A Chance For… CPS Teachers

     

As a brand strategist, I believe in the power of storytelling to inspire empathy, create change and propel action. In my work, I see a huge miss in leveraging storytelling and brand strategy  to tell the stories of the most important social. A Chance For… Interviews will dive into the topic of public education and bring stories from inside CPS classrooms to life. Today, I’m happy to share a conversation with a CPS middle school teacher, Matt*

Describe how and why you became a teacher.

“It’s been a long, winding journey. I knew I wanted to get involved when I was a little younger in high school. I grew up in Columbus and there was this stigma about sending your kids to public school. But once I went to public high school, I absolutely loved it. It was a way better fit. I was inspired by how public education could work because I had this idyllic conception of what public education was.

When I was an undergraduate in Chicago, I knew I was interested in pursuing education in some way. I wasn’t so sure that I’d go into teaching. After doing research, government, non-profit work, I realized I was most happy when I was inside a school, inside a classroom.”

I’ve spoken to quite a few teachers about their struggle to reconcile how policy fits into their classrooms. Has policy enabled or inhibited what you were able to accomplish in the classroom?

“Yes. Standardized testing. We do a lot of standardized tests. With the exception of one, a lot of the tests don’t benefit teachers. Since feedback isn’t immediate and the material isn’t necessarily relevant to the teacher’s curriculum, teacher morale around these tests is really low and really negative. They add constraints to what you need to teach and how you need to teach it.”

It often seems that policymaking is a top-down approach that doesn’t capture the voice of teachers. Do you feel there is opportunity to have your voice heard in the policy arena?

It’s really difficult. There is traditionally a policy route or a teaching route. But, I believe that you can be a teacher and a policymaker at the same time. It’s just a little difficult. The actual job of teaching is pretty stressful. But if you have to have a strong desire for change, you can join unions, outside organizations, community groups to have that impact.

Much of this project was inspired by the negative narrative surrounding CPS: dismal graduation rates, gang violence, etc. rather than the things that are working. What do you think is the biggest misconception about Chicago Public Schools?

“The biggest misconception is about the type of teaching that goes on. I think the instruction is really ambitious and really good. If you go to schools on the South or West sides, you’ll see it. Unfortunately, we use metrics that don’t measure relationship building, pedagogy, social-emotional skills – things that we are doing really well.

The narrative has been too focused on the brokenness of the system, and that gets more acknowledgement than the things that are working to keep it together.”

It’s been a tumultuous year in terms of US politics, national and global issues . How are your students responding to what is happening around them?

“I clearly remember the day after the election. It was report card pick-up so we didn’t get the opportunity to talk about what happened the night before. It felt so solemn. It felt like clouds were looming over everyone. No one wanted to talk about report cards. The kids didn’t want to talk about grades. And the next day, the school advised us not to talk about it.

At my new school, I’m encouraged to talk about those issues. In our morning meetings and afternoon check-ins, students are very vocal and definitely want to talk about it. I feel that it is my responsibility to teach students how to process those feelings and emotions in productive way and direct them in a way that heals. Anger. Frustration. Confusion. How can we direct those feelings to inspire change?

One thing we take for granted is that students know what they’re talking about. That’s a big misunderstanding. They are wise and knowledgeable. They are our future. Now more than ever, it’s important to have teachers that talk about these issues with students. For that reason alone, I feel like I need to be in the classroom.”

*Name has been withheld for privacy

The Sky is On Fire

A day when the sky was on fire. When I complain to people about California, I generally say that the weather is monotonous. Always sunny and 75, day after day, week after week.

My brother provided an interesting nuance to my perspective. He said: while the weather is the same, the sunsets are always different. Every time I go back home, I make sure to make my way down for a sunset or two, to see the sky on fire.