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The whisper in your sighs

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January 24th, 2016

06:00 pm
Another student has survived getting shot. This is our third student this year; one student was shot on his way to school. My students know countless others who have been shot -- some have survived and some have not. The toll this takes on our students, on our school community, cannot be underestimated.

I am sad. I am angry.

Systems of oppression that have operated in our country for hundreds of years have resulted in neighborhoods like the one in which I work and the one in which my students live: http://chicagoist.com/2013/05/02/chicago_dangerous_neighborhoods.php. In my eight years teaching in AG, I have watched and experienced the indifference of the fire department, the contempt of the police department, the incompetence of DCFS, the neglect of streets & sanitation, the disregard of the mayor(s), and the inequities in our school system. I have watched my students treated like intruders in museums. I have seen a black male math teacher be mistaken as a gym teacher and our college counselor called a security guard. I hear politicians and talking heads and people I know (and even people I love) say that my students are somehow at fault for the state of their lives, that victims of violence somehow deserve it. The big and the small examples of inequality all have an impact.

There is no place else I would rather be. The violence is what makes the news, but there are so many good things that happen in AG and at our school. Our students are incredible - brilliant, loving, forgiving, motivated, thoughtful, and resilient. There is nothing else I would rather do. I believe that education changes lives.

I pray that no other student gets hurt. I steel myself for reality.

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October 24th, 2012

07:39 pm - Reason 1,000,000 why I love my job
I have a student, Thomas, who I first taught in 7th grade. In 7th grade, he was immature and goofy, but a sweet kid. He was clearly very talented at math, although he wasn't very focused in school. His older brother was in 8th grade, and he was a major behavior issue (drugs, fights, etc.) and he eventually got expelled. Thomas' older brother later that year was arrested and convicted of attempted murder. He is currently serving a fifteen year sentence in jail.

I then moved up from the middle school to the high school in my building. Thomas became a high school student at my school, and so I put him in my class again for 9th grade Algebra, because I knew he was a great kid, but struggled with behavior with some teachers. At the beginning of his 9th grade year, he missed weeks and weeks of school. Desperate to get this amazing kid to school, I reached out to one of his former teachers who I noticed was his facebook friend (I don't friend students on facebook). I asked her if she could reach out to him to get him to come to school. She did, and he started attending school more regularly, but he ended up failing three classes, missed 30+ days of school and had to repeat his freshmen year. He wasn't sure if he was going to come back the next year because he was embarrased to repeat, but we convinced him to stay.

His second year at freshmen year was better, although not stellar. His behavior improved, but he continued to not complete homework consistently, and still did not do very well on assessments. He would try to stay after school to complete work because his home is so chaotic that he cannot concenrate, but then one day he got jumped and robbed, and he no longer stayed. He made it through his freshmen year, but it was not a resounding success.

He is now a sophomore. He came in this year very focused and has stayed after school with us EVERY SINGLE DAY. He has been engaged in class. The first quarter just ended, and his GPA is a 3.5 -- which qualifies him for Dean's list. He is one of the top performing students in the class.

Every time I look at his GPA, I want to cry with happiness. His life continues to be challenging, but he has demonstrated such resiliency, and I can see his future. He can go to college, get out of Chicago, and change the lives of his family. The trajectory of his life has changed. I can only pray (even though I am not religious nor do I believe in God) that he does well.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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September 15th, 2012

01:00 pm
Sometimes, it's hard to process my days at work. Everything moves quickly, and every moment with a student can be a moment that changes the course of a life. This is nothing novel, but some days I am just hit with the overwhelming battles some of my kids face every day. The chaos at home. The danger in the community. The perceptions others have of them. I will never give up on the work that I do, but it's been the kind of week that makes me understand why some leave. A quick recap:

1. On Sunday night, a student in my ADL texted me and said she was tired with life and wanted to give up. She has said sort of similar things before, but it sounded a little alarming, so I tried calling her. She did not pick up. She texted back and said she did not want to talk and that she was going to end this one way or the other. I then called her house, hoping to let her grandma know what was going on, but no one picked up. I then called our social worker to ask what he thought I should do. He told me to tell her why those words were so concerning and to give her the suicide hotline number. I did and then she finally called me. I got a guarantee from her that she would not kill herself and that she would come to school the next morning. I tried to talk to grandma, but she was drunk. The next morning, she did indeed come to school and our social worker did a risk evaluation. A cause for this was that her family refused to pick her up from a friend's house, so she spent the weekend sleeping at other people's houses because she had no money to take the bus home. Finally, on Sunday a cousin picked her up and when she got home, everyone was drinking and smoking. She feels so unloved and it's really sad.

2. On Wednesday, I see one of my girls crying in the office. I asked her what happened and she's crying so hard, she can't speak. Finally, she tells me that both of her parents got arrested and that she doesn't know where she'll spend the night or how she'll take care of her three younger siblings alone. She hasn't showed up for the last two days, and I don't know where she is, and I can't get ahold of anyone. I hope she is ok.

