The essay topic was “How to become a better man.”
B.H., my student at Consuella B. York High School, located in Cook County’s largest juvenile detention facility, wrote: “Finish school.”
My students live in Division Nine, home to the most serious juvenile offenders. Many of them are at great risk of causing harm – to themselves, their communities, and our city. I know they will be at greater risk if I fail to help them achieve the same goal B.H. set for himself.
My job—to educate these students, provide them with the information and tools they need to succeed, and help them get on a better life path—is a responsibility shared by my colleagues in classrooms across Chicago. Whether our classroom is in a jail, a district-run school or a charter school, we meet every student “where they are” on their first day of class and then create a personalized education to move them forward.
And yet, even though we fulfill this important role for students and society, I don’t often get to share ideas with others on how to improve our schools. That is why I take every opportunity to ask people who care about public education to invest in meaningful growth opportunities for educators like me. We need access to each other and ongoing support from partners to grow as professionals.
This summer, I saw the impact of those kinds of investments when my colleagues and I participated in the Summer Design Program. This opportunity, facilitated by the Chicago Public Education Fund, brought together 120 teachers and principals from 40 schools across the city. I worked with educators from my school, other schools, and experts in areas like technology and innovation to identify a challenge, and design a solution.
At York, our challenge was simple. How do we use our new computers to help students learn more at a quicker pace?
Creating a teacher exchange program
Through the Summer Design Program process, I took my unit on memoirs and created opportunities to do just that. Students will narrate their memoirs in PowerPoint and add images to their story to create an interactive presentation. This new approach will help my students learn writing and presentation skills, and gain computer skills that they need in today’s world. This use of technology will also allow me to spend more one-on-one time with each of them.
Chicago needs more opportunities like this for educators like me.
What if we created an exchange program? In Elizabeth Green’s new book: “Building a Better Teacher,” she writes that educators in Japan have subject matter experts and observe each other teach. I would love to learn from my colleagues in other schools.
What about a fellowship for teachers to open their own schools? Spend a year helping the best teachers in Chicago build the school of their dreams, and connecting them with the resources they need to make it great.
Technology is capable of helping all teachers personalize instruction at new levels. Is there a way for nonprofits to support district efforts to create a more technology-literate educator workforce? What if we partnered with the experts from across the country to build a certification program? It could start at a few schools, and expand based on demand.
These ideas range from big to small, but one thing is for sure—they would make a difference to teachers like me and to the students we serve.
This school year, I will find new ways to get B.H., and all of my students, to learn. I hope Chicago will find new ways to help educators like me to grow as well.
John Boggs is a National Board Certified English Language Arts teacher at Consuella B. York Alternative High School. York is located in Cook County’s juvenile detention center.