May 11, 2012
I entered the classroom as a teacher for the first time almost 26 years ago, and I still feel the same rush of excitement every time I step into a school. Over the last year, I've visited dozens of schools throughout our district and have observed hundreds more teachers engage and inspire students in the classroom. It is truly one of the best parts of my job.
Unfortunately, the contributions made by our teachers often go unnoticed. As a former teacher, I know that a small gesture of gratitude — even thank you — goes a long way. One of my former students mailed a copy of his master's degree to me with a handwritten note on the face of the diploma that read "I could not have done this without you." These are the moments that we cherish as teachers and why we do what we do.
This week was Teacher Appreciation Week — a great opportunity for all Chicagoans to acknowledge and thank the teachers in their lives. I recently told my own story about the teacher who made the biggest difference in my life, Mr. Cherasard, while I was a kid in Brooklyn. You can see the video here.
It's actually something that I do every day. I meet with teachers during school visits every week and also host weekly meetings with them to discuss issues they care about. The feedback I've received from them inspires much of the work we are implementing across the district.
Their input is critical to the work we are doing as a district to ensure that every child has access to a world-class education. Teachers are on the front lines of education every day and we cannot do the difficult work that lies ahead of us without them.
That's why my team and I are expanding the tools and supports needed to help them deliver a quality education to every child in our schools — two hours more of teacher preparation and professional development each week, moving away from an antiquated 40-year old teacher-evaluation system to a comprehensive system developed by the input of thousands of CPS teachers, and implementing the Common Core State Standards to create a new more rigorous curriculum that will better prepare students for college. Many of these supports are being discussed in the current collective bargaining process under way with the union. The public can access factual and timely information around these issues and the process at www.cps.edu/collectivebargaining.
There has been a lot of misleading rhetoric communicated to teachers about the kinds of tools and supports we are offering, as well as about me and my leadership team.
Personally, it's very troubling, and frankly hurtful, to read claims that we've created a "hostile" working environment or have disrespected our teachers. I do not know of a nobler or more selfless profession. And I say this based not only my own experience, but that of my wife, brother and parents, all of whom taught in the classroom.
In the coming weeks and months, it's my hope that both our educators and the public will rise above the noise usually generated by contract negotiations.
We can't afford to be distracted from our students and the classroom — let's allow union and CPS leadership to do the work needed to reach agreement. We all witnessed last week that agreement is possible after announcing a historic contract with UNITE HERE Local 1, which represents 3,200 lunchroom workers in our schools. And, it can be done in a way that's fair to employees, students and taxpayers.
It's been a long time since a CEO could say that he's walked in the shoes of teachers in our district. That's why teachers have a special place in my heart and mind every day.
So no matter what rhetoric may be in the public domain in the coming weeks and months, I want our teachers to know that I support them and will always be their advocate.
This week, I hope all Chicagoans took advantage of the opportunity to let teachers know how much you appreciate them and all they do on behalf of our children.
Jean-Claude Brizard is CEO of Chicago Public Schools. The Op-Ed can also be found here.