Category Archives: News

Vive la France! Pas de devoirs!*

Last year, my principal invited faculty members to attend an optional meeting where he would review the longer school day options and discuss our new bell schedule.  I decided I’d pop in and found that I was one of three people.  Talk about community involvement, eh?  The principal ran through the bell schedule and while doing so, he and I became engaged in a debate about homework.  Were we debating increasing the rigor level for homework assignments?  Nope.  Were we discussing how too much of homework nowadays is busy work and not work related to critical thinking?  Nope.  Were we discussing how much kids are under-prepared for college because of the lack of rigorous self-preparation in the form of homework?  Nope again.

So, what were we debating?  Simple: he’s against homework and I’m for it.  I can’t even believe in this day and age that there are people who are against homework.  This is what happens when we let C students gain political power…eventually the world goes crazy with the notion that promoting bad habits is actually a good idea.  So, imagine my disbelief when today I was reading an article about France’s president, François Hollande, and his reform ideas, which include getting rid of homework.  Ummm, I’m sorry, what?

I understand that people don’t love homework.  You’re not supposed to love homework.  Homework is work.  Work is not fun.  Work is, however, important.  It teaches us to think about things differently.  It helps us attack problems on our own.  It teaches a work ethic, too.  It allows us to contribute to society.

Homework is practice, too.  It’s a way to make sure you master a subject.  I teach English.  Homework is a way to get kids to read on their own.  It makes it so that we read a book in a few weeks versus a few months.  Homework is a way to extend the classroom learning experience outside of the classroom.

In an era where we tout Malcolm Gladwell’s rule of 10,000 hours, you would think we would want our children to have more homework.  Alas, it seems as if we’ve forgotten that the rule of 10,000 hours doesn’t mean let your kids play video games for 10,000 hours and learn for 50-minute periods of time a few times a day.

If the goal is to get kids to walk out with mastery of a subject by the end of the year, and we know that 10,000 hours is the amount of time it takes to be an expert, we should aim for at least, what, 1,000 hours?  I mean, I don’t expect a 10th grader to be an expert on American Literature, I just want him or her to have mastered the main concepts I teach.  So, let’s assume that 1,000 hours is the amount of time I need to make my students “master” a subject at its basic, introductory level (which high school is).  That means that if kids didn’t get homework, if all the instruction and practice they got each day was in my 50-minute class for 181 days, they’d be about 850 hours short of mastering anything.  If I give them 1-2 hours of homework a night in addition to the 50-minutes I teach, I’m at least getting closer to that 1,000 hours.  I may not hit it, but at least I’m not sitting pretty at 150 hours total.

Sure, I’m making certain assumptions here: that kids actually do their homework, that all homework is rigorous and actually prepares students for their future, that students who actually complete their homework interact meaningfully with it, etc.  Still, I think you get that homework plays an important role in a child’s education.  So what happens when we take that out of our children’s educational equation?  Simple.  This happens.

So, be careful watch you wish for, Monsieur le President.  Pas de devoirs = Eventually watering your crops with Gatorade.

* Oui! Je suis sarcastique!

(Photo via Deviant Art)

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A Fascinating Read…or Two

A few weeks ago, I got into a debate with a friend over the union.  She told me Karen Lewis wasn’t good for our union.  I respectfully disagreed.  After reading these two articles (here and here), I’m now realizing she’s way smarter than even I realized.  And I’m also realizing that she’s definitely smarter than our mayor and maybe even our president.

I’m proud to be striking and later today, I’ll share some additional thoughts on that later.  Right now, I’m too busy marching somewhere in the city and singing my new favorite hymn: “Hey, hey!  Ho, ho!  Rahm Emanuel’s got to go!”    Join me in a verse, won’t you?

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Even Ronald Reagan Liked a Good Union!

Somebody should tell Mitt and Paul that their fearless leader, the one they quote to death, LOVED unions!

“…where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”

Found via here

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Highlights Day One

Some photographic highlights from Day One.  See you on the picket lines!

(Images by me)

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The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Found this article from 1987, just after the last Chicago Teachers Union strike ended.  It’s interesting to me how we just never learn from history.  25 years ago, my predecessors were asking for some of the same things we’re asking for today.  When will we learn?

Are you wearing your red today?

(1987 Strike Image via Substance News)

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Tomorrow = History

Just received word from my union delegate.  The Chicago Teachers Union has rejected CPS’s offer and as of 12:01am tonight, the CTU will strike.  We will begin picketing at our respective schools beginning at 6:30 tomorrow morning.  The official press conference with the announcement will be held at 10pm tonight.  Check your local listings for coverage.  This means, for the first time in 25 years, the nation’s third largest school district will watch its 29,000 teachers and

walk off the job.  As a show of support, please wear red, the color of our union, tomorrow.

In solidarity!

(1987 Strike Photo with Jackie Vaughn via Substance News)

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Our Fight

Last week, I began the 2012-2013 school year and without a contract.  Like most Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers, I sat around, wringing my hands wondering if I would strike and if so, what would happen as a result.  I mostly wondered what that would mean for my family and the families of my colleagues.  If I strike Monday morning, I will not be paid and risk losing all my benefits, depending on the length of the strike.  Currently, I am the sole provider of healthcare benefits in my family.  This means that because, after more than 45 negotiation meetings where Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has not budged despite findings from independent arbitrators and support from a study by the University of Illinois, all of which back the union and its requests, my husband and I would have no healthcare coverage and half our income would disappear completely.  That is a very scary thought.  It would be even scarier if we had children.

