May 31, 2016

A small thank you can go a long way

Educators 4 Excellence is turning Teacher Appreciation Week into Teacher Appreciation Month, because a week is not enough to celebrate our classroom leaders. All month long, we are highlighting our teachers’ inspiring contributions to their students and their fellow colleagues. Below is a blog entry in a series featuring teachers’ own words on their appreciation for the craft of teaching, their colleagues, and the professional perspectives that should be front in center in education policy debates.

This year in Chicago Public Schools has been rough on budgets, but E4E-Chicago teacher leaders like Lacey Clayborn, an eighth grade math teacher at Howe School of Excellence, are planning and executing events around the city to appreciate their colleagues who thrive in the face of adversity.

It’s been a year of unprecedented cuts in Chicago Public Schools and Howe School of Excellence on Chicago’s West Side has been hit particularly hard.  We’ve lost almost $700,000 in funding at a school that serves predominantly low-income and minority students.  As a teacher at Howe I see students are thriving even in this troubling environment because of their outstanding teachers, so I coordinated a thank you celebration tonight for the exceptional educators I work with, because so often teachers feel as though the work they put in goes unnoticed.

I began teaching three years ago in the Austin neighborhood.  I wanted to help students realize that they could make something of their lives, despite  their circumstances. I grew up in a single-parent home on the South Side and am a product Chicago Public Schools.  Oftentimes my classrooms went without essential resources. I know firsthand that students can still achieve and become anything they wish despite a lack of resources.

This year at Howe, my colleagues have frequently stepped up to purchase supplies or cover content areas that are outside of their comfort zone.  They’ve done this with grace and enthusiasm that has been contagious for students.  Even in the face of budget cuts, our school quality rating rose from a Level 2 to a Level 1 and my 8th graders are excited about what they are learning.  There is nothing more rewarding than an 8th grader who is excited about math in May.

I planned this event to thank Lillian, who is the face of perseverance in our school.  She was asked to teach 3rd grade math this year for the first time.  It was a new grade, a new subject, and she has thrived. She spearheaded an effort to involve students in the LearnStorm Challenge on Khan Academy. Our students didn’t have the technology to participate originally, so she organized our teachers to do a grant writing campaign to ensure they had classroom access to iPads and Chromebooks.  Given Lillian’s tenacity, I thought it was fitting that one of her students was recognized as one of the hardest workers in the program.

I’m also hosting this event for my grade-level partner, Kenyatta.  This year she was asked to move from 4th-grade science to 8th-grade English Language Arts.  She’s handled it with grace and her students’ tests scores have improved tremendously over the course of a year in her class.

Teachers like Lillian and Kenyatta are the reason students at Howe are currently immersed in high school level texts like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Hamlet.” Everyone here is a superstar. Being a teacher in CPS on the West Side is hard.  We are in an under resourced neighborhood with less funding and fewer supplies each year. People don’t look often enough at the great things our teachers and students are doing, and now that we are facing the possibility of another $800,000 in cuts next school year, teachers need community support more than ever.  In the face of huge funding issues, a small thank you doesn’t fix everything, but it can go a long way.

For tonight at least, I’m making sure that the teachers at Howe are treated like superstars by saying thank you for the grace, perseverance and enthusiasm they give to their students each day.   In the face of adversity we’ll continue to support each other through good times and bad so our students can thrive.

To read more posts in our series, and learn about ways you can appreciate a colleague in your community, visit our Teacher Appreciation Month page.