3. Another student came in Thursday morning and said she needed to talk to me. I finished up meeting with a teacher and brought her into my office. She starts telling me a story, which essentially involves her dad, who was drunk, driving her over to her sister's house and then getting mad at her. He then started punching her in the head with a closed fist in the car and she was just asking, "Why are you doing this?" When they got home, he starting whipping her with a belt. At that point, she turned over her arm and showed me the welts. It was horrifying. She said there were more on her legs. She said her mom just stood and watched. She said after it was over, she went into her bedroom and cut herself. She then turned her other arm over to show me and started sobbing. All I could do was hold her and hold back my own tears. I explained to her that I would have to call DCFS, as I am a mandated reporter. She nodded sadly and said, "I have been involved with DCFS before, and last time it was unfounded. I know you have to call, but really, I just want to be emancipated because I know it won't help." I asked what DCFS has been called for last time, and she explained that her dad had been on drugs and dropped his phone in the toilet. She said he tried to dry the battery out by putting it in the toaster oven and the house caught on fire. Her little sister also said he touched her inappropriately, which she believes because he had done that to her older sister too. She said there wasn't enough evidence in either case, so nothing happened. She was afraid of going home once her dad knew she had told and DCFS would be called. I called DCFS because I had to (which was heartbreaking because I knew she was right, that nothing would happen and she would probably be in more danger after my call), and with the social worker, we made an elaborate plan to try to keep her safe. We called her older sister and aunt, and the sister agreed to pick her up and try to keep her at her house for the night. Then, our social worker called the parents just as school was letting out, to let them know we called DCFS and that she had gone home with her sister, because we can't legally send her somewhere else without her parents knowing. The next day, she thankfully came to school, but said her parents had forced her to go home. She said it was pretty bad. I am so outraged for her. I just wish I could take her home and give her a quiet, safe life. She is such an amazing kid. She is incredibly kind and thoughtful, she always has over a 3.5 GPA, and she got accepted into an amazing summer program at University of Chicago. If she can stay alive and get out of her house, she will be able to do great things. I just don't know if she'll make it, and there is nothing I can do to protect her. It makes me sick. I can't stop thinking about it.

All I can do is to teach and to try to be there for my kids. I can offer consistency and calm and educational opportunities, I can offer two meals a day and food to take home when they have nothing. But I cannot offer safety for more than 8 hours per day.

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June 16th, 2012

11:17 am - The day I met Obama
Well, last night was officially one of the coolest nights of my life. It went thus:

Jeff and I live on the same block as Obama, but the less-elite block. So, although our home is completely blocked off when Obama is in town and although we have to be on the secret service list to get in, he doesn't really come right down our street. He's been home a few times since he became president, and we've only caught glimpses of him -- his motorcade has driven past us a few times, we've seen him walking through our bedroom window, but nothing up close. We've tried to wait for him one or two times, but Jeff doesn't like waiting around, so it doesn't usually last for long.

Last night, we went to dinner at a delightful French bistro, and then headed back to Hyde Park to hang around and read books (a very exciting Friday night). As we got to 49th and Woodlawn, we were told to turn around by a secret service agent. Knowing this is the usual, we explained that we lived down the street and wanted to go home. Still, he told us we had to turn around, which was unusual. So, I turned around and parked the car on that block, figuring Jeff and I would just walk home and then get the car later. As we walked down the block a few houses, a harried secret service agent came out and asked us where we were going. We said home, and she asked if we would walk back with her to the corner because they had some "folks coming through." We figured those folks were the President and his family, so we happily obliged (besides, we were surrounded by people with guns. It's best to happily oblige all directions in such a situation). As we were standing on the corner, a friendly secret service agent came up to us and said, "Hello, I'm Darryl." We shook hands and said our names, and then the real reason for his friendliness was apparent -- he asked Jeff to keep his hands out of his pockets because "it makes the guys nervous." Right.

Then, suddenly, we spotted Obama and family down the block. He was in the road, slowly walking our way. He waved at us. We waved back. He then headed over to us and shook our hands! I said, "Welcome back to the neighborhood" and Michelle said what a lovely evening it was. She commented how they felt like regular people walking around the neighborhood, which was hilarious, because there was a line of armored vehicles following slowly behind them. We shook both of their hands, we talked for a little bit, and then they (and the youngest daughter) continued on their way.

