I watched episodes 2, 3, and 4 of CNN’s original series Chicagoland with disappointment. I made that clear in all three commentaries. After my first post about the show, through a tweet, one of the Chicagoland Twitter accounts invited me to join a live chat. My response? “Thanks but I’m teaching in an unsensationalized Chicago public high school at 1:00 p.m. eastern.” I stopped watching Chicagoland. The one-sided story telling reminds me of the poor education reporting in our city. It’s the same ol’ same ol’ recycled coverage that doesn’t contribute to solutions.
As a native Chicagoan, as an 18-year educator in the Chicago Public Schools, as a dedicated commentator, I’m tired of outsiders telling a gentrified version of our city. I chimed in on a Twitter conversation tonight while watching a Frasier rerun and thought, “What if Chicagoland had profiled me the last couple of weeks? How would they have spliced this urban teacher’s experiences?” Hmmmm.
OK, so everyone who reads my blog and everyone associated with my 7th period AP English Language class knows my students irked me with a capital K a couple of weeks ago and I swore. Yes, I refer to it as the “shit” incident. After a bunch of passive-aggressive behavior, after that class proved my theory that high-achieving students (yes, we do have some in the Chicago Public Schools, even in neighborhood schools) can be highly passive aggressive, I said, “I’m sick of this shit.” Needless to say, I needed to repair that relationship. I felt bad. So I tried something and it worked. The classroom energy is highly positive now, not highly passive aggressive, and the bond, I think, is stronger. And they joke with me know, “Salazar. Are you being passive aggressive?” I say, “Yes, yes I am.”
Or maybe they would have captured my reaction early this week when I found out the Education Writers Association would not be awarding me 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place in their national writing contest. I tied for 2nd last year in the Best Blog category. Three BIG organizations took all three spots this year. My feedback to EWA is going to be that they have two blog categories: one for organizations, one for individuals. There’s no way that a full-time teacher who blogs can complete with the Fordham Foundation or Michigan State University. They blog for a living.
The day after, however, I found out someone (don’t know who) nominated me for a Bammy Education Award in the Education Commentator / Blogger category. Sponsored by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences International, the Bammy Awards were created to help reverse the negative national narrative that dominates the education field. I’m up against top education bloggers in the country.
Maybe they could have captured my reaction when I found out the the CPS Board of Education, in their infinite wisdom, approved a $5 million dollar increase so the new central office location can get new furniture. I tweeted a picture of my flaking ceiling. A couple of days ago, something (the engineer tried to figure out what it was) leaked steadily from the ceiling. I’m on the second floor of a four-floor building so it wasn’t rain. A couple of years ago, pipes busted, the heat went out. Our A/C is questionable and I have paper covering 3 large windows that don’t have shades. The paper at least has clouds on it. A Twitter campaign ensued after the Board’s vote: #FurnitureFirst. The CPS slogan is “Students First.”
Or maybe they could have captured my conversation with a brilliant young woman, a junior who can definitely succeed at Harvard or Northwestern but doesn’t have the money to go and will struggle to pay for even a local college. We worked on her Quest Bridge scholarship application, which would give her a full ride—which she deserves. She talked to me about how she passed up the opportunity to apply for another competitive full scholarship because she didn’t think she’d get it. “Stop!” I told her. “Stop the self-defeating ideology. We do that too much as a community and too many Latinas do that to themselves. Stop.” I went on to tell her that if my 6-year-old daughter grows up to the the leader and writer she is, I will have done my job as a father.
That could have brought the show to report-card pick-up day. I wore the suit I bought myself for last year’s EWA conference, put on my shiny shoes, and wore my Cesar Chavez lapel pin. I could have told the story of how I used to wear cufflinks when I met with parents because the few pairs I have my father gave me. They were his. He came to this country as a farmworker, a bracero, and his experience opened the doors for me on National Public Radio as a commentator. But I didn’t wear the cufflinks this time. The shirt without French cuffs was already ironed. Then I could have mentioned that I iron my undershirt when I wear a suit because my mom always did this when we dressed up. She wanted us to look good and feel taken care of, no matter our families’ financial struggles. I could have talked about how I measure success differently because of situations like that.
Chicagoland could have captured the conversation I had with the 50-something-year-old dad of a senior student that day. My student, his son, is a smart kid but, like many teens, is losing focus senior year. He told me in Spanish, “I want my son to be more than I am.” I thought about my little boy. He’s eight. I feel the same way.
In the hallway recently, a student walked by me reeking of marijuana. Was he high? I don’t want to get caught up in today’s overprotective policies that coddle too many students, policies that took over the ones that easily pushed them out of schools before. So I called him back: “Hey, Man. Come ‘ere for a minute.”
Kid comes over, ear buds in, head down. “You can’t come to school smelling like weed.”
“I didn’t smoke weed. I smoked a cigarette,” the teen tells me. He pulls out a cigarette from his pocket.
“I’m not saying you smoked weed,” I responded. “I’m saying you reek of weed. You can’t come to school smelling like weed.” He didn’t know what to say. “Alright, get to class.”
The student and I say what’s up to each other in the hallway now. I haven’t gotten a whiff of any weed since.
I leave school after 5:00 p.m. usually. In the evenings, I sometimes drive by my mom and dad’s, honk, and my mom comes out with plastic containers of deliciousness so my family and I can eat well. My wife and I can’t always find time to go grocery shopping. “Does my dad need any meds?” I’ll ask. I’ll go to Target if he does. Which brings me to my highlight today!
I swear—I think one of the biggest education reporters in Chicago recognized me at Target tonight! I recognized her! I was in the aisle; she came around; I thought, “Is that ____?” She looked at me for a few seconds. I almost said something. She almost said something. Then—we both kept walking away. I was in a text conversation with a good friend: “Compadre! I think I just walked past ___ in a Target aisle!” I told him what he did. His text: “Hahaha.”
I need to grade classwork and enter grades. Tomorrow (well, today now) is that last day before spring break. At 11:00 p.m. I jumped on the treadmill. I got the idea to write this. Mark Konkol, one of the people behind Chicagoland, included me a retweet this evening—but not one of my tweets, someone’s else’s. But I think he knows my criticism of the show.
Tomorrow evening, I’m planning on having my 77-year-old dad over so we can sit by the fire pit, listen to norteño music, and drink bourbon whiskey. My life is good; it hasn’t always been this comfortable. My teaching job in CPS is demanding; it’s gotten harder since 1995–and it’s not going to get easier. But it’s real and my school’s hallways are mostly drama free. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make for good TV. Many colleagues, many residents have stories ignored by Chicagoland, which really isn’t about our whole city and really only, according to the billboards, tells three people’s stories. Our larger city, larger problems, complex situations remain ignored. In a tweet tonight, I said the show is designed to make our city’s gentrifiers feel “urban.”
I hear next week’s Chicagoland is supposed to “show some love” to Little Village, my old neighborhood that I said the producers forgot about in my last commentary. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll check Twitter. Maybe not. This native Chicagoan stopped watching Chicagoland two weeks ago.
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