Charlie and the Real Angels of Chicago

Todays post is dedicated to Charlie and the Real Angels of Chicago and all the other educators out there who sacrifice so much for the children who need the most.

All of you have probably heard of the female private investigation show, Charlie’s Angels from the 1970’s. Or maybe you saw the movie in the year 2000. Three trained police officers on assignment with an agency, putting themselves in dangerous situations to help those in need. This is the story of Charlie and the Real Angels of Chicago.

They met and formed a quick friendship at a rough school on the south  side of Chicago in the Fall of 2000. They were mostly new teachers at the school that year and were already living by the motto of “No Child Left Behind“, well before it became a well know phrase for fixing education. All of them taught middle to upper grade students, except one.

They coined the name after they went on a road trip to Schaumburg  one day after school. The occasion: a big name company that a friend worked for was closing an office. All items not taken would be sent to a Corporate America dumpster. For any teacher, this was a gold mine: free school supplies. More pounds of paper than all their weight combined, file folders, organizers, tape dispensers and enough boxes of staples to fill a small closet.

The name was suggested in fun, but little did they know that it would bind them together, impact their teaching and collaboration with one another and offer opportunities to break into a karate kick in the middle of the hallway. Charlie (the only male of the group) and his Angels were brought to life. They quickly called out their favorite Angel names: Jill, Kelly, Sabrina. Since their were 4 women, one Angel had to choose the name Kris, you know, the replacement Angel after Jill (Farah Fawcett)  left.

By day, these teachers tried to motivate their students, bring them up to grade level, explain things in their native language of Spanish and convince them that they could be somebody.  They were verbally assaulted by students and parents with words that are unfit for repeating here. They were always on the lookout for “Pelos Ellote”, who lurked around every corner, looking for ways to get the Angels in trouble.

Charlie, Sabrina, Kelly, Jill and Kris spent their money and time bringing dollar store trinkets and alley finds into their classrooms to make them more inviting, more enjoyable, and more engaging. They doled out tough love. They skated on roller-blades with students after school, gave out their home phone number and attended funeral services of their students’ relatives. They participated in committees and  got involved with after school programming.

For fun and to maintain their sanity, they called together The Meeting of the Minds. They tried to be clever with Secret Santa’s, Secret Shamrocks and Secret Missions.  They car-pooled to school jamming to Moby’s appropriately titled, “South Side“.

All of the Angels, except one, had tough upbringings. Once, while they sat around exchanging tales from their childhood, this one Angel realized she was the only one who had never eaten government cheese. She thought that coming from a divorced family with a dad who was often late on child support payments and had to shop at Kmart deserved some sympathy. Charlie and the real Angels told her she had no idea. Then they tried to one-up each other in their recollections of My childhood was so bad… Kind of like a Your Momma is so fat or ugly…… type of contest.

While they shared some of their most heart-wrenching stories, the faux Angel sat and thought. She should have known she was never really one of them.  She thought about how amazing it was that out of all the different careers they could have chosen, Charlie and his Angels all chose to be teachers. And what was even more incredible was that they chose to help the children who needed the most dedicated and understanding type of teacher. They chose a profession that gives back to those who need it the most.

Later, Charlie became a principal in a school that needed new leadership to help the students become successful despite the tremendous amount obstacles they faced each day. Jill went on to work with some of the most behavioral challenged students in the city. Sabrina has had the role of both principal and assistant principal and continues to work with the underprivileged. Kelly became a bilingual coördinator to assist students and families in understanding the educational placement and progress of children whose first language is Spanish.

Charlie and his Angels have put themselves on the front line every day. They have the difficult and nearly impossible job of educating students who often have many strikes against them before entering the classroom. They have seen their students arrested, had their vehicles vandalized and stolen, and thrown themselves into the middle of a fight to break it up. They have been spit upon, sworn at and attacked with scissors. They have called DCFS to protect their students and called the police to protect themselves. They have advocated on behalf of the ignorant and poorly educated. They have lent an ear, a shoulder and more when tearful confessions of accidental pregnancies spilled out of the lips of students.

Sabrina, Kelly, Jill and Charlie are four of the many unnamed  pillars of urban education  who have  the formidable task of preparing students for the future. Students that under other circumstances might fall through the cracks. But this isn’t a story of bad endings. Just like in the television show, some days and years have been more successful than others. Under the leadership of Charlie and Sabrina, and the support of Jill and other teachers, their school has shown remarkable improvement  not only in test scores, but in attitude. Now students show pride in their learning and are setting goals for their future. The school has earned awards. Kelly has had the great fortune of mentoring her students, watch them go off to college, earn  degrees in education and come back to work in the same environment they came from. And even better, acknowledging and thanking her for her support during the process.

So, what happened to Kris, the faux Angel? She left the south side to become a mother and write this blog, among other things. She remains in awe of the miracles that the Angels perform every day. She respects them immensely. She misses her adventures with the Angels and has fond memories  of carpools, secrets and trying to create positive changes one child at a time. She kind of misses those karate kicks, too!

Speaking of karate kicks,  if Charlie and the real Angels of Chicago were to meet those television starlets on the street, they would kick those bell bottom clad girls right on their butts.

The Strings of a Kite

2 Flow Form kites

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever met an amazing teacher before? They come in different shapes, sizes and colors, much like the intricate Lego kits that my son loves to build with. They have their own personality and teaching style, and it is electric.They come from all walks of life and when they become part of your life, you find that you will never be the same. 

Early on, my husband and I started noticing differences in our son. He was fascinated with spinning items. It began with fans, then came to include wheels. This led to inquiries about how things moved and worked. I still recall him at one and a half years old trying to communicate with the cashier at Dominick’s that the wheels on the bus go round and round, and of him laying on the floor exploring how a spatula spun around, instead of using it for pretend play. His interest in motion grew with a passion, as did his quick grasp of letters, sounds and words. He was an early reader and at times I wondered if he had a book stashed somewhere in my belly before he was born. On most mornings he is nowhere near to being ready for the day and not in the least  interested in anything other than the book in front of him.

This year he is finally in an environment where there are all sorts of children with  similar, intellectual abilities, interests and intense personalities. Although they are all working beyond their grade level, some are stronger in math or reading than others. Some show traits of perfectionism and are afraid to fail. Some of them get distracted easily, while others have a hard time with transitions because they are so focused on the task at hand. Many have asynchronous development, which means that their social and emotional development is not at the same level as their cognitive development.

This year, he has one of those amazing teachers. She understands all the quirks of these children. At times I cannot even describe how she does what she does in her classroom of 29 students. I have volunteered often and have seen her effortlessly manage behaviors, distractions, interruptions, and misunderstandings. She has multiple groups configured  by ability, personality, gender, table and compass direction. Her students are engaged in their learning environment.

Everyday, these children arrive, like little kites, ready to fly. She has 29 strings to manage. It can not be done well if she holds them too close to her for the entire day. She has to consider the classroom barometer to determine what type of weather her kites will be exposed to on any given day.  Then she must check for tears and properly woven strings before letting them go, up, up, up into the sky. Each day, she has to decide how much string to let out on each kite, and when to reel them in. She makes sure that the strings don’t get tangled up, or carried away towards  trees and wires. Some kites need to fly closer to the ground, while others show their need for  space and freedom with little tugs. Some need to be close to others or to her. Occasionally a kite can only stay so long in the sky, before it needs to come down.  She watches each uniquely designed kite, and marvels at the dips, swoops and dances that occur in the air and can’t help but smile as she witnesses the extraordinary potential of them all.