Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Twenty Years is Worth Two Cents

Time

It’s been an interesting year.  My twins entered middle school (time flies).  My mom died unexpectedly leaving me parentless with probate and a house built by my grandfather in 1948 (time stands still).  Oh…and CPS is shuttering my school (time to move?). The school I’ve built my career at and spent the last twenty years with students.
I sat in the library with my colleagues and was read two scripts; one by my principal and one by a Chicago Public School Central Office employee.  With that, it was done (or in the beginning phase of 'done'). Teachers were told to “have a good day of teaching and learning” (one of our daily mantras) and were sent off to teach their students after just being told our school was not remaining open after this school year but our building would remain open with a new faculty and three student bodies.  George Leland school would inhabit our building while May Community Academy and Louis Armstrong Math & Science Elementary would be closed and our students combined with Leland's.  The entire faculties of May and Armstrong were being displaced.

I had a bit of an idea.  The evening before that fateful day in March social media started to hint that the final list of schools slated for closure would be released the next day.  I turned on the earliest news broadcast I could to see if there was any additional information.  There sure was.  Fox news began by saying it's “sources” were naming Emmet as one of the schools closing.  Then they showed May Community Academy, my school and said it, too was on the final list.  Fox news had just "outed" us. The only thing I could think out loud at that moment was "holy cow" (but if you know me you know I didn't say "holy cow".  My son turned to me and said, "I'm sorry, mom".  That was tough. Children should never have to say that (in that context) to their parents. Although you kind of know at that point you still kind of don’t know (or pretend you don't know) what's coming.   

Word Travels Fast 

So...meeting over. Teachers sent to teach students that wouldn’t be told until the end of the day when receiving their “transition” letters that they would soon become members of Leland Elementary.  I left the building to go to the meeting I was scheduled to attend (I was on my way there when I received a text message saying there would be a faculty meeting at 8:00 and made the detour to May).  Wow.  I was just told that after twenty years in the same building I would need to start looking for a new job.  What we thought was a possibility was now a reality.  I called my husband and a few close friends.  But that wasn’t enough.  I was frustrated that we were simply brought into a room, read a script and sent on our way.  Not sure how else something like this should be handled, having never experienced it but I wanted everyone to know before the list was released to the public (it should be noted that we were told the media would release the list that afternoon at 5:00 but we were not told we couldn’t speak of the closing before then).  So I did what I did when my mom died- I turned to social media.  Emily Post etiquette?  Some may say no, but in today’s society it's the quickest way to get a message out without having to talk to anyone (in certain instances in life you want people to know something but don’t necessarily want to talk about it). Here's a great article I recently found about this topic.

   
The responses I received to one tweet were inspirational and supportive.  People within my PLN and folks I have never met had sent messages of encouragement and condolences.  The initial tweet has been retweeted more times than I can count.  A local news agency contacted me, wanting me to appear on camera (which I declined).  Two newspaper journalist contacted me- via Twitter, calling my home, and having a colleague in CPS email me and encourage me to talk to the reporters.  Folks who aren’t journalists by trade are still contacting me asking me to speak of my experience.  All from a small series of tweets sent that March morning.  It’s a conflicting situation.  I want to speak and tell my story.  I want CPS to know how disappointed I am in the overall process of school closings.  But, I also recognize that as shocked as I was that day I was still interested in finding a job within the same district so I chose to not speak to any reporters but to express my thoughts through social media.

The next day the Sun-Times had an article about the school closings.  They took a string of “tweet
responses” I made and strung them together to sound like a quote from me. It's fine- I stand by my words but it made me all the more conscious of the fact that if I wanted to speak about my school closing that I should be the one to control the message.  Hence….this post.

Relationships

Over the course of twenty years I’ve built a lot of relationships with colleagues and students, many of whom have long left the school but still remain in touch. I even maintained a strong relationship with the woman I student taught for twenty-one years ago until her death last fall. I spent fifteen years in the classroom as a fourth grade teacher.  I’ve touched a lot of lives. Social media makes it easy these days to stay connected with former students and follow their success and frustration (all the while wanting to still correct their grammar).  I love the fact that former students still want to communicate with me. Two students in particular come to mind. 

Jeffrey, whom I taught many moons ago who is in his 20's and has done very well in life (and continues to have outstanding manners) will still message me with a "What's up, Teach?" every now and then. He was a sweet boy, always with a smile. His attitude remains the same.  When I think of him I picture that smile and a memory about how all he wanted from our Secret Santa that year was little green army men.  No big fancy presents, just $2 army men. I still continue to be impressed by that and still tell the story.  Recently he took time out on Facebook to reflect on his life.  Thankfully, I was included.  


