Nine schools in 12 years: One teacher's tale of life in Chicago's public schools

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Jean De Lafayette Elementary, one of 50 schools slated to be closed by the city
  • Scott Olson/Getty
  • Jean De Lafayette Elementary, one of 50 schools slated to be closed by the city
As a public service to anyone thinking about teaching in Mayor Emanuel's Chicago, I will tell you the story of a grammar school art teacher I'll call Amos Moses.

So you'll know what you're in for.

That's not his real name, of course. I've changed his name because the first thing you need to know about teaching in Chicago is that everything and anything you say can and will be used against you. If for no other reason than it's good for students to learn from their teachers what happens to Chicagoans who question authority.

Anyway, Mr. Moses has the honor of having taught art in nine schools in 12 years—which must be some kind of record. At least, I hope it's a record.

If all goes well, he'll be teaching at a tenth school next year. As his current school is one of the 54 that Mayor Emanuel, in his infinite wisdom, has proposed to close.

Fasten your seatbelts, everyone . . .

2001-05: "My first job is at a school on the west side. I taught there for four years until my position was cut in half."

Explanation: Most schools in Chicago only have enough money for one full-time art teacher and one full-time music teacher and no drama teachers, full- or part-time—sorry, wannabe Marlon Brandos. So they split teachers in half. Not literally at the waist, though I wouldn't be surprised to discover Mayor Emanuel's looking into that. But art and music teachers each work 2.5 days a week.

2005-2007: "Rather than just working half-time, I got a job teaching at School Two, which is around 103rd and Cottage Grove."

Explanation: Yay, Amos!

2007-2009: "Then School Two's funding was slashed. They had a full-time art, full-time library, and full-time gym teacher. But the principal decided to get rid of the librarian and cut my time in half. So I took a half-time job teaching at School Three, which is south—near 122nd street. I got there on the Halsted bus."

Explanation: This is as good a time as any to mention that Mr. Moses has no car. I'm not going to blame this on Mayor Emanuel—if only to show I don't blame everything on him. It's Mayor Daley's fault. Just kidding.

2007-2009, continued: "This was the first time I split my work week at two schools. Two days at School Two and two days at School Three. I rotated every other Friday. At School Three, I did Art on a Cart."

Explanation: As the name suggests, Art on a Cart is the program where art teachers pile supplies on a cart and schlep that cart from one classroom to another. They do this because they don't have their own art rooms. They don't have their own art rooms because the system's either too broke to build them one, or the school's so overcrowded they had to convert the old art room into a classroom. Look for more Art on a Cart programs now that Mayor Emanuel's decided to save public education by cramming more kids into fewer schools.

2009-2010: "Then School Three switched to Track E so I had to get another job."

Explanation: Track E schools are schools that go year-round. I believe it was schools CEO Paul Vallas who invented this track on the grounds that taking summers off was appropriate for agrarian societies where children needed to help their parents working in the fields. But since Chicago was no longer an agrarian society, we might as well go to year-round schools.

2009-2010, continued: "Having left School Three, I got another half-time position at School Four, which was way on the southeast side not far from the U.S Steel site."

Explanation: For newcomers, Vallas was the CEO who saved public education in Chicago. Then he left and Arne Duncan saved it. Then Duncan left and Ron Huberman saved it. Then J.C. Brizard saved it. Now Barbara Byrd-Bennett's saving it. You may wonder why one system can have so many saviors and still need to be saved. Go ask Mayor Emanuel and see where that gets you.

2010-2011: "The principal at School Three went to Track E. So I got a second job at School Five, which is also Track E. I wanted to stay at School Four, but it's not Track E. I could have stayed at School Three, but the principal at School Five said, 'Oh, I know the principal at a Track E school who's looking for an art teacher.' So for one moment I technically had jobs at three schools. But I decided to leave School Three and go to School Six, which is on the west side. It's air-conditioned. Which really helps when you're teaching school in the summer."

Explanation: As hard as this may be to believe, the saviors of Chicago's schools never got around to installing air conditioners at many of the Track E schools. Apparently, they didn't realize we have this season called summer. By the way, Mayor Emanuel has done away with Track E schools. Perhaps he has concluded that we are an agrarian society after all. In any event, if you wait around long enough, I'm sure some future savior will bring them back.

2011-2012: "School Six switched from art to music. So I got a job at School Seven, which is on the far-south side. But the principal there told me that they're partners with a nearby school. If you teach art at one, you have to teach art at the other. So I left School Five and started at School Eight."

Explanation: Don't worry, we'll have a study hall before the quiz on Mr. Moses's resume.

2012-2013: "School Seven switched from art to music so I took a half-time job at School Nine, which is in Englewood. So I'm currently splitting my time between Schools Eight and Nine."

Explanation: All nine schools are in poor, black neighborhoods, whose students could use a little stability—not to mention, more art, music and drama—instead of a revolving door of teachers.

2013-?: "They're closing School Nine, so it looks like I'll have to find a School Ten for next year."

Explanation: In Chicago, we treat teachers like replaceable parts on a cart and hail each mayor as a school savior. It's what passes for school reform around here.

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