We stood at the corner and exclaimed in excitement with the couple who was next to us during this encounter. Then, we slowly walked down the block the way he had. We stood across the street for a little while, until another secret service agent asked us where we lived because he said they wanted to clear the block. We explained that we lived a few blocks down on 51st and University, but that they had stopped us from walking and that our car was now on the same block as Obama, surrounded by armored SUVs. He said, "Oh! Well, if you don't mind, we can have an agent ride with you in the car to get you out of here." Jeff and I did not mind in the least. He asked us about drugs, if there were any needles he was going to sit on, or if we had a dog. Then, he waited for a signal, and we all got into the car. The president's entourage of vehicles moved aside for a little bit and we were able to roll slowly towards home with a secret service agent in my car.

Best. Night. Ever.

Oh, also, there is a clip on the ABC Chicago news site that clearly shows Jeff and I talking to Barack and Michelle.

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April 18th, 2012

08:09 pm - Things that I am doing right now
I am currently:
-Teaching two classes
-Coaching and evaluating 10 teachers
-Creating our master school schedule for next year
-Training for a half marathon in a week and a half
-Hiring teachers for next year
-Planning a wedding.

On the wedding front, we're pretty good, except we JUST realized this past weekend that we should probably have wedding bands or something. We are getting inscriptions that read "גם זה יעבור" (Jeff's) and "Et hoc transibit" (not quite historically accurate, but it will work). Parents + family don't know we're having a civil union instead of a marriage, which is just fine. We have clothes to wear, food to eat, hotel rooms to stay in, a person to take pictures, and music. Pretty much everything else is irrelvant.

On the job front, I still ridiculously love my job even though it irritates me sometimes. I just feel so lucky to work in a job that makes me feel challenged each and every day. I've had to become more self-reflective and self-aware, while also developing the ability to take on different roles and conjure up emotions to control the moods, opinions, and success of others.

I have the most amazing group of freshmen girls. Literally, they are amazing. They are resilient and strong and brilliant and flawed and funny and thoughtful and sweet. We have been the advisory in the school with the highest average GPA for two quarters straight -- that is despite freshmen not having the opportunity to take AP courses for 5.0 credit. Last week was the 16th birthday of Moesha, who is a struggling student. She has missed over 30 days of school, begs me to buy her a deadbolt for her bedroom so that her MOM and brothers don't smoke in her room, and is severely overweight. Without prompting, one girl in my advisory brought cupcakes for the entire class in honor of her birthday, even though they aren't particularly close. The look on Moesha's face was priceless. I don't know if anyone has ever done anything so thoughtful. It was so inspriring and I felt like I was going to cry from the thoughtfulness. We all sang happy birthday and Moesha smiled and smiled and it was beautiful.

My girls have the best sense of humor. They are social activists. We had an amazing conversation about the Trayvon Martin case.

My girls will change the trajectory and future of their families' lives. They may change the world.

Watch out for these girls.
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful

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February 14th, 2012

06:36 pm - In loco parentis
"My son" got a pass to go to the bathroom. Instead, he stops in my office and says, "Mama, I mastered my objective! I got a 23/24." Yes, this boy who also gang bangs in his free time, stopped by to tell me he got a 96% on his assessment and called me mama. I have the best job in the world.

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December 22nd, 2011

09:38 pm - Race hits me in the face...
It's the day before winter break, and I had two conversations today that made me realize (once again) that my students are struggling with race everyday:

Conversation #1:
Aaliyah: "Ms. Eggert, will you adopt me?"
Me: "Why do you want to adopt me?"
Aaliyah: "I want to be white."
Me: "Why?"
Aaliyah: sighs. "I just want to know what it feels like."

Conversation #2: 112th and Cottage Grove. I drove Korsica and her gifts donated to her family from E &Y to her home.
Me; "Do you want me to help you carry the presents up, or do you want to make two trips?"
Korsica: Pauses. "Are you sure? You're not scared?"
Me: "Why would I be scared?"
Korsica: "well...it's a black neighborhood."

The attitudes my students have towards themselves makes me cry. I assured Korsica that I was not afraid because I was in a black neighborhood, and I helped her carry her things up to her home. It was dark. No one was home.
Current Mood: drunkdrunk

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December 7th, 2011

08:26 pm
My life is an experience in dichotomies. The gaps. The difference between me and them. I see my kids, and I remember my childhood, and I ache for them. I see the rage, the sadness, the confusion, and I wonder what they would be like if they lived at 7 Harvard Lane. I wonder what they would be like if their parents sat them down at a desk every night in a quiet room to do homework.

I had every opportunity in the world, and the world hates my kids...and it's not their fault. They make bad decisions, but they are kids. I made bad decisions, but it was ok -- my environment was such that I was never going to fail. Not really. I get sick as I read comments on blogs, or on news sites, or on TV when people talk about my kids. They don't know. Don't say their unmotivated, don't say they are slow. They are better than I ever was.

