The second call was from a male student named Shaun that was in my home room class (for non CPS types this is the group of kids you (for better or worse) you become like a family(a dysfunctional one usually) because you spend SO MUCH time together). He is a junior now at one of the best schools in the city and wanted to thank me for helping him push himself to get there. I asked him a ton of questions about his school and he said something that stuck out to me. He commented that he appreciated all the opportunities at his new school more than many of his peers because “I came from Canter.” We both laughed about the many not so fabulous conditions at our old school (My personal favorite was the Cafe-gym-o-torium (the big beat up room that served as the lunch room, gym, and assembly area) complete with the mice nicknamed the “Temptations” that would slide across the floor at lunch, because of this many of my kids would eat lunch in my room everyday). After we hung up I thought about the profound lesson he has already learned that so many of us take for granted. Not everyone has the same opportunities to create success in their lives. And when you get that chance working your butt off can pay huge dividends. I never had to learn this at his age.
The email was from a girl named Shubira I had that is also a junior now. She wished me a Happy Mother’s Day (so sweet). She also mentioned that she was looking at colleges! She immigrated to the U.S. from Africa a few years before I had her in my social studies class and she was the hardest working kid I ever had. She would always come in for extra help and was so respectful (in my experience common in non-American born kids:). Right before graduation that year the teachers on my team were shocked to learn that she was on the “non-walking” list (this is a list of kids that cannot walk in the ceremony because they have to take summer school). Usually, this list has no big shockers but for her to be on it we were dumbfounded as she was Ace-ing most of her classes. It turned out that her score on the reading section of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills was one percentage point too low. Well, obviously this is because English is her second language and with the poor funding for our school she was not given extra time or a translator as promised. All the teachers on my team wrote letters and called everyone and their mamas at the CPS board to plead for her. If anyone should get to graduate on time it should be Shubira! I could not bear the thought of the message sent when the hardest working kid in the 8th grade sits and watches the slackers who coasted by and barely fulfilled the low standards and pathetic excuses for requirements saunter across and get their diplomas. We fought hard and (as I tend to do) I got too involved even telling the board that unless she was allowed to walk I was not returning to teach next year. Eventually thru the efforts of all her teachers she was allowed to graduate on time. Jason and I attended her graduation party and her father, a pastor of a church, hugged me and thanked me for standing up for her. I remember thinking at the time that I was so undeserving of their appreciation and kindness but that it was worth more that my (very small) paycheck. Not to my surprise at all she is on the high honor roll and went on a trip with her honors club on an “Ivy league” tour of Boston. She said she was thinking about attending MIT, Harvard, or Boston College. I have no doubt that she will do it!
I realize it is easy to feel warm and fussy about these kids because their lives seem to be going well and they are realizing their dreams. My thoughts and prayers are with them as well as my other students whose dreaming was cut short by low expectations and a lack of opportunity.
I guess the end of the school year made them think of their teachers and the coming end of their high school experience.
In the busyness of my week I had not really reflected on the significance of these kids contacting me. Then this morning while talking a walk with Annikah I was narrating the various sites and sounds she was experiencing. I saw a school bus turn on Sheridan and began to tear up. I then realized that I was really touched that these young people took the time to reach out and catch up with me. Their hard work and dedication had taken them far. That they remembered the time we spent together everyday and that my small contribution to their lives was worthy of mention. Isn’t this what we all hope for: that what we do every day matters. Part of my identity will always be a teacher whether or not I am in the classroom everyday or not.
In this spirit I would like to give a shout out to 2 of the teachers that inspired me: Mr. Reimer (who broke rules when they were not in his students best interest and who made history more than just some facts about dead white guys) and Mr. Kellner (who sacrificed so much time and energy for our speech team, I never appreciated that sacrifice until I became a teacher).
I want to also give a major standing ovation to all the teachers I know out there especially Zaneta and Akisha who are still holding it down at Canter.