Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On Teaching: The suburban schools that "really don't need us"

A friend in my M.Ed. program responded to an email thread in which I said that some of the worst inner-city schools really do need to be shut down. I listed off some of the deep, systemic problems I observed first hand. He responded:

"and that's why we go teach out in the burbs. the schools that really don't need us."

That got me a little pissed. Here's my response:

I know you said "we" but I think you mostly meant "you," because I doubt we'll see Tony Laurel living it up in Winnetka or Highland Park.

But I claim that you're looking at things in the wrong direction. What if it isn't about which schools need me, but rather what I need for myself?

Wouldn't you, Tony, turn down a job at Crane if you could instead work at Clemente? Or Juarez? You have an extra synergistic vibe and understanding with Latino kids; it would be a waste for you to work at an all-black school. Your gifts and your abilities are maximized by working with inner city Latino kids.

I am a certain collection of abilities and interests and just because there's a need doesn't mean that I can be stuffed into a CPS-shaped hole. I'm not running from CPS's problems, I'm running towards my best fit.

I need to maximize MY potential while I'm doing the same for my students. I did good work in my lessons at Crane and it took a LOT of my various skills to pull it off. I gave those kids a positive classroom experience unlike anything they'd ever had before, and I'm really proud of that.

But if all I ever did was scratch and claw and struggle, vast swathes of my competencies would go unused. That's what I would have to look forward to at Crane. That's what I'd have to look forward to at Clemente and their AP English classes where the students only read out loud in class and never at home. A career full of untapped potential is death.

I have zero qualms, zero shame, and no hesitation whatsoever to walk away from CPS. I'm not a crusader and I never claimed to be one. I'm here to be a teacher and I'm going to go to the environment that best allows me to fulfill MY ambitions and MY dreams.

I admire every single person who is committed to working in and--no doubt--improving CPS. But understand that every one of you who has committed to CPS is going above and beyond the call of duty. I admire that, but don't you dare shit on me for not taking that extra step with you.

Yes, Niles West and the Village of Skokie will do just fine without me. But that place is my home. I know the place, I know the students. I know how to work with them. I will thrive there and in doing so I will elevate that place above and beyond where it's already at. I will be a better teacher at Niles West than I could be at any other school in the country. One of the greatest joys in life is to find your fit, to fulfill your purpose for being. Well these days I'm filled with an immense amount of joy.

We're entering a profession that's all about giving, but we're allowed to draw the line and be selfish about certain things. If you don't draw that line, you'll give so much of yourself away that there'll be nothing left.

It's not about who needs us; it's about where we need to be.


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