I have always marveled at the kindness and optimism of veteran Chicago teacher, Michelle Gunderson. I cannot imagine how she is able to maintain this attitude given the struggles they’ve had in Chicago. It’s certainly a part of who Gunderson is as a person. Perhaps it is also that, even though Chicago is going through hell right now, they have a cast of thousands ready and willing to fight. That gives someone hope.
Gunderson has a post up about goodwill and compassion in teaching, things that are sorely lacking right now. Her situation sounds very much like mine in terms of teaching and reaching children in poverty. I too see students walking in without an adult. I have students who walk home with first and second grade siblings. My students follow the philosophy that if you are subject to injustice, then you are unjust in return.
My students rarely highlight the positive with each other and alternatively are quick to share what act of unfairness has been perpetrated against them. Our Kindergarten classroom is across the hall from children with significant emotional needs. Rather than giving these students what they need in terms of mental health counseling, staff in this classroom is told to lock them in and keep them there all day, for lunch and for recess. No matter how much furniture is thrown, KEEP THEM LOCKED IN.
In DC, we do not have a powerful union. Legally, we cannot strike. The WTU President seems more interested in a good relationship with the Chancellor than actual advocacy for teachers. Additionally, the strict evaluation system and merit pay structure–IMPACT–breeds competition, jealousy, and resentment between teachers. IMPACT is not a development tool. It is a sledgehammer.
I received a crap evaluation from my own principal that I know down to my core that I did not deserve and that I also know was more about my refusal to follow a scripted phonics program than about my ability as a teacher. There was a very short lived moment during my reading of the report that I actually RESENTED my students. Yes, I resented my five year olds.
Why couldn’t you just do what I asked? Why couldn’t you stop talking and see that the principal was in the room taking notes? Why couldn’t you just take the doggone magnetic letters and make those words?
As I sat alone in my classroom, reflecting on the negative report, my mind initially reached for someone to blame other than myself. But after some time to reconsider, I don’t blame myself at all, and not even my students. No. Something else is at fault.
I feel all of the things that Gunderson feels, but I cannot so readily express them. Teaching in DC, which I do not plan to do long term, has poisoned the well. I can do everything that I can do every day to filter out this poison, but then the system in which we teach punishes us for that goodwill until we end up teaching, not with compassion, but with resentment.