Six years ago, I went back to school to get my graduate degree in education.  I graduated with a 4.0 and worked hard to prepare myself for the world of education.  I wanted to be the best teacher I could be.  I wanted to work in Chicago’s public schools because I attended a public K-8 school (as well as undergraduate college!) and it profoundly affected who I am as a person.  Midway through my first year of teaching I realized nothing could prepare me for the world of education.

Each year I teach five sections of high school English.  That’s thirty (or more!) students in a room.  That means that in my short career, I’ve already influenced almost 500 people directly!  This doesn’t even include students I’ve taught in summer or night school, students who I mentor, have in my after-school club, or just smile at in the hall on a day when no one else did.  Being a teacher is the most challenging thing I have done in my life; it is also the most rewarding.  I can’t even fully describe it.  Everyone always points to the moment when the kids “get it,” but it’s so much more than that.  Kids teach you, too.  They teach you how to be better parents, because you parent them when their parents don’t.  They teach you how to be accountants, when you dig into your own pocketbook to buy them supplies or give them money for lunch.  They teach you how to be lawyers, when you defend them to their peers or the school because they had a bad day unlike any bad day you or I will ever have.  They teach you how to be doctors, too, when they come to you and tell you their most personal medical problems (seriously, that happens) and you have to decipher the level of care they will need (and often how they will get it).  Sometimes, they even teach you how to be a MMA fighter when you have to break up a fight.  And yet, the one thing they don’t teach you, the one thing my students haven’t taught me is why, despite the fact that I am all of those things to all of those students, I am mistreated by my district and the mayor of the city I was born and raised in and in which I work as a public servant.  They can’t teach this to me because they don’t understand it either.  As a teacher, I am vilified and my profession is denigrated by the mayor and his office’s media tactics.  Last year, as my husband can verify, I cried more than I ever did.  You have no idea what it’s like to work until 5 or 6 or later at night, come home with a pile of work that there aren’t even enough hours in the day to get done, watch the news and hear that you don’t work a “full” school day.

As a child, I had amazing veteran teachers all of whom worked incredibly hard and taught me to be a creative, critical thinker who continues to love learning.  That is an extraordinary feat!  Some of those teachers are still teaching and still inspiring students daily.  Did you have a teacher like that?  Someone who inspired you and changed you in far-reaching ways?  I’d like to believe I am that teacher for some students.  I know some of you are that teacher for your own students.  Imagine what our world would be like if teachers like that weren’t around.  What happens in this fight for a fair contract could very well make that decision for future generations.  When we settle for less than we are worth and less than we deserve, we send a message to future generations of teachers that this is not a profession worth entering.  That this is not some place where you will be treated fairly in a job that already demands so much of your body, mind, and soul.  Ask yourself if you would want the children in your life to have that as their future.

I know not everyone is pro-union.  Perhaps your ideologies and political beliefs do not align with that of a labor union.  However, this fight is about more than unions.  It’s about the future of public education in this country.  It’s about the slow and steady eradication of a working middle-class.  It’s about the dismantling of a public education system and neighborhood schools in particular.  It’s about the dirty not-so-big-a-secret that labor unions no longer have a political party.  It’s about the world we live in and the world we want to have for our children and their children.  What we do matters.  And support for the Chicago Teachers Union is paramount right now.

If you have a Facebook account, I am urging you to post this image on your account.  And if you don’t have a Facebook account (like me), please forward the link to this post to those you know that do.  Tweet about our struggle with the hashtag #insolidarity.  Tell people to read the facts.  Explain to people that this isn’t about money, that’s the only thing we have left to strike about, but we’re using that as leverage for other things that our students need: smaller class sizes, more resources, art classes, music classes, physical education, and experienced teachers.  We need to send a clear message to the world that teaching matters, that teachers matter, and that a public education is worth saving.

I also urge you to explore the issue of teacher pay and its effect on the state of education in our country, the turnover rate within the profession, and the problems it is creating with recruiting teachers for future generations by watching the film, American Teacher (a movie I would see).  If you have Netflix instant watch, it’s free!  It is the ONLY movie I’ve ever seen that accurately portrays what teaching is like.  Except for Dangerous Minds.  That’s true, too.  : )

(Support the CTU Facebook designed by Martin Ritter via Fred Klonsky)

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A Movie I Won’t Be Seeing

Before I went back to school to become a teacher, I studied film.  I still love reading about and watching films and always make my students guess how many movies I’ve seen (somewhere around 2200…and I know there are more I’m not counting).  But there is one movie I won’t be watching.   This movie will join its recent propagandist siblings Waiting for Superman, The Lottery, and any other school that pretends to be about reform, but is really just another inaccurate portrait of our nation’s public education system created by Hollywood.  And it’s a shame because if there’s anything I’ve learned from teaching it’s that people believe movies all too often.  Let’s hope that’s just not true with this one.  I’m all about helping mobilize students and their parents to improve schools, but not at the cost of disparaging educators and the unions that help keep veteran teachers in the classroom and maintain any kind of professional dignity teachers are afforded.

Read about the film here and here.

(Image via here)

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