A former teacher weighs in on teaching and learning conditions at a Chicago charter school…
Editor’s note: A few weeks ago, I ran a post by Urban Prep teacher Dave Woo about why he and his colleagues at a Chicago charter school are organizing a union. Teachers at the school will vote on June 3rd on whether they want to be part of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff. In the meantime, Urban Prep administrators are making the case that having a union is antithetical to the charter’s mission—which, according to one former teacher, appears to be *promoting the Urban Prep brand with an eye towards national expansion.* The teacher, whose testimony I’m sharing here, urges all of us to stand with his former Urban Prep colleagues.
I am a former Urban Prep teacher and colleague of Dave Woo’s. Every word he says is true. Urban Prep’s slogan is *we believe.* I know for a fact that the teachers I worked with believe in their students and dedicate long, hard hours to providing them with the best possible educational experience, the administrators who operate Urban Prep seem to believe in promoting their brand with an eye toward national expansion; providing themselves with palatial offices across the street from the Trump Tower; maintaining a posse of lobbyists and consultants; and paying themselves six figure salaries.
Meanwhile, primarily young and inexperienced teachers struggle to deliver a rigorous college preparatory curriculum without computers, without projectors, without textbooks and frequently, without the paper required to make copies. Teachers are forced to purchase these items with their own personal funds, or solicit donations on such websites as DonorsChoose.org (until Tim King personally banned educators from utilizing the site, once he learned many of us were doing so).
The working conditions I experienced at Urban Prep were the worst of my career, which has been spent entirely in the inner city.
The working conditions I experienced at Urban Prep were the worst of my career, which has been spent entirely in the inner city. I used my personal resources to make copies because Urban Prep would not purchase sufficient amounts of paper; I brought my personal laptop to school since a computer was not provided; lessons came from the Internet because no textbooks were purchased. Like all Urban Prep teachers, I was frequently forced to give up at least one of my two *prep* periods – time I needed to grade, tutor students in need of extra help, and eat my own lunch – to substitute for my colleagues who were absent. The reason? Urban Prep, with its $70,000 staff retreat and $250,000 downtown office space, claimed it could not afford to hire substitute teachers.
While students attempt to prepare for college without books or computers (let alone a research based curriculum that would truly help to close the gap between themselves and their more affluent peers), and teachers attempt to deliver lessons without paper (while also going without lunch), Mr. Tim King pays himself six figures and enjoys spectacular views from his office across from the Trump Tower. Yet somehow, nobody is supposed to have this information. We’re all supposed to swallow the mythology that Mr. King is the benevolent Pied Piper of Chicago’s African American adolescent male population. If that were true, each of the three Urban Prep campuses would have resources to rival affluent suburban districts. But instead, Mr. King has an awesome downtown office to throw poker parties for his rich friends, and the teachers and students of Urban Prep work and learn in a very typical inner city environment devoid of paper, textbooks, and rigor.
If any charter school in Chicago needs a union it’s Urban Prep. I stand with my former colleagues and encourage all teachers, everywhere, to do the same.