank" while Joy Pullman is "Managing editor of News for " Sally Canfield is "Deputy Chief of Staff to Sen " and Emily Bouck is a "Legislative Aide at Office of US Senator Marco Rubio " That top tweet is from @TexasAFP or Americans for Prosperity Texas. Need I say more?

Meanwhile, as I looked through the corporate, political, carefully-orchestrated tweets, I was also receiving updates via twitter from the school closing hearings being held around my city of Chicago.  They were packed full of parents, teachers, and community members who overwhelmingly were begging to stop school closures and to end charter expansion in the city.  These meetings were overflowing with raw emotion, sometimes turning into rowdy disruption and angry outbursts.  Parents sang praises of their schools, teachers described the magic that happens everyday in their classrooms, and communities demanded real investment in their neighborhood schools.  I am proud to know many of these people.  These are the same people I marched with on the streets of Chicago during the teachers strike.  Together we marched and rallied and sang and danced demanding fully-funded schools, counselors, nurses, social workers, libraries with librarians to staff them, in schools that were well-kept with basic air-conditioning and heat.  We demanded small classes, more special education teachers, and humane discipline policies.  And still the powers that be continue down their destructive path of corporate education reform, ignoring the people.

The next day, it was reported how CPS had used grant money from the Walton Foundation to hire a marketing consultant group to "listen" to the hundreds of upset community members.   Parents and students, teachers and community groups who gave up their evening to come and plead for their schools, who wanted nothing more than to be heard, were given hired corporate consultants to massage the impassioned crowd instead of genuine dialogue. 

More at The Real News
And also this week, one thousand miles away, activists from Chicago joined hundreds of other freedom fighters from 18 different cities to speak directly to Arne Duncan and the leaders of our country about the injustice of school closings and the inherent racism of the Department of Education's policies.  Listen to the amazing Jitu Brown, member of KOCO (Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization) once again speak truth to power.

The people who rode all the way to Washington DC on a Journey for Justice were not slick consultants or public relations gurus.  The people outraged at school closing hearings were not part of any think tank, private foundation, or non-profit.  These are parents and teachers and concerned community members who simply want schools that work for all kids.  They have seen first-hand the destruction caused by corporate education reforms and they bring with them another, alternative, community-based, equitable vision for strong public schools.

These are the two faces of the education "reform" movement.  True, grassroots righteous anger at the status quo of inequality, racism and injustice, up against the guys in the suits. It is the working class and poor who must fight against the wealthy elites.  It is the majority black and brown communities defying the white institutions of power.  It is the largely female teachers fighting the male-dominated business world.  It is the all-volunteer local groups of parents, teachers, and students up against paid corporate consultants with shiny brochures and training in marketing. It is small, independent media outlets and education summits held in community schools fighting media blitzes and billionaire-funded reform extravaganzas held in fancy hotels and broadcast on corporate airwaves.  It is a bunch of union activists meeting in rickety meeting halls serving Cheetos and home-made cookies compared to slick corporate-sponsored events with caterers, fancy technology, complete with a corporate logo mug on your way out.

Ultimately though, this fight has brought me in contact with some of the most passionate, inspirational, justice-fighters I have ever known.  The education activists I have met are beautiful people who are humble and quiet and caring and smart.  And they are willing to fight fiercely for their students, their children, their schools, and their communities.

Thank you for all your hard work.  Thank you for your perseverance up against mountains of money and power.  Thank you for the personal money and time you sacrifice in the effort to do what you know is right.  Thank you for being willing to fight this uphill battle. 

And always remember Margret Mead's famous quote:

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Let's change the world, people. Keep fighting.