Why Don’t I Deserve Respect?

By Brian Graves
Third Grade Teacher, Chicago Public Schools

On Monday, my schedule was pretty easy. It mostly involved walking round and round in a picket line. Why? Because I believe that is the way Chicago teachers will get the respect and recognition we deserve for the hard work and very long days we spend teaching students whom we care about deeply.

Here’s how a normal school day would go for me:

5 am: I am up early to start preparing myself for the day ahead. I wake up excited for the opportunities that will present themselves to me through my students today.

5:15 am: I eat breakfast, catch up on the latest news, sit at my computer and respond to emails that came in from parents after 10 p.m., my bedtime. Shower and shave.

6:15 am: Out the door for the half-hour drive to school. I could teach closer to home, but I have developed a relationship with
my students, parents, colleagues, and the community.

6:45 am: Park in the lot next to cars driven by the many other teachers who arrive long before the bell rings because we are
dedicated to the education of our students in this wonderful city called Chicago. I lug in my bag, say good-bye to my mom
on the phone (always have to be a good son), then pass our custodian (a silent leader) as he is reading the Sun-Times, punch in and grab my paper mail.

6:55 am: On the way up to the second floor, I pass by colleagues who already are working, collaborating, and prepping for the day, like a pre-op room in the hospital.

7 am: In my classroom now. Ahhhh, the smell of a classroom. Today is going to be great, because I love my job and students.
Whatever happened yesterday is erased because this is a new day. We have to keep moving forward in order to achieve
success. I look at my lesson plans, gather materials, sip coffee, listen to NPR.

7:15 am: I head back downstairs for an impromptu meeting to go over data and talk about how it can drive our instruction.
I look at my data and see the students right below thebenchmark, and students right at the benchmark. I need to get
them to exceed the standards in order for me to feel satisfied. My teaching partner and I discuss a plan of action and agree to
meet after school to discuss it further.

8:14 am: I am at my door ready to greet the kids with a highfive or a handshake.

8:30 am: As I am ready to close the door to begin instruction, a parent says, “Mr. Graves, can I talk to you quickly about last night’s homework? My son didn’t understand and I didn’t understand.” Thankfully, my students know to look at the schedule I have posted, begin their work and eat their breakfast quickly (yes we serve breakfast in the classroom too…another hat I wear.)

I couldn’t refuse a meeting with a parent could I? No, because I serve the public, and that parent needed my help to figure out a problem.

8:40 am: Instruction begins and the day is off and running. Morning news, kindergarten reading buddies, math groups and games, recess, lunch, collaborative planning time, reading groups, science, Chicago history, impromptu lessons about friends, family, bullying, world news, health…

That’s what I do…teach, parent, instruct, help, coach, and most of all, listen to the needs of my students. With that, I drive my instruction wherever it needs to go, because I care about these kids in Chicago.

3:15 pm: The bell rings, the kids pack up and head home. I squeeze in a quick meeting with my teaching partner to discuss how to bring those kids up to standards.

3:30 pm: I start my second job tutoring students in remedial math and reading at my school. For this I get paid a little extra, unlike the weekly Thursday morning meetings with my colleagues that we do on our own time and our own dime because our goal is to improve our practice as teachers.

4:30 pm: I head to the gym to work off the day’s stress.

6:15 pm: I finally get home and eat a quick dinner.

7 pm: I start my “night job”–grading papers and planning for the next day’s classes.

But that was Friday’s schedule. Now I am on strike. Why? Because the city of Chicago doesn’t respect the level of teaching
I do everyday in the classroom.

Brian Graves is a third grade teacher in Chicago. He was a part of the VIVA Teachers Chicago project that gathered teachers’
ideas for better ways to use time in school, half of which were implemented as part of Chicago Public Schools’ extended school day.