6% of African American males in Chicago Public Schools go to college. 6%. It disgusts me, it makes me feel desperate, it empowers me, it drives me forward. I work 70-90 hours per week because I know my students deserve more. I know they can do more. I believe in the power of education. I can't imagine doing anything else with my life. This is my passion, and I may not talk about anything else, but little else matters to me. These are my kids. James Madison. Quintis. Christina. Thomas. Aleah. Cornell. Ronnie. Lateef. Tevin. Devon. Trayvon. Aaliyah. Erica.

Quiet desperation. I see it every day. Loud defiance. I fight it every day. I wish everyone could spend some time at my school, so that they could understand.
Current Mood: Passionate

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October 1st, 2011

08:54 pm - My kids are cuter than your kids.
One of the students I taught in 7th grade, Kina, was reported missing by the Chicago Tribune last night...I hope she is ok. She is one of the students I was never able to really reach. I didn't change her life trajectory. She ended up in foster care because she was being raped by her half brother...and now she is missing. I gave her rides home...I talked to her after school...I tried to motivate her...I called DCFS three times for her...and now she is missing.

My life has been so incredibly busy that I don't have time to breathe. Still, I love my job, and I can't imagine doing anything else. Every day, I feel like I have the opportunity to make a life change. Everything I say to a student could be remembered forever (or not at all, obviously).

We just had our first round of standarized testing for the year. It is my job to organize it, and it went pretty damn smoothly. I had another teacher test my advisory (a lovely group of girls), and she had them write gratitude cards. Here is a sampling of what I received (along with a few others from other classes):

"I would like to thank Ms. Eggert for making sure ehr advisory was o.k. when she had so much hard work to eb done. Thanks! Much Love, Nala."
"I would like to thank you, Ms. Eggert!!! For always making sure everything is alright and that I am in a good mood and a positive mindset...Love, Teanna."
"Ms Eggert, for always being positive and staying with a smile. From: AuJanee"
"Dear Ms. Eggert, Thank you for helping prepare us for the explore and helping me with my grades. Sincerely, Khila"
"From: Aleah. I <3 you. Thanks, Ms. Eggert, for being the best teacher I ever had and striving to do what's best for me & etc."
"Ms. Eggert, I just want to say thank you for always believin in me and the other students. It feels awesome to have the 2nd highest GPA. :) Thank you for everything you have done that made me a better student!!!"
"Mrs. Eggert: For being Kind, Caring, Funny, Smart."
"Hi, Ms. Eggert, you're a great ADL and Agile Mind teacher. You help me in the areas I'm struggling in and let me know what I need to do. I'm very glad to have you as a teacher, and glad I have no one else but you. Thank you! P.S. Shekinah"
"Dear Ms. Eggert, Thank you for being a wonderful ADL teacher. Truly, Deja"
"Dear Ms. Eggert, Thank you for keeping me on track. And always being there for me. I appreciate it a lot! From, Tiffany."
"Dear Ms. Eggert, I want to thank you for being there for me and helping me whenever I needed it. Thank you. Love, Yasmine."
"Thank you, Ms. Eggert, for helping me out this week. I seriously would have forgotten everything if it wasn't for you. Laquisha"
"To Ms. Eggert, I just want to thank you for helping me when I'm in ADL, I also want to thank you for answering my questions when I need help! Miracle"
"Dear Ms. Eggert, I would like to thank you for preparing my schedule. Also for taking the time out to help me. You are a kind woman, and I look forward to having a good year with you."
"I wanna thank Ms. Eggert for being helpful and showing me how to life a discipline life. And letting me know responsibility isn't gonna be that hard all the time."
"Dear Ms. Eggert, Thank you for letting me put my belongings in your office for the last week. I really appreciate it. Sincerely, Thomas."
"Ms. Eggert, Thanks a lot for helping me out on my math when other teachers were busy. I miss you as my teacher. And I'm pretty sure the freshmens love you! Love, Jazmine."
"Thank you!!! <3 <3 <3 Thank you, Ms. Eggert, Thank you for being an awesome ADL teacher and always understanding whenever I'm late for not having my ID. Thank you for making all of your directions so clear so that I understand and do all my work correctly. Also, thank you for being TOTALLY AWESOME!"
"Thank you Miss Eggert for helping me to become better. From, Tristian"

Phrases I now commonly use because of students:
-Leave out (as in "I'm going to leave out my house soon")
-Stays with or stay on (as in, "I stay with a smile" or "I stay on that math")
-Been doing/been done (as in "I been done with that.")
-Thirsty (as in "You thirsty to get your grade report)
-Stay (as in "I stay in Hyde Park" instead of saying, "I live in Hyde Park)
-What you on? (meaning, "What are you doing?")

I work incredibly hard. 70+ hours per week. But I can't imagine anything else being more meanginful. I stay on this teaching stuff.
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

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June 12th, 2011

09:43 pm
I am done with my fourth year of teaching, first year of instructional leadee. Every year, I love my job more. My kids were great this year; some of the students I had in 7th grade, I had again as freshmen.

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