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As Chicago Teacher Strike Looms, I Celebrate a Great Lesson

I did it. Yesterday I publicly revealed my blog to my students. I set up the LCD projector and taught the Smiley-Face Trick of "Repetition for Effect" using my post about my second-grade Ms. White, who wrote me off.

All four of my writing classes applauded at the end of the lesson. It was the greatest joy to share my writing as mentor text for my students. Before I could start, however, a student from each class advised me to revise my bio because I'm no longer a science teacher. They also told me to get rid of my outdated photo—my hair is much longer now and I've since gotten new glasses.

"Jeez, can we talk about writing now?" I had to ask them.

They were totally captivated by the fact that their writing teacher is actually a professional writer. It made me think about what Kelly Gallagher said in his professional development book Write Like This: "When students understand the real-world purposes for writing (instead of simply writing to meet the next school requirement) they begin to internalize the relevance of writing, and more important, they develop an understanding that writing is an important skill to carry into adulthood. When students begin to understand this relevance, their writing improves."

I am all the more encouraged to bring more "real-world" writing opportunities to students, as well as expose them to my own writing victories and struggles. Because of my blog post, they all want to read the two books I self-published when I was in the 7th and 8th grades.

After school yesterday, I overheard one of my students tell his P.E. teacher, "Ms Rhames is the best writing teacher ever!" I know that's far from the truth, but it warmed my heart to know that my lesson using the post on Ms. White inspired him to love writing class. Unfortunately, now all the students want me to take off my glasses so they can look into my eyes (You have to read the post to understand).

While I celebrated a spectacular writing lesson, I was also a bit sad.

I thought about all the wonderful lessons and impactful learning that more than 400,000 students in Chicago—some 85 percent of them low-income black and Hispanic students—won't be getting if there is a teachers strike. Yesterday was the first day of school for most of the Chicago Public Schools, and September 10 is the day teachers in the district plan to go on strike if their union contract is not settled.

I am a charter school teacher and my children go to a charter school, so a teachers union strike will not directly affect me or my family. Still, I am deeply concerned as an educator and parent.

With the homicide rate breaking records in Chicago, the last place students need to be during the school day is at home or outside in the neighborhood. There is a contingency plan in place to feed kids and house them in a few open schools and park district locations for half a day, but many students will just skip that until school starts back.

I am not taking sides. I have learned in my years as an educator that pointing fingers looks unprofessional and is rarely, if ever, productive. I agree that teachers have not been treated respectfully and fairly. I also agree that the district needs to manage its $665 million deficit responsibly and that educational reforms are necessary. Most of all, I believe that under no circumstances should already disadvantaged students be locked out of school. If they are, kids will be the ultimate loser in this labor dispute.

So while I celebrate a great day of teaching and learning at my charter school, I'm praying that the same will be true for every teacher and student in Chicago next week.

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