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Comments (6)

  1. Franco Walls

    Brian, I commend your daily routine and wish you back to work as soon as it is possible. Politics should never get in the way of educating kids, so sad. I have a favor to ask…as the papers and news are lacking on details, what are the sticking points in the negotiations? I hear about benefits, what specifically? I hear about the percent of student test data in your new teacher evaluations, what are they proposing that the teachers don’t agree with? Here in NYS it is at 40%. I also see the “news” has said you are looking for air conditioning…which i doubt is really an issue you are debating. I do have to say that they are reporting in the NY Times that you are being promised 16% pay increase in the next 4 years….which seems a lot (granted my district is currently in a pay freeze until April)….Maybe an inside picture…even after the negotiations are over. I’d love to see what is going on that the “news” is missing, because its not a pretty picture they are painting of the unions.

  2. Karon Stewart

    I, too, would really like to know where that number (16%) came from.
    2% a year for 4 years is 8%. One report even said 3% the first year.
    Nobody I talked to can explain how they arrived at that number.

  3. Franco- Sorry for the late response…I have been mentally exhausted from this, but very upbeat today. Here is a good article about the strike I found:


    No issue is to small in my eyes. AC needs to be put in rooms with 102+ heat. Students are sweating and sleeping and the teacher can’t teach.

    The evaluation, based on 40% of test scores is unfair. High poverty/homeless population schools will be slaughtered by the other schools. What does this mean? It means teachers have other factors to deal with before the teaching begins. Also, student assessments weren’t designed to be evaluations of the teachers.

    Plus these schools need clinicians to work with these students…hire more! Some have a 1000 to 1 caseload.

    Hope this helps…I have to get back out there and canvass around the neighborhood.


  4. Franco Walls

    I had just read that article this morning. Thanks. And as for the lateness of the response…you have more than answering a question to your blog post to deal with so I understand.

    I guess I understand that no issue is too small during negotiations, as it pertains to A/C, you might as well negotiate for what will make you a more effective teacher and your students, more effective learners. I guess I never knew Chicago to be that hot, although this year was particularly brutal.

    As for 40% of evaluations being based on test scores of your students being unfair, I guess I just disagree with you on this point. In NYS we have one of the poorest cities per capita in the US, Buffalo, and they are held to the same standards as the rest of the state. Here, Charter Schools, such as The Charter School for Applied Technologies, have proven to be an effective way to lower costs for the district and to produce graduation rates nearing 100% (without having a lower bar set than other districts around the state). No Charter schools are not perfect but they are better than the alternatives at the current time.

    I agree with your point that teachers have other factors to deal with before teaching begins and that is why schools, such as the one I mentioned, have near 100% of their students on the breakfast and free and reduced lunch programs on top of having longer school days to ensure studying, and homework getting done without the distractions of the, oftentimes difficult, home environment.

    As for student assessments not being designed to be evaluators of teachers, you are right, but cars aren’t built to evaluate their builders either, but instead are to be reliably driven. If students spend up to 50 hours a week being instructed by certified teachers that are being paid by the taxes of the poor citizens, shouldn’t they expect that their investment is paying off? – And if many in the public feel that if their children are not succeeding on tests that others in the state and/or country are succeeding on, then they may feel that the investment is not paying off. Hence the call for Charters, Voucher programs, and increased scrutiny on the teacher evaluation process.

    You ended with the statement that “these school need clinicians to work with these students”, is this in reference to psychologists, social workers, and guidance counselors? If this is what you mean, then yes I agree kids who aren’t getting the proper guidance from their families and communities need help…but with the ever increasing costs of salaries, health benefits, electricity(for A/C), where is this money going to come from? From the poor citizens’ taxes who are already outraged because their children are not succeeding? I bet you’d be hard pressed to see them approve a budget increase when the unemployment and family income rates are declining. Teachers and support staff along with the community will just have to work together to ensure that students needs are being met without additional monies being spent.

    Your information has helped…but I hope the alternative options put forth by the school district and school districts around the country, that I have echoed, have also helped. Us as teachers know better than most that if something isn’t succeeding we revise, we revamp, sometimes we have to think outside of the box, scrap our plans (even if they’ve been what we have relied on for the past 50 years) and start over with the goal of improving what isn’t working at all costs, because our students’ success is all that matters.

    I hope the strike comes to a resolution soon for both parties, because sadly, its the third party, the families(children included) that are the collateral damage from this battle.


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