Wednesday, January 04, 2006

One Phone Call

Today, my school received a phone call from ACS (Administration for Child Services) that one of my students was going to be removed from his home. I cannot go into great detail about why this was so horrible (beyond the obvious, of course) but this student's school social worker called ACS back and saved this student from what would have effectively ended any chance of his "making it" in life. The decision to remove the child from the home was made based on incorrect information, was never reviewed by more than one person, and was reversed at the very last possible moment by the school social worker with whom I work.

As I'm reading back over that first paragraph, I am appalled. It is ridiculous that I cannot give details about the horrible things taking place within the systems of public services (i.e. ACS, public schools, public housing, welfare...) It is absurd that I would never dream of sharing the address of this blog with anyone I work with because from time to time I mention the occurences within my school. And even when I do mention them, I provide such little detail that nothing is gained from reading about it.

If you read the blogs of other teachers, you'll find that they go to great lengths to maintain anonymity. Are we afraid that people may become outraged at some of the situations our students are dealing with? Because in my experience that outrage never occurs. People may be shocked or hungry for more "crazy stories," but they are almost never outraged. If only I could get up a little more courage (and a little less fear about the miniscule possibility of losing my job) maybe we could insight some outrage that would turn into action.

Over the Christmas break, my mother and I were laughing about how intent I was on saving the world during college. After the aforementioned vaguely described incident, one student verbalizing that he wanted to commit suicide, and another student crying that he was scared to go back to live in his old house, I would settle for being able to save one kid from falling through the cracks. I love my job, I love my students, but I am do not love the feelings of helplessness that can arise on days such as this when you have become a part of such a warped system.


"Ms. Cornelius" said...

We hide our identities so that we can talk honestly about situations we face without violating anyone's privacy or any laws.

We also maintain our anonymity because, in case people haven't been paying attention lately, there is no right to privacy at work, and our right to speak as we want is also none-too-secure. People have been fired from their jobs for blogs they wrote on their private time. Coach Brown had a little trouble a few months ago when his blog was connected to him at his school, and he is very circumspect for the most part.

If you look through the edusphere, there are people who have blogs about education who have spent little or no time with students! They have no idea what a life spent devoted to education means and what it's like in a classroom. The others of us fill that void by discussing our experiences as well as policy.

Michelle said...

Confidentiality binds our hands quite tightly. It is unfortunate that the very same policies that are set up to "protect" kids can also interfere or cause damage if there don't happen to be hyper-vigilant adults nearby.

Thank goodness that the social worker was able to get that train-wreck-about-to-happen stopped before it derailed.

What you all do is VITAL and makes differences in the lives of children!

Keep up the great work!

Gary said...

Please Michelle, continue to be outraged by the "system" and try to find the courage to speak up, to speak out. I'm into my 29th year of teaching in the Chicago Public Schools. During my early years I was quite silent, probably afraid to speak out, afraid of losing my job. Somewhere in the middle of my career, I began to feel more secure with myself as a professional and became more outspoken, filed union grievances when my rights were flagrantly violated, and began to stand up for myself. My experience with my colleagues is that as outraged as they may be by our working conditions, many grumble but it's barely perceptible, and rarely do they speak loud enough to be heard.

I filed a health and safety grievance the year massive construction work began in and on our building. There was asbestos abatement, tuckpointing, tarring, and construction of an elevator to be in compliance with the handicap access law. Because of the politics of how the budget is handled and how contracts must be bid, the work began in September as we were returning to school. I was working on a Masters in Environmental Studies, so when many students and colleagues began to experience daily headaches and respiratory problems, I began to realize we were now in a "sick" building.

Absolutely no one spoke up, except me. I challenged the contractors, our building engineer, and our principal (who didn't want to lose the $1 million of work) to stop the work or change the hours so it would begin after 2pm. To make a long story short, I filed a union grievance, as well as contacting Illinois Dept. of Labor, which cited the school for several violations. My colleagues thanked me, but not a single one would sign anything (to protest the work while we were trying to teach), but narratives that I collected about what illnesses they felt each day.

Teachers are maligned, but forced to wear more hats than anyone else in the work force. We are underpaid and most of us are afraid to stand up for our rights. We won't confront administrators, parents, students, or ourselves.

We deal with many students whose home life is so deplorable that you want to take them home and care for them. Social agencies have been decimated since Regan's presidency, so those that do help are as overburdened and under-resourced as we are. But as either you or someone who commented stated, we help kids one at a time, because someone has to. Several of my colleagues and I have taken a kid in for a night or two to keep the kid off the street for the night. Of course we could have lost our jobs, but sometimes you just make a decision based on what's in your heart and then pray that it doesn't bite you in your butt.