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What Teachers Know

by Kim Bellware - chicago magazine  |  12/08/2017

Every day, parents place more than 392,000 children in the hands of Chicago Public Schools teachers. That’s greater than the population of Tampa, Florida. It’s no surprise, then, that the issues affecting CPS teachers consistently make headlines. But while advocates and policymakers have been vocal in the intense public debates about budget cuts, strikes, school closings, corruption, gang violence, and other hot-button topics, the voices of the teachers themselves are seldom heard.

So Chicago asked 15 CPS instructors to speak, on condition of anonymity, about their jobs. They included blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians. Some were rookies, some veterans. Their students ranged from poor to privileged, and their schools from struggling to prestigious. Among other things, they talked about their best and worst days on the job, the bureaucracy and the rites of passage, what it’s like to see a student graduate and what it’s like to see one killed, and why it’s sometimes best to let a kid sleep in class. A term the teachers commonly used was “firehose”—a way of characterizing the relentless stream of demands from principals and parents. But the conversations also revealed enormous reservoirs of hope and optimism.
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