This evening, the Chicago Teachers Union hosted an emergency tele-town hall meeting for its 20,000 plus membership. The current Chicago Public Schools plan is to have schools begin to reopen in January, with a small group of Pre-K and Cluster students returning in person January 11th and their teachers (and support staff) returning the week before to set up classrooms. This past week, Illiniois’ COVID death rate hit the 15,000 mark, we are on lockdown until January 10th, and many of our neighborhoods have COVID positivity rates over 20-30%. It doesn’t make any sense to start safely sending anyone back into classrooms until COVID numbers have declined, vaccines start rolling out and our union can negotiate a safe and equitable reopening plan with the district.
Tonight, rather than focusing on my anxiety about how all of this is going to play out, I want to focus on how I started on the path that has lead here.
Early on when I started my undergraduate degree at Northern Michigan University (30 plus years ago–YIKES!!!!), I knew that I wanted to be a high school teacher, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to pursue majors in English or history or both. I saw a degree in secondary education as a skill set that I could take anywhere and visualized myself becoming the type of high school teacher that I had so strongly admired in my suburban Detroit area high school. I had rock star teachers such as Mr. & Mrs. Thompson, Mrs. Masters, Mrs. Hewitt and Mrs. Ettiene that taught classes like Approaching the Arts (which introduced me to the idea that “artists are the antennae of the race” and included the best week-long field trip to NYC as well as Allen Ginsberg performing in our school’s auditorium); Zen & Emerson (a class that encouraged us to look at the world through very different lenses); and International Relations (Model UN and strong instruction taught us the academics behind foreign relations). I also learned a great deal from AP US History (where Mr. Beaman would stand on a desk to enhance his lectures and was impassioned with his subject matter and assigned us a cool oral history project).
I need to add that while my parents had both started out their careers in education, neither one was teaching by the time I entered high school and they did not want me to pursue a teaching degree, particularly because they were concerned about job security. It turns out they were right to be concerned, yet, for my generation, there are few careers that are safe. However, good, supportive parents and educators that they are, they encouraged me to follow my own path.
Anyway, thanks to babysitting and teaching swimming lessons, I knew that I wanted to work with older students. I love all children and find little ones adorable–just not day in and day out for a job. I felt a connection to the upper levels of high school–junior and senior year–probably because of my own positive connections during those years, but also because I find it exciting to help bridge students to ‘the real world’ and life after high school. As far as how I chose what to teach, I followed classes that I was drawn to and interested in. I ended up with a double major in history and secondary ed as well as a double minor in English and political science. What was crazy was that anytime I could take a class with an international spin, I took it. Approaching China, The Third World, International Relations, Geography of Africa, and 16 credits of German were all about a curiosity in things global.
When a Peace Corps recruiter came and spoke to one of my poli sci classes, I realized that while I had not pursued a study abroad program in high school–and NMU didn’t have a strong program–I was still itching to travel and see the world. Dr. Saari, my history advisor, was a big fan of my joining the Peace Corps because he felt it would offer me a supportive safety net as my international experience was so limited. Why not use my teaching degree to also serve my country?
And I did.