My last day at the Noble Network was Thursday, March 1st. I first came to Noble in the summer of 2016 to teach history to South Side 10th graders at Hansberry College Prep. I didn’t come to teach to a test, or lecture a bunch of bored teenagers, or demand rote memorization on historical topics that had no tangible connections to my students’ lives. What’s more, I most certainly did not come to police the bodies of young people of color—and nag and harass them and impose petty restrictions on their appearance, to value obedience over comfort in their own persons, or to issue demerits for speaking out when all they desired were answers to their relevant, inquisitive questions. I came to teach that history, and the actions of people and groups in the past, has a direct impact on the structures and institutions that we find ourselves embedded in today. More particularly, I wanted my students to look at that past through a multifaceted and critical lens of race and politics, civic engagement, and relationships of power. I wanted them feel empowered in their own selves and challenge the place that others would assert is theirs in the world. Unfortunately, the more time I spent enmeshed in Noble’s strict and unforgiving system of rules—and the countless number of bright and energetic minds that I lost to this system, pushed out because of fabricated ‘discipline’ issues—the more I realized that these goals were simply unattainable in that environment. To the Ronnies, Logans, Ottros, Kevins, Khalils, and Isaiahs—and the many other young men you represent—who were all done a true disservice by this system: Know that the ‘problems’ and ‘issues’ you encountered at every turn in your high school careers at Noble were inherent to the institution, and not to any of you.
Just as good leadership should be collaborative and not dictatorial, so too should good education. Education is messy. It is challenging. It is loud. Education requires a foundation of respect between student and teacher, teacher and administration that is by and large absent throughout the Noble Network. The administration may preach a of message of love and respect for its students and staff, but its actions fall far short of that mark. It is also worth noting that their message is persistently one of ‘tough’ love and ‘high standards’, but where is the emphasis on love as joy? As support? As ally? High standards are great, and teenagers often depend on hearing ‘no’ and your providing direction though murky decisions. However, that ‘no’ should never be a constant and we cannot consider ourselves as advocates of our children if we do any of this absent of flexibility, humor, and care.
The day I left was an emotionally brutal day because I love my students—and more importantly, and as I sincerely felt on that day and have since, they adore and respect and trust me as their educator as well. One young man, Joshua Helm, currently a Junior whom I’ve known for 2 years posted the following to his social media account: That as an educator I showed him “that if you do things the right way, you can untap the potential of the most unmotivated kids in school. [That] when everyone else [in the school] wrote him and his friends off as lazy troublemakers…I pulled out every bit of effort and potential they had to offer.” Another, Emerald Arrington, a sophomore, had this to say: My classroom was the “ONLY…learning environment [that] was a place where she could be herself and exceed in everything that she pursues.” And finally, Ashanti Sanni, also a sophomore, applauded the rigor in my classroom, stating that the material we covered in class was “astonishing because her older sister is only just now coming across it in college.”
I want it to be clear. I am a good educator, and there is almost nothing than I value more in this world than my relationships with my kids. It has been a privilege and a gift to be able to see them develop as young people, and I could not be prouder of the fact that my respect and love for them was readily apparent to each and every one of them.
All of this brings us to the (obvious) question, then, of ‘why leave’? To be blunt, I left Noble because I could no longer stomach feeling unvalued and untrusted by the administration and the network, and hampered in my ability to provide an environment in which my students could thrive.
Prior to joining Noble, I taught for 5 years at the University of Chicago, while receiving my doctorate. Concurrent with a heavy teaching load I also ran the youth programming at a small non-profit on the South Side that served approximately 200 youth, between the ages of 8-18. In this capacity, I worked directly with at-risk kids in an after school tutoring program, through intern and externship placements, in one-on-one evaluations for vocational skills and aptitude, and in college preparation (both preparing them for standardized tests and aiding them in their college applications). Despite the 5 years of teaching experience at the 3rd ranked university in the U.S. (and 9th internationally), the 5 years of direct youth work and outreach, and possessing the highest achievable degree in my field, Noble flatly rejected these experiences as relevant and applicable to their payscale—and instead deemed that my expertise and background were valuless, and equivalent to ‘zero years experience’—a decision which they only managed to inform me of 3 weeks after the payscale had already put into action. When I inquired as to the specifics of this blatantly insulting offer, the compensation team then kicked the can down the road for an additional two weeks in which I received neither timely email responses, nor meeting times that I requested to discuss the matter further. Institutionally, Noble may place a great deal of emphasis on getting its students into college—but apparently does not value the type of education they receive once there.
When I informed my principal of the reasons behind my leaving Hansberry, she not only justified the payscale non-offer, but then had me supervised by three administrators and another teacher for the entirety of each of my classes for my last day. An awkward, intrusive presence that I can’t help but feel was even more awkward for those external individuals required to sit through the tears and emotions and pretend to watch disinterestedly. I have never felt less trusted and respected in my capacity as an educator than on the day that I was babysat in my own classroom for 6 hours. I have received 100% on every culture audit during the 2017-18 school year and the insinuation that I am some unpredictable, loose canon, or could be endangering my students so as to require direct supervision, is both ludicrous and lacking in all metrics and merit. When my fellow teachers found out about this supervisory intrusion, they universally denounced it—and also expressed little surprise at such a unilateral and punitive move. I feel confident in saying that if teachers had a voice at any of our campuses, my experience would be neither expected, nor accepted.
Noble needs a Union because teachers need to feel respected, valued and trusted in the work that they do. Leadership and education are collaborative endeavors, and they require trust and respect on each side. The policies that Noble enforces on its staff, students, and communities are not equitable because they do not represent the voices of those populations in a meaningful, substantive, or concrete way. Noble designed and implemented a payscale without transparency or formal outlets for staff input, and as a result it does not adequately account for teacher experience or equally recognize the work of our paras, facilities workers, office staff, or culture team. My experience, though potentially an outlier because of credentials, is surely not an anomaly in the dismissive manner which Noble treats much of its staff and their service to our kids. Noble constantly demands that teachers are to trust their administrators, yet they fail to show us that trust in return. A union would allow teacher and staff voices to be heard, teacher autonomy to be respected, and teacher expertise to be valued. Without those things, your network will continue to be a revolving door for educators and the students will suffer the most for it.
I left Noble because I want my students to see that you should never accept a situation that undermines your value or questions your worth. I have no doubt that you all will go on to do brilliant things in this world. Never settle for less than you deserve.