Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is spiraling in political, financial and educational free-fall. I won’t go into all the gory details now, but here’s a quick summary:
  • The state of Illinois is buckling under the weight of a 9-month budget stalemate.
  • The governor wants CPS to file for bankruptcy so that the state can take over the district.
  • Chicago cannot pay its teacher pension obligations.
  • The teachers union is fracturing over a legally questionable one-day strike that occurred on April 1 and is threatening an open-ended strike come mid-May.
  • CPS doesn’t know if it can make payroll for the rest of the school year.
If ever there was a time for prayer and meditation it is now. Find a comfortable seat and join me as I guide teachers and education advocates through an exercise to help us focus on what matters most. Close your eyes. Release all thoughts of politics. Relax your shoulders and let your arms go limp. Let your stress fade away. Breathe in… Hold. 1…2…3… Breathe out… Think about the first day you walked into your empty classroom. Remember the calm in the room. You were a brand new teacher, full of optimism. Look around that room. What does it look like, sound like, feel like? Focus on a single aspect of that room—the light passing through the window, a wooden desk, the bookshelves in the back—then linger on that image. Breathe… What child comes to mind when you think about the importance of your work? Imagine his or her face. Look into that child’s eyes. What do you see? Is he or she smiling? Laughing? Crying? What do those eyes say to you? What do you say back to them? Breathe… If that child were a physical house, what might that house look like? Would it have a well-kept front yard with a garden of flowers in full bloom? Would it be a high-rise housing project with broken windows? What are the residents of that house doing? Are they caring for the house in the way that they should? How can you, the teacher, contribute to the upkeep of such a home? Breathe… Imagine you were the only teacher or education advocate that the child you hold close in your thoughts will ever have. Imagine the school where you work is the only one that child will ever learn in. Is the learning environment setting that child up for a college- and career-trajectory? How hopeful are you about that child’s future? Breathe… Finally, imagine that the girl or boy in your mind is now your adopted child. You have to feed and clothe that child. You pay their medical bills and live with their temperament day and night. You must sit across the table from that child’s teacher at a report card conference. You are both that child’s teacher and that child’s parent. You look yourself in the face as you (the teacher) explain how you’ve done everything in your power to help that child learn. Can you convince yourself that you’ve done your best? Open your eyes. Firm up your shoulders and rotate your neck. Breathe… Determine that you will center your activism around the future of that child and students like that child. Breathe… Determine that you will stay true to the cause that enticed you to want to teach in the first place. Your original mission is pure and it must be protected at all cost. Breathe… Determine that, whatever your politics, you’re doing what you truly believe is in the best interest of that adopted son or daughter—your student—not what’s politically advantageous in this moment of crisis. Now get back to work.