What's this about?

What's this about?

This blog is not about the animal. This blog is writing by a Latino. A writer. An English teacher. A man who once lived in Chicago's 26th Street neighborhood.

My blog's title comes from a converstion I had with my friend Tony Laurel. When we met at an English teachers' meeting about a year ago, he said I was the only other Latino English teacher he knew: "We're white rhinos." According to National Geographic, there are about 11,000 white rhinos struggling to survive in the wild.

Unlike the animal, Latino English teachers are not an endangered species--there have never been many of us in the Chicago Public Schools. And we know the low number of Latinos with college degrees in our city.

I have a perspective that, like the white rhino, must fight to exist.

This is a challenge to myself: I must write. The writing here will include my responses, reflections, reactions to Latino- and education-related issues. Occasionally, I will promote others' writing, too. I will reveal my perspective without compromising the privacy of others. My goal is to post a couple times each month.

I invite you to read. Comment on my posts. Follow this blog by e-mail. And write.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cameron Diaz and Other Reasons People Hate Chicago Teachers

They say there are two topics to avoid among new friends: religion and politics.  These days, I add a third—education.  Cameron Diaz’s new movie Bad Teacher isn’t going to make conversations about education easier.  Diaz plays a teacher in the profession for all the wrong reasons.  The movie isn’t getting good reviews and, this summer, neither are Chicago teachers.

I was at a birthday banquet in May and sat at a table with a family member’s friends.   After they learned I was a teacher, one woman skeptically asked me what I thought of my new boss, Jean-Claude Brizard.  “I haven’t met the guy,” I said, “but I hope his vision is beneficial for our city. And, actually, the principal is my boss.”

She responded quickly with another question: “what do you think of those dual-language programs?”  I said, “I love the one my son is in.”  I explained Namaste Charter School’s program and emphasized the value if they are run properly.  But this wasn’t a conversation.  It was an interview.  Or an inquiry.  Luckily, the mariachi started playing and we couldn’t hear ourselves anymore.  We sipped our drinks and, after dinner, I moved to another table.

When people ask teachers for our educational view, I don’t think many of them really care what we say.  Most people, like with religion, like with politics, have their minds made up about education.  It’s almost as if people listen so they can tell themselves, “I knew it.”  In many conversations, I’ve sensed the skepticism people have for teachers.  Part of the reason (to quote my wife) is everyone has been educated; therefore, everyone thinks he’s an education expert.  Many people value what teachers do, but, in many more cases, teachers do not have public support.  Even in Bad Teacher, Diaz’s suburban Chicago character fails at getting reviewers to believe in her. 

It’s probably because the comedy isn’t funny.  Diaz’s character wants a job with short hours, summers off, and no accountability.  Sadly, there are teachers who teach for exactly these reasons.  Not funny.  Those of us who do work beyond the bell, in the summer, and hold ourselves accountable don’t think that’s funny either. 

Recent CPS decisions make the conversation about teachers, especially those bad ones, even less humorous.  Because of the Board’s recent decision to rescind the annual 4% raise, 25% of teachers will not get an increase.  The 75% with less than fifteen years of experience will receive a 1-5% increase.  I will not get a pay increase this year.  I’m O.K. with this. 

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is organizing protests but I won’t be attending any.  They have some public support but I wish they would let this issue go.  The public, in general, is not supporting this fight. 

A June 16 Tribune article emphasized these facts:
  • The average teacher salary in CPS today is $69,000.
  • In 2009, a teacher with 10 years of experience and a master's degree earned $74,526. This year, that teacher earned almost $6,000 more.
This makes it too easy for the public to say, “Teachers have it good.”  Sometimes CTU President Karen Lewis cites a rise in health care costs as the reason we need the raise.  Everyone else’s costs are going up, too.  Many have lost their insurance.  The public isn’t going to jump on the bandwagon of CTU support.  “Teachers,” they’ll say, “have it really good.”

In a June 17 Chicago News Cooperative article, a CPS teacher recognized that once upon a time, “People paid us attention. It’s a joke now.”  

