Part Four: This Is Why I Kept Teaching
SCHOOLS | May 28, 2021
Part Four: This Is Why I Kept Teaching

This is the fourth and final part of a year-long blog series. Readers have been following Ms. Petrizzo, Mr. Spangler, and Ms. Griffin throughout the year to learn how they connect with and inspire their students. Read part one, part two, and part three

Last September, we introduced you to three CPS educators who were about to begin their most uncertain school year ever. At the time, they were all teaching from home but remained committed to providing the same enthusiasm and support on display in their classrooms. 

Now, eight months later, they are back at Plamondon, Daley, and Fenger to close out the year in a more familiar environment with the students who have made everything worthwhile. And, in the spirit of change, each of them is moving in a different direction in the fall—one is staying in their current role, one is taking on a new role at their current school, and one is taking on a new role at a new school. 

Here is what they will take away from all the challenges, successes, and frequent problem solving from the past year.

Ms. Lauren Griffin says you’ll have to drag her away from Plamondon Elementary kicking and screaming before she gives up her role as music teacher. Over the past year, one of the biggest challenges she faced was keeping her older students engaged and participating. So, when she presented an idea for a talent show, her expectations weren’t very high, especially for her students who were still fully remote. 

Then, something amazing happened. One of her shyest eighth-grade girls submitted a makeup tutorial. One student went to the park and recorded himself showing off his soccer skills. Another played the piano—Ms. Griffin didn’t even know they had a piano at home. Her takeaway from that experience is that everything will work out in the end, and, if it hasn’t worked itself out, it’s not the end. 

“This is the first year that I’ve gotten so many emails from parents, and it has really made this year worth it to know that they like what I’m doing,” she said. “One grandma told me that she could tell how much I care about students because I was so patient with her grandson, and that he always talks about what he did in music class.”

Ms. Danielle Petrizzo and her students at Daley Academy are closing out the school year with a variety of fun activities like a figurative language game show and measuring angles with protractors. She describes the past quarter as “refreshing” now that a majority of her students are back in the classroom. Ending the year with a greater sense of normalcy is especially meaningful because this is her final quarter as a classroom teacher; she’ll be Daley’s new instructional coach in the fall. 

In her new role, she’s looking forward to expanding her work as a Multi-Classroom Leader with kindergarten through second-grade teachers to now helping teachers school-wide. Ultimately, she sees this as an important step toward her goal of becoming a CPS principal within the next decade. Reflecting on all that she’s learned and experienced this year, she would encourage a new diverse learner teacher to focus on the small wins above anything else. 

“Ending on a positive note is really important for my classroom both socially-emotionally and culturally,” she said. “With my students, we’re going to be comparing ‘September Me’ versus ‘June Me’ to help them see how far they came and all they accomplished despite the chaos.”

At Fenger High School, Mr. Jake Spangler and his students are using a familiar approach that has guided learning this year—exploring themes of identity and social justice through reading novels and comparing them to other forms of media. Some of his students are reading Monster by Walter Dean Myers and comparing it to its recent movie adaptation. They’ll also be participating in story exchanges where they assume the roles of characters in the novel and write a narrative from their perspectives. 

This is Mr. Spangler’s final year at Fenger, as he’ll be transitioning to a new role at Chicago Vocational Career Academy, another southside high school, that will allow him to pursue his passion for special education. On top of that, he’s joined the district’s Transformative Teaching Cohort to foster new relationships with his fellow educators. 

Despite all the unknowns, complexities, and changes of the past year, Mr. Spangler, Ms. Petrizzo and Ms. Griffin have rediscovered that their passion comes from a source that is actually quite simple. 

“With the year coming to a close, it’s important that we give a big shout out to the students because I couldn’t have made it through this year without them,” said Mr. Spangler. “Being a teacher takes two parts: you can put your all into a job, and I’m going to do that, but it wouldn’t feel worth it without the kids.”