Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Price of Failure

A couple of days ago, I got an email from an old friend and teaching colleague. One of our old students made the news, and not in a good way.


Bobbie, the one on the right, if you click on the Sun-Times article I have linked above, was a student at the alternative high school that I taught at my last year of teaching a couple of years ago. I don't think she was even in any of my classes, but I knew who she was. She caused a huge amount of disruption in the school. This is remarkable because most of the young adults there had been kicked out of other schools for being disruptive (many were there as an alternative to jail time). Even among that tough crowd, she stood out.

Apparently, this last weekend, she and a friend tried to stick up a teacher and his physician wife in Chicago's popular Greektown area. Despite the fact that the teacher was handing his wallet over, Bobbie's accomplice shot him. Fortunately, the wound was minor and the teacher will be okay. Bobbie and her accomplice were caught by the police nearby.

I thought a long good while before I left teaching. I had been denied tenure at a district I'd worked four years in, and decided that I wanted to leave the profession. I'd poured my heart and guts into it, and a petty administrator who had a problem with me and any other person who didn't fear her was in charge of my future in the end. It was really dispiriting. Still, when an old friend who I'd taught with on Chicago's tough west side called me and asked me to teach at the alternative high school she worked at, I decided to do it. It would give me a year to figure out another plan.

In the end, it was just what I needed. I was reeling from the murder of one of my closest friends at the hands of a young gang member. To be helping some young adults get their lives back on track was just what the doctor ordered.

Our school was the school of last chance. The Chicago Public School system funded it, hoping to get young adults to come back and get their high school diplomas. And we did just that. I had to remind myself of that, and go back to read a post I did a year-and-a-half ago right after graduation. I had to remind myself that we did have successes, that we did help a handful of kids get their lives back on the rails.

Still, there's a little part of me that feels like I turned my back on the rest of them. Yes, I needed to change professions-- I need to make more money in a few years when my son starts college. And yes, I was burnt out. But seeing that article reminded me of how much work there is to be done.

This morning, I heard that Arne Duncan, the head of the Chicago Public Schools, is going to be the new Secretary of Education. That gave me hope. He's been aggressive and innovative in trying to fix Chicago's schools. I'm guessing that he's felt, like I did, like he's been swimming upstream, trying to accomplish this with an administration that is clearly doesn't care about the poor. It'll be nice to get someone in there who gives a shit. We need to fix our train wreck of an education system, because the price of failure-- ruined, hopeless, violent and in the end criminal lives-- is too high to bear.


LegalMist said...

My husband is a teacher, and he, also, was frustrated with the No Child Left Behind legislation.

I'm glad you were able to make a difference in spite of it all. I hope Mr. Duncan will be able to make a difference on a national level, in a good way.

SkylersDad said...

I am so glad you made a difference in some kids lives JY. The teaching profession (what I have experienced of it here with Skyler) is full of people who have no ability to think independently, and are just biding their time until they retire.

We have had the wonderful experience of a couple of teachers who believed in Skyler, and a fantastic principal who changed a school and all of its failures around.

But mostly, it has been a fight, and a fight that I no longer have the energy for.

Powderhornhockey said...

Ohhhh, Arne Duncan , I could turn the room blue with language regarding Duncan and IMPACT. Let's just say I'm not a fan.

Mathman6293 said...

I know how important it is to make a difference. That's why I teach. Our students, collectiviely, are not all alternative material but some are... We have had our share of death and murder. It does take something out of you.

But I was glad to see Arne Duncan picked as secretary of ed. At least he has first hand experience with education reform - where there is wide range of student diversity.

Anonymous said...

At least you try to help out. A lot of people just sit back and watch the train wreck happen. I applaud you and all other teachers. It's a tough, tough job.

Bubs said...

My hat's off to you for ever working with those kids in the first place, and for not being a raging cynical jerk by the time you stopped working with them.

I hope Duncan makes a difference.

lulu said...

I'm not a fan of Duncan either. He's a Union buster for one thing, and a big proponent of Charter Schools, which I think are going to do very bad things to public education.

dmarks said...

From the comments here, it looks like the President-Elect has made another great pick. Done properly, charter schools are a great way of expanding and improving public schools. Even if the President ends up not promoting these ideasm, it appears that Duncan can think outside the box, and confront powerful moneyed interests in pursuing the improvement of education.

Anonymous said...

Folks this is one of the things Duncan was up to during his tenure. Like all of us he is not perfect and as CEO the buck stops on his desk for the multi million dollar mistake that IMPACT was. New buildings going to charter schools run by corporations, union busting, there other issues on the platter. It should not be all about improved test scores.


dmarks said...

Did Duncan try to outlaw any union?

Dale said...

Disheartening news. At least you've tried your level best and done a lot of good in such a highly underestimated and tough job.