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?
I was recently interviewed by a reporter for the Weekly about my decision, as a CPS teacher, to send my kids to CPS. The interview was a follow-up to a study by the conservative Fordham Institute done back in 2004 which said that thirty-nine percent of Chicago Public School teachers didn’t send their own kids to CPS.
As a parent, I can understand why some teachers wouldn’t want to send their kids to CPS. Since 1995, mayors of Chicago have had absolute control over Chicago Public Schools. This power lets mayors appoint the CEOs of CPS and the school board members; therefore, the school board, without question, follows whatever terrible idea the mayor may have. In my eleven years of teaching in CPS, I have had eight different CPS CEOs. The Chicago Public Schools system is and has always been a mess at the leadership level.
Believe me: like many other educators, I am beyond frustrated with the way that CPS is and has been run. Working to improve CPS as a teacher (and parent) is extremely hard and, at times, absolutely demoralizing. It would be great to shield my own children from the struggles that every kid in CPS faces. But that wouldn’t help improve our city, nor would it fight against structural racism and inequality in our school system.
It hurts to have underfunded schools for my students, and now I feel that same hurt exemplified with my own child. It hurts that during our oldest son’s first year of preschool in CPS, they tried to cut the preschool special education teacher from his school. A few active parents made me aware of this. These parents created a petition and contacted CPS, the alderman, and the media. I wrote an article about it, and together we organized a “Play In” to bring attention to this proposed cut. During the “Play In,” kids simply played while parents spoke at the school board and met with the principal, and it became a celebration instead of a protest. On the day of the “Play In,” CPS decided not to cut that position.
At the time of the “Play In,” I was exhausted. The only reason I marshalled enough energy to fight as hard as we did was because it was my son’s school. If it hadn’t been my son’s school, I likely would simply have felt upset for that school and moved on.
For this reason, I believe that if you work for Chicago Public Schools, you should send your kids to CPS.
I would go so far as to say CPS employees should be required to send their kids to CPS. Chicago Public Schools teachers are already required to live in the city, a policy that I actually agree with. I believe it creates a connection to our students and gives us responsibility for their success that can only be fostered by common ground and common experiences.
To fight for the schools our students deserve, we must also live in the city, send our kids to CPS, and fight for the city that we all deserve—as frustrating as that may be at times (or all the time).With skin in the game, CPS’ actions become personal, and the intensity with which we fight for a just education becomes stronger and more meaningful.
As teacher-parents, our involvement benefits everyone because we are able to evaluate a school unlike any other parent. This year, my partner and I made our son’s school administration aware of a teacher that needed more assistance, helped get the morning entrance policy changed, and made the school aware of an unlocked and open outside door by the preschool.
We have a trained eye for what works and what doesn’t. We have the experience and the skills to identify needed improvement, and do not tolerate inefficiency—even more so with our own children at the hands of CPS. We have the capacity to understand the system, and we know the right words to say to get the change we need to meet the expectations we hold.
If we want to make Chicago change, then our professional lives and our own personal lives must intertwine. They must coexist. We must be invested beyond our paychecks. Our fights, rallies, strikes, and decisions must become more passionate and personal.
I believe that Chicago Public Schools must end mayoral control of schools, that Chicago needs an elected school board, that Chicago must stop stealing TIF funds from Black and brown neighborhoods for downtown projects, that there is no reason to close a public school, and that money should go to students and schools as opposed to police, jails, and a new cop academy.
However, given the hyper-segregation of Chicago and the systemic racism of our school system, it is evident that even within CPS—where all schools need support—schools that teach predominantly Black and Brown children need even more resources. So while I believe that all CPS teachers should send their kids to CPS, I am much more understanding of a teacher of color choosing to or feeling forced to send their child(ren) outside of CPS than I am of a white CPS teacher doing the same. If, as a white teacher, you are willing to teach Black and Brown children in CPS, but unwilling to send your own kids to the same system from which you profit financially, it says more than a few things about your savior-like mentality.
Teaching is about building connections with our students. We teachers may differ from our students in terms of race and/or economic status, but when we live in the city, pay taxes here, and send our kids to the same public schools, our students will see that. They will see that despite our differences, we share many common bonds—most importantly, the desire to improve the city that we all call home.
Dave Stieber is a National Board Certified Social Studies Teacher in his eleventh year of teaching for CPS. His teaching has been featured in Lisa Delpit’s second book Multiplication is for White People. His writing has been featured on the John Dewey Society Journal of School and Society, the Huffington Post, Alternet, the Chicago Reporter, and Gapers Block. This is his first contribution to the Weekly. You can follow him on Twitter at @D_Stieber.