I’m looking back on my old posts in Facebook from over ten years ago and finding interesting snippets, some of which seem increasingly relevant as we see the continuing attack on teachers who devote themselves to guiding students not only in subject matters but in life. For many of my students, their most consistent contact with a reliable adult was in school, in my English class. Some parents had to work two, three, four jobs. Some ended up deported while their children stayed back. Some had parents in jail or who had deprioritized their children. No matter what the reason, my transformation from a teacher of English into a teacher of students changed me forever, and I began writing critiques of the education system. This was risky, and it still is, if you are still a teacher in certain systems. Your private posts on Facebook could land you in hot water with administration. Your critique of education policy could be construed as unprofessional badmouthing of your boss (particularly since in Chicago, the head of the school system is the mayor — so even any well-founded critique of the mayor on any policy could be interpreted as “slamming the boss”).
I can’t find copies of my old zine project, either in paper or electronic form. There are remnants of articles here and there, and I still have my etsy store set up from years ago when people paid for a copy of my activist writing. There is also a page I found where my zine is listed as available for purchase (from 2007!). Even in the age of online writing, there is still a thriving (albeit shrinking) zine culture out there.
Here is what I wrote 10 years ago about my then-anonymous project called Lion in a Teacup:
When I first began this zine project, I did it mostly out of a feeling of obligation to myself. My experiences with teaching high schoolers brought out so many latent emotions in me, and the only way I know how to handle deep emotion is to write it all out. My decision to publish my reflections came as a result of feeling the direct impact of the latest assaults on public education and the clients this system is meant to serve, i.e., the students.
Many of us currently teaching are afraid to share our feelings about our jobs. People who write about teaching are often considered traitors. I believe this is because people who have the time to write about teaching have long since retired from the profession. There is a long line of people who have won accolades about their teaching careers through distinguished narrative storytelling yet they only spent one, two, or three years teaching before they realized how awful it is “in the trenches” before escaping for a nice desk job or a freelance writing job in the suburbs. Therefore, people writing these pieces are deemed outsiders and unqualified to write any kinds of reflections on the system, at least according to those people still working “in the trenches.”
I always intended the second issue of Lion in a Teacup to focus on the neighborhood of Logan Square, the recent subject of a Chicago Tribune article highlighting the stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor. Right as I started to work on one of several articles about my experiences here, an unfortunate event occurred at the school. After a triumphant visit by the CEO of our school system in which he congratulated us for our accomplishments, he passed along the announcement that our school is one of nine schools slated for a complete overhaul due to our history of “chronic failure.” The details of the complete overhaul are a bit shady, but we are told the overhaul could include serious job cuts, elimination of programs not deemed “college preparatory” (goodbye drafting, woodshop, and auto shop), and limited teacher discretion in curriculum and planning considerations.
In the midst of this disheartening and demoralizing announcement, the first copy of Lion in a Teacup was officially published. Instead of having most of my copies sent to people outside the teaching profession, I found some of my closest teacher friends eager to read the zine. Several told me how wonderful it was to read something positive and compassionate about teaching; one teacher even confided in me that the only reason she came to school one day instead of taking a personal day was because she read one of my reflections and realized how important her presence in the classroom was to some of these kids.
The reflection, unfortunately, ends there. I don’t know why I chose to stop and I wonder what else I would have said the importance of connecting and writing about teaching in general. I probably would have said that my purpose in writing the zine changed from what I envisioned as educational activism into an affirmation to the teaching community that its members were not alone, that we are all feeling some of the same emotions and simply didn’t have time to share everything.