Education, Kids, Life

Whose Problem?

September 11, 2012

Image: The New Yorker

I walked out of the classroom at the age of 26. I had only been teaching for four years and realized I had a change of heart. I was getting married, moving to New York and in the past, in order to pay for college, I had had so many jobs that I thought it would be good to continue to pursue one of those for a second career. Maybe continue auditioning? I loved doing voice-overs. Maybe continue working in the spa industry? That payed really well when I was student-teaching. Why not? My husband had a stable career that gave me the flexibility to re-evaluate. I am not afraid to tell you…I was tired of teaching.

I was teaching outside of Chicago in the Western Suburbs in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood making around $30,000 a year (that was the starting salary ten years ago in the suburbs). Perhaps all the running around to audition for t.v.commercials, creating theater with amazing women, shampooing heads at the salon, helping my dad start his business AND teaching middle school Language Arts and Reading to make ends meet became too much (heck, reading that was exhausting). But I had a lovely scenario in the classroom. I had no more than 20 students in each of my five classes, I taught what I liked and as a team with my colleagues. There was always pressure to “teach-to-the-test” but I compensated with bombarding the children with novels for homework. I also went in early in the mornings to do breakfast/cafeteria duty and stayed late coaching Poms. I even taught an ESL class to adults in the evenings. All those “extras” added up to me making those $30,000.

I had the occasional knuckle-head parent that didn’t show up to pick up a report card or the parent that flat-out called me a liar for accusing her daughter of breaking the dress code (after much arguing, my student yanked the phone from my hand and admitted to her mom that she indeed was wearing the hot pink shorts she wasn’t allowed). I worried about the student that never had clean clothes and had a learning disability. I worried about kids bullying kids like him. I became available to a Spanish-speaking family that had a suicidal daughter. I worried about her late at night. I worried about my student who was to tell her very Catholic parents that she was discovering that she was gay. But the hardest part of my job was taking in 7 or 8 boys that did not speak English to one of my regular seventh grade classes and teach them something while still teaching my regular curriculum to my other students. These issues were not “extras”. There was no stipend at the end of the year for any of this.

I took those “bilingual” students in and we made it work. BUT I can’t imagine having that situation and teaching more than 30 students with no aide. I can’t imagine teaching without air conditioning or heating. I can’t imagine teaching students with empty bellies even though they qualify for free breakfast but can’t show up on time. I can’t imagine teaching students without books and basic supplies. I can’t imagine teaching out in mobile classroom excluded from the rest of the school. I can’t imagine being evaluated over test results that those “bilingual” kids with no knowledge of the English language HAD to take! I can’t imagine teaching in a school with no sense of community. I can’t imagine dealing with gangs and fights in the hallways…oh wait, I did attend schools like this as a child…in Chicago.

Today, my own child is one of 16 students in his kindergarten with two teachers in the room. Both teachers are fully certified professionals. My child’s school has a vegetable garden that the children tend to. My child has P.E., music and art at least three times a week. My child’s school has a playground and the little ones have recess three times in their seven-hour day. My child will start taking a language class (Spanish) in the first-grade. My child has access to computers, iPads, and Smartboards. His school has a library with thousands of books, 3 daily newspapers subscriptions and many research computer programs to choose from. The science teacher with the Ph.D comes out every warm sunny day and every blistering snowy day to do traffic duty. Everybody cooperates. My child’s school has high expectations and mandatory meetings for the parents. I had a mandatory new-student orientation meeting that lasted two hours, a picnic lunch with my son and his class, and a three hour kindergarten-parent meeting that included signing up for volunteer work both in and outside of the school-all in the first week of kindergarten! Next week I have curriculum night. I walked out of there exhausted yesterday, proud for the opportunity to give my son this private education, but always with an ache in my heart as I think, “Why can’t all children in America have this? If only every school in America was run like this. If only I had such an experience.”

But not every parent lives on a set salary, not every parent can organize days to take off from work, can work from home, can afford babysitters, or have one parent not work at all. Not every teacher can work for that extra stipend and come in early to monitor early drop-off or hang out with the child after school because no one was able to come and pick him up on time. Not every company allows you to take time off because your school needs you. Not every employer allows you to work from home, or are simply sympathetic because you are a parent. So what is the answer? What are we to do? What is going on in Chicago is not just the teacher’s problem. It is not just the parent’s problem. It is not only the government’s problem or the tax payer’s problem. It is OUR problem.

I know I will teach again in some way. I like to think that by writing this blog I am contributing in a small way. I wasn’t afraid to tell you that I was tired of teaching because it is one tough job. But it’s in my heart and I still care and think about my old students and still worry about education as a whole. I care about those in Chicago. I care about those in Little Village, in the South Side of Chicago, where little children step into those crowded classrooms everyday with hope and excitement, just wanting to learn and perhaps later, just wanting to teach.

I support CPS teachers and I support teachers all around.

Your friend,


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  • Reply Yvette S September 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    I can’t even begin to imagine all that you did while teaching. As well as all the other teachers that take on more and go above and beyond. You were and still are a great teacher!! You may not be in a classroom but you have 3 boys who you do teach at home. It’s unfortunate that WE have let it go this far. Where is all the money going to?! I was told 2 stories yesterday. One about how a husband purchased an air conditioner for his wife and her classroom because she is a teacher in CPS. Another about how 3 dvd’s were purchased for another CPS school because the ones at the school were not working. Last year I did see an investigative report on how tons of supplies were thrown in the garbage. All brand new!!! Someone else could have used it. I am sure there are way more stories out there that I don’t know about. It’s depressing how we don’t give our schools/teachers/students the priority that it deserves! Education is an investment.

