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Teacher Under Construction: What In The World Are You Doing, CPS?

Yesterday I received a text that made my heart sink and made me absolutely sick to my stomach.


Yesterday in Chicago, over 2,000 teachers were laid off–as if closing 53 elementary schools wasn’t enough of a draconian and heartless action enough to impose on the Chicago community. To take it even further, they have not only fired 2,000+ qualified teachers, but have the nerve to hire 100 people (I have yet to feel comfortable calling Teach for America corp members teachers) who have 5 weeks of training to replace these empty spots instead.

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Xian was one of the 2,000+ teachers who were laid off. I met Xian about a year ago for the first time. Since then, he has continued to serve as a mentor and inspiration who has continuously challenged me to think critically about not only issues in education, but what it means to be a teacher. Xian proved to me not only with his words, but in his actions, that fighting for justice for our students cannot and should not only exist inside our school walls, but out in the streets, too.

Xian at the CEJ/PEAC Social Justice Schools Conference (Photo Credit: Robert Skeels)

Xian at the CEJ/PEAC Social Justice Schools Conference
(Photo Credit: Robert Skeels)


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Xian at CPS Head Quarters Protesting School Closings (Photo Credit: Sarah-Ji Fotógrafa)

Xian at CPS Head Quarters Protesting School Closings
(Photo Credit: Sarah-Ji Fotógrafa)



Xian at 3-Day March Against CPS School Closings
(Photo Credit: Sarah-Ji Fotógrafa)

People often ask me how I want to be a teacher when I see what’s happening to public education and the profession. It’s teachers like Xian who show me reasons why. When you see something you love getting attacked, you don’t run away and hide in fear. No, you stand up and fight like hell to protect it.

Teachers like Xian have inspired me to have that perspective on the profession. And this is why I am outraged, and so heartbroken to hear that he was one of the teachers who were pink-slipped. While Xian has proven to be so committed and dedicated to the profession and his students, he is being fired and replaced by teachers with little experience, and are only in it for the short-run of 2 years. I know hearts across the country who have been lucky to meet, know, and work with Xian are breaking knowing how many youth won’t get the chance to call Mr. Barrett their teacher.

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Oh, and did I mention that CPS didn’t tell him directly that he was laid off? Nope. You know what they did? They called his mom to tell him he’s been fired (you seriously can’t make this stuff up!).


This is why we must fight. We can’t stay silent in times like these, where clear injustices are being forced upon so many innocent teachers, youth, and families. I have a feeling that Xian isn’t the only one-of-a-kind educator out their in Chicago who was laid off.

But, with all of this being said, I don’t feel a sense of hopelessness or defeat.

I know that the Chicago Teachers Union, the parents, the students, and all the community members being affected are not going to take this lying down. I know that hell is going to be risen, and the fight will be bigger than ever.



This is another devastating blow to Chicago, but I know in times of attack and struggle, evolves both individual and collective strength. My heart goes out again to everyone in Chicago being affected, and know that so many of us, in Chicago and thousands of miles away, are ready to fight like hell and stand in solidarity with you all.

I write this post because it’s important that we remember that whether it’s 20 or 2,000 teachers laid off, these teachers are not numbers. We cannot let them go down being remembered that way. In times like these, I think we can easily forget that each of these 2,000 teachers are individuals. Individuals who went into this profession with dreams as big as future teachers like me have, with high hopes and dreams of giving their students the world.

This is not how their professional career should end. The work and passion they put into their career and for their students should not be forgotten by a pink sheet of paper.

Thank you Xian, and all the 2,000+ teachers for everything you’ve done for not only your students, but for the rest of us around the  country keeping hope because of your strength. Stay strong and stay brave.

“This isn’t just Chicago’s fight, this is the fight.”


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Stephanie Rivera

Stephanie Rivera is a student at Rutgers University. She is a future teacher and educational equity activist. ...