Just a few weeks ago Jeffrey was in town and stopped at the school to say hello.  I was lucky enough to not only see him but to see his sister and brother whom I taught as well (but I will confess I felt a little old after that visit!).


Chris was a little more of a challenge for me. A student who was smart but wasn't interested in being smart in the fourth grade.  He was more interested in seeing how far he could push me.  Unfortunately for Chris, I always pushed back harder. But apparently, it made an impact.  


Chris is also a rock star about letting me know he hasn't forgotten his old 4th grade teacher.  I wonder sometimes if the boys know how much I appreciate the occasional shouts out.

These messages arrived prior to the boys knowing their school was being closed. When they found out about the fate of their elementary school they didn't hesitate to contact me again, along with some other students and even a former parent.






I'm sure many teachers have former students that contact them.  This isn't anything new.  But what makes it so impactful for me is the fact that I was the *4th* grade teacher.  I wasn't the 8th grade teacher, the high school teacher or the college professor that they have been exposed to in more recent years.  I'm the teacher that knew them when they were 9-10 years old.  I recently went on only my second interview in twenty years.  One of the questions I was asked what how do I define "success".  Situations like this are the first things I associate with being a successful educator.  The past 5 years I haven't been in a self contained classroom so my impact on students is likely less than it was in the past.  But....you never know.

Reflections on the Process

I don't blame CPS for making changes.  I actually agree with the decision to "rip the bandaid" so-to-speak and get this done in one fell swoop.  What I do disagree with, however is their method of madness.  My resume is impressive.  I've worked for and achieved a lot in the twenty years I've dedicated to the district.  I'm active in an educational technology organization.  I sit on a Board of Directors for a non-profit.  I teach part time on the University level.  Thankfully others have felt I've been impactful in the field- I've received two awards in the last two school years:

Yet despite all of this CPS is willing to dismiss an entire faculty without consideration to individual teachers.  Our building will be inhabited by Leland Elementary.  It will weave the students of May, Leland and Armstrong together.  Instead of looking at all three faculties and creating a stronger chance of success for students by finding the best educators from all three buildings CPS instead guarantees Leland's faculty with positions and will only accept certain teachers from May and Armstrong per a Union agreement if there is a need for them based on student enrollment.  CPS lists the "official" reason for all of closings on under-enrollment.  There's more to it than that.  So what would encourage a teacher of high quality to work in a challenging school?  Why would someone choose to stay to evenutally become displaced if the school is under-performing? The educational system is broken.  

Frustrating, to Say the Least

On May 22, 2013 CPS shuttered 50 schools- the highest amount of schools ever closed at one time. Including mine.  They didn't even have the decency to call out the names of each school they closed or to take individual votes instead opting for a parliamentary maneuver of "adopting the previous favorable roll call".  I can't even imagine how many hundreds of years of service they dismissed so easily.

Even before the official closing vote by the Board of Education we've had people in the building surveying and inventorying all things school related.  As the technology person in our building I've had to stay to participate in such inventories.  I liken it to being on your deathbed and having the relatives come in to pick out their favorite trinkets before you are even gone. Been interesting, to say the least.  Some other interesting challenges that I've encountered throughout this process:
  • being told by someone involved with the transition process that I should "dummy down" my resume so I don't intimidate principals
  • Having our Union President come for a faculty meeting just to respond to all of our concerns with an "I don't know, I'll have to send someone else out" response
  • Receiving an email from the Board of Education's Talent Office on May 17 telling us we have until May 29 to secure a job or the "welcoming principal" can block any transfers (then having someone come in to verbally say we have until mid-July to secure a job but that's not in writing)
  • Language in the same email mentioned above that we won't even be notified until mid-July if we are assigned a position at the welcoming school
  • Today after school I received a text message from my principal saying someone was in the building unannounced to remove all technology.  As I'm about to begin to teach a University class I need to stop and explain where the keys to everything are and was asked if they can remove my desktop computer.  No notice to pull off any files/memories of the school.  Just gone.
Yesterday we had a final assembly as May Community Academy.  Students danced, sang songs and celebrated.  We even dug a hole to bury time capsules on the school grounds.  It was a lovely experience.






The support I've received from folks I don't even know has been very much appreciated and has helped with the process. My hope is that I never have to do this again. My hope is that CPS knows what they are doing and years from now we'll see successful outcomes written about the experience and not be listed as an example of what not to do.

Here's the final video I created for the school.


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