In my twelve years teaching social studies in CPS, I’ve taught at two different high schools. I have recently made the decision to go to my third.
In May, Pat Frazier became the National Youth Poet Laureate—the first ever from Chicago—after being named the city’s Youth Poet Laureate last September. Inspired by poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Safia Elhillo and her activism work with Assata’s Daughters—an intergenerational collective based in Washington Park that organizes actions around the city—Frazier’s first book of poetry, Graphite, will be out this September via Haymarket Books. In a conversation with the Weekly, Frazier talks about the intersection of her literary and organizing work. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In my first few years of teaching, I loved my students so much that it seemed almost impossible for any other educator to care about their kids more than I did. But after having children of my own, I realized that while I still love my students, I’ll always love my own children more. Although I’ll always go way above and beyond for my students, there is nothing that I wouldn’t do for my own children.
I don’t say these things lightly. I’ve made a conscious effort to work for my students and the community. I’ve constantly worked to create a curriculum that teaches my students to question power structures and to work to create change when inequalities exist. I’ve written countless articles about my students and ways to improve our schools. I’ve been arrested for fighting to keep Chicago Public Schools (CPS) from closing fifty schools in 2013. At times, this commitment to my students has put me at odds with my administration, incited fear of write-ups, and produced threats from strangers. These risks sometimes make me question my desire to defend my students.
But like any parent, I would do anything for my own children, risk more, and ignore idle threats. My drive to protect my children and their well-being, education, and opportunities is stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s like that moment when you have children of your own and finally realize how much your parents actually love you. It is a window into the emotions of a decade’s worth of my former students’ parents. I now know more completely what those parents wanted for their kids, and wonder if I had fought hard enough. Did I fight as hard as I would have for my own kids?