My Neighborhood Was Terrorized by Police Raids But It Was the Teachers Who Kept Us Safe

Most years, I celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week with smiles and maybe a nice card for my daughter’s teacher. This year, I’m appreciating the teachers in my neighborhood on a whole different level. Around 4 a.m. last Friday morning, in an alley in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent was shot in the face. ATF has been in my neighborhood lately in an effort to stem the flow of illegal guns that have killed so many people, including young neighbors I knew and loved. It is difficult, dangerous work and my prayers go out to the wounded agent. But less than 12 hours later, ATF and the Chicago Police Department responded by raiding blocks in the area where the agent was shot. At nearby Lara Elementary, the lights went out just before school dismissal. When students walked home, they found decommissioned military tanks filling the street. Police set off flashbang explosives, jumped fences and raided homes. An 8-year-old girl was among dozens of children and young people who witnessed the police action. As she tearfully told ABC 7 in Chicago, “Police came and started shooting bombs at people’s houses.” By Tuesday, a young man turned himself in and was charged. Given that the evidence against him was captured on police cameras, it is unclear to me what role, if any, the raids actually played in finding the suspect. But there’s no doubt in my mind the police activity eroded trust in a neighborhood where confidence in police is already weak. The side effect may easily be that dozens of young people will turn against the police. If that doesn’t happen, it will be thanks to older youth, clergy, community members and teachers in the neighborhood. They are the ones who are here to pick up the pieces when other institutions, especially the police, fail us.

Teachers Send the Message “We Are Not Afraid”

Local teachers got to work quickly to support their students. Over last weekend, Lara teachers planned a warm welcome back to school. On Monday morning, teachers met their students outside the building, handing out ribbons in the school colors (red and gray). Inside, teachers took their cues from their students. While some teachers carved out time to listen to students who needed an ear right away, either in classroom conversation or one-to-one, others kept the day’s routine as normal as possible to give their students the opportunity to take their minds off the situation. But the overall message was clear. “We are here for them and we are not afraid of being in the neighborhood,” explained Patty Hernandez, a middle school English teacher at Lara.

Top Draft Pick

Speaking of teacher appreciation, if I were playing Fantasy Faculty Football, Patty Hernandez would be one of my top draft picks. She’s a National Board Certified English teacher, fluent in Spanish and expert in teaching English-learners. In her so-called “off hours,” she and I serve together on the Bilingual Advisory Council at Namaste Charter School, where we are both parents. She’s the president—I just do what she says. Having gotten to know Patty better over the last year or so, I can say a few things with confidence:
  • If you want a teacher who knows some good books for your kids, she has them.
  • If you’re a kid who needs support, she’s got just the right mix of know-how, caring and push to help you move forward.
  • If you’re an adult in a crisis, she’s the calm, grounded voice who will help you find your way out.
As the kids and families in my neighborhood begin the process of recovering from the trauma of recent events, Patty and teachers like her in Back of the Yards will be key resources to help them develop resilience. This Teacher Appreciation Week, I’m more grateful to them than ever for how they sustain my neighborhood.
Maureen Kelleher
Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Director at Future Ed. She was formerly Editorial Partner at Ed Post and is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an ...

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