It’s our own union’s fault.  The public cannot be engaged with the generalizations CTU regularly uses.

On WTTW’s Chicago Tonight June 15 show, Karen Lewis said, "We are still shocked that the Board would take an action that could possibly lead to a strike.”

I wasn’t shocked.  And many colleagues predicted the Board’s decision. 

In a June 19 Tribune editorial, Karen Lewis wrote, “That's what drives our 30,000 members to stay at work late.”  But we know not every single union member works late.

Later, she writes, “It's what drives us to make sure that every last student gets the help she needs.”  But we know that not every single student is getting the help she needs.

She continues by writing, “Come what may, our teachers will always put our children first.”  But we know there are teachers who do not.  Many of us sat in front of one or work with one.  We know that unions are designed to put their members first, not the people their members serve.

Some may criticize me for being anti-union.  I believe in unions but not in the CTU’s generalized reasoning.  If the CTU accepts a Board decision, we are not going back to medieval teaching conditions and women will not be prevented from taking maternity leave—these are the consequences critics use against me. 

Instead, if we accept the Board’s decision to rescind raises for 25% of us, teachers will gain more public support.  Let’s face it--central office administrators are going to make more money than lots of us.  But central office is not a pleasant or stable place to work.  I worked there two years and left.

Union leaders complain about central office salaries but they haven’t published their own salaries recently.  Lots of us are wondering, with any special allowances and benefits, how much do union leaders make?  On June 22, Lewis’s spokesperson told a Sun-Times columnist she didn’t know the president’s salary.   

What the CTU needs to do is lead the conversation on performance evaluation instead of following it.  I was at a focus group meeting a few months ago and left confused.  I believe in merit pay as an option.  I just don’t understand how it will happen fairly.  CTU cannot wait and then react angrily to a merit-pay plan.  Karen Lewis’s team needs to provide realistic options that will help good teachers succeed in a merit pay system that is on its way. 

A longer school day is also in the works and, possibly, home visits.  For too long, CTU has used enough resources to protect bad teachers.  I’ve seen it.  Now it’s time to lead the talks to help the good ones, not the bad teacher.

Cameron Diaz’s movie director got the title right despite the bad reviews.  If CTU does not change its focus or its generalizations, our bad reviews are going to continue.

Sources mentioned in order:
June 15, 2011 WTTW Chicago Tonight


  1. AnonymousJune 26, 2011

    Very well reasoned and thoughtful. I wonder if you will write about the big jump in ISATs and the comments by Brizard and Donoso on how the ISATs don't indicate college readiness. I believe that in 2009 the U of C Consortium on School Research published research that noted the disconnect between the ISAT scores and ACT scores, so that ha been well known for a long time. Still the goal remained doing well on the ISATs, and now a large percentage of CPS students meet expectations in Reading and Math. Can you give us some insight, perhaps explain how the ISAT scoring was changed in 2006?

  2. AnonymousJune 26, 2011

    Your Chicago wages stink. Toronto teachers make $94 000 now. The 2 dollars are at roughly par and next contract most Toronto and Ontario Canada teachers will go over $100 000. You are being ripped off badly and you don't seem to understand that?

  3. AnonymousJune 26, 2011

    Sorry, I think it's the students of Chicago that are being ripped off. Spare us the bad PR lines from union cronies. (And I say that as a strong union supporter). You guys give unions a bad name.

  4. I disagree that unions are in place to protect its members first. The union is in place to protect the structure of the union. Having worked in a right to work state and now a union district, I would prefer the former. Unions thrive on strife and worker dissatisfaction.
    As for Toronto and Ontario wages, those wages were brought about by collective bargaining, but wages in Saskatchewan aren't nearly as high and they are represented by unions as well. Do unions help raise wages? Not always!

  5. I love reading your posts! So insightful and on point! Thanks for being a voice for our "batalla".
    fellow CPS White Rhino =)

  6. yeah like your posts too, give me spirit.