    • Betty
      Reply Betty September 12, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      Yes Yvette. Teachers dish out some major cash every single year. Sigh. It’s just too much.
      Betty recently posted..Whose Problem? My Profile

  • Reply Marilu September 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    I’m so proud of you Mrs. V.
    Alexa and I were just reminiscing about our old Poms team the other day and we both still have the poster/collage you made each girl. Beautiful memories!

    • Betty
      Reply Betty September 12, 2012 at 9:31 pm

      I miss you girls!! I should have stated in the post but I think it is obvious that the number one reason why teachers teach is because we LOVE kids and BELIEVE in a great future for you! Hope to catch up next time I’m in Chicago. Thank you!
      Betty recently posted..Whose Problem? My Profile

  • Reply Jose September 11, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    I don’t think you had a change of heart… You were burnt out! You still very much have the “Teacher” in you, I see that everyday in how your’re raising our boys! Love you mama!

    • Betty
      Reply Betty September 12, 2012 at 9:32 pm

      Thanks hubby. Thank you for being an amazing other half of our team. I love you.
      Betty recently posted..Whose Problem? My Profile

  • Reply Yvette S September 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    I agree with you Jose! The “teacher” is still in her! The boys are very lucky to have a mommy like her!

    • Betty
      Reply Betty September 12, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      ja ja ja! He reads my blog! Yay! Thank you comadre! xoxo
      Betty recently posted..Whose Problem? My Profile

  • Reply Nina September 12, 2012 at 12:19 am

    What an amazing analysis of your experience. It’s terrible that not all kids have this opportunity, or that schools depend on which area you live in. Private schools around my area are so ridiculously expensive that I’m hoping my kiddo can get into a great public language immersion school that got rated well. Otherwise I’m not sure what we’ll do, as I want the best for my kid.
    Nina recently posted..Instill a love of reading in your childrenMy Profile

    • Betty
      Reply Betty September 12, 2012 at 9:37 pm

      Nina, that right there is already half the battle. You will be there to support your child’s teachers and overall education. I’m preaching to the choir- I know I know! Best of luck and if you need any help…I’m here! xoxo
      Betty recently posted..Whose Problem? My Profile

  • Reply Lisa September 12, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Miss Betty,
    It makes my day when I get a chance to read one of entries, and today’s was extra special! You were (and continue to be ) one of role models. You just reminded me of all the ways you made your students feel special. As a young child I had always LOVE reading, it’s sad to say as I entered middle school, reading was just not a “cool” hobby to have at that age. Although I continued reading on the sneaks, your class made reading fun again! You allowed us to explore other options that were not part of our curriculum, and I thank you for that because I was able to go into high school with a bigger interest in reading. Outside of our parents and family, teachers give us the support and motivation we need to strive in life. It is sad to watch teachers fighting for reasonable rights, students not in the classroom and parents struggling to find care for their children. I support the CPS teachers and hope that this issue is resolved as soon as possible!

  • Betty
    Reply Betty September 12, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Awwww shucks Lisa. I didn’t mean for this post to be about me. I just really wish that the nay sayers can understand how bad some of the Chicago teachers have it. This strike is saying many things but I believe educational reform is on its way. Thank you sweetie and I really hope you pass on your love for reading to your little one. 😉 xoxo
    Betty recently posted..Whose Problem? My Profile

  • Reply Caro September 12, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Great post B!

  • Reply Maritza September 13, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Thank You!!!! Its been a trying week for us teachers. Yet another day on strike has truly made me stronger. I LOVE what I do and definitely do not do what I do for the money. I’ve met many people this week that has stopped to simply ask why the strike. I admire those that have stopped to ask instead of believing everything they have listened to in the media. Please, if you have a question, stop and ask a teacher. Thank you again Betty. Many xox to you and your boys 🙂

    • Reply Yvette S September 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm

      Very proud of you Maritza and all the teachers, friends, parents and everyone who supports the teachers and the students. Many people in society misjudges and assume it’s always about the money. Although even if it was I can’t argue. Only because I am one of the believers that the salary that our teachers and their school staff receive is very little. Even if salary was the only issue as to why the strike was happening it doesn’t matter to me! Some people my disagree with me but I do also feel that paying millions and millions of dollars to athletes is ridiculous. What are these athletes giving us? Teachers are giving our children an education and more. These children now and many many years to come will be our future. They will be our leaders in the years to come. The teachers are educating our children and will show an example of what their teachers and parents instilled in them. I know that there are many teachers out there who do their job and go above and beyond for the education for their students. They don’t have to go the extra mile but they do because they want to and care. Teachers are at school with our children for the majority of the day. I as a parent place trust in the teachers to teach my kids and help them out if needed. Why not give the teachers better supplies, tools, buildings, classrooms and most important the respect they deserve? Besides me as a parent and the grandparents I see them as caregivers as well. Yes, I know that there are teachers out there that have given them a bad name but that isn’t all teachers. I as a mom, friend and supporter want to say thank you to the teachers for all that they do. Thank you for what education, skills and support that you give our kids!!!!!

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