high school insiders

Schoolwork, adolescence take on new meaning post-inauguration

On Tuesday morning, the 98 students at NYCiSchool gathered in their school’s common room to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama. This is a report about that experience from Raquel and Angelica, two students who are writing occasional columns for GothamSchools on their experiences attending a New York City public school.

Raquel: Returning to school after a 3-day weekend to sit in front of two flatscreen televisions and watch Obama’s inauguration was nothing short of amazing, because we were glued to something more than a television screen. We were glued into history.

We also created historical artifacts of our own. A school-wide assignment required each student to write a list of the topics we wanted to hear Obama address in his speech. As the speech progressed, we recorded what topics he actually covered. This way, we were able to document not only what we heard, but what it meant to us.

I predict that unlike many school assignments, we’ll remember this one as not just one more piece of paper. Instead, we will be able to use this assignment as a tool to evaluate whether Obama has kept his word to America, and to us.

Angelica: We are teenagers, a rowdy group to tame, especially when concentrated all in one room — and yet the sound of Barack Obama’s even voice, fierce and calm, muted us. Our chests were swelling with pride, the air filled with his deep, crystalline tone. He seemed to have complete, unconditional trust in us, an odd characteristic for a powerful ruler to have, but nonetheless an effective one, as it rendered us quiet. Silence had never come to us so easily, but our whispers faded as the television screen blared the beginning of Obama’s speech.

Barack Obama is an unbelievably persuasive person. During his speech, the authority in his sincere voice was firm yet humble, and did to us students what reprimanding, intimidating teachers rarely have the ability to do. We were listening, respectful, and nearly silent, with the exception of sporadic applause that often seemed necessary.

With his high standards and ideals, Obama’s sheer faith in us — as the future of America — is perhaps the part that struck me the most. So trusting and unquestioning of our potential, he convinced me to stop questioning it as well.

At the end of the speech, beneath my skin there was still that vague tingle lingering beneath my skin, like little ants racing into my fingertips. Teachers were teary-eyed, giving high-fives to each other and to us, the students. The excitement was so great that one teacher even forgot to collect the assignment!

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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