Open Letter to the St. Ignatius Community (Chicago)

Dear St. Ignatius Community,

I loved my students, my colleagues, and my work. Ignatius is one of those few schools where students crave learning and rarely require discipline. In particular, I was always struck by how students said “thank you” after every class. Ignatius is also one of those unique workplaces where employees can say they truly love their colleagues. I hope it is clear that I have shared what happened to me out of love for our school. Only by speaking truthfully and openly can our institution become a better version of itself. Thus, I would like to offer some suggestions for change:

· Our LGBT student group should be allowed to openly publicize in the school building and online. This will show our LGBT students that they matter just as much as all other students.

· Our non-discrimination policy for employees must be amended to cover sexual orientation and gender identity, which would demonstrate a true commitment to diversity and equal respect for all.

· Yet there must be mechanisms in place to ensure that this policy will be upheld. No administrator should be able to unilaterally fire a teacher. Ignatius could institute a panel that decides cases of faculty dismissals, composed of teachers voted on by the faculty, as well as administrators.

· Following recent discussions between the Administration and faculty, it would be helpful to have an impartial ombudsman present at any meetings, proceedings, etc. that involve employee discipline or termination. The ombudsman would have to have meaningful authority to be effective.

· Teachers are the people primarily responsible for passing on the Jesuit mission. Teachers need to have more say in drafting, implementing, and evaluating the school policies that affect them, from school finances to mission-related policy changes. This would help reduce miscommunication and distrust. Teachers, for example, could have more representation on various Board of Trustee committees. After all, robust “participation” is a key element of Catholic social teaching.

· As the right to organize is fundamental in the Church’s social teaching, Ignatius could further its own mission by allowing the formation of a labor union. The U.S. Catholic Bishops are clear: “No one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself. Therefore, we firmly oppose organized efforts, such as those regrettably now seen in this country, to break existing unions and prevent workers from organizing” (Economic Justice for All, 104). Additionally, the national Jesuit publication America recently carried an article supportive of unions in Catholic schools: http://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2016/10/27/catholic-schools-can-keep-out-teacher-unions-doesnt-mean-they-should

Constant pressure from alums and parents, and most importantly from donors, would get the ball rolling on changing the current school culture, one that allowed for me to be unjustly fired, and one that leaves other faculty and staff vulnerable in the future. I am not under any illusions about how difficult change will be, but I offer you one template for making a better Ignatius, an Ignatius more authentically centered around its mission.

To the beautiful people of the faculty and staff,

I will deeply miss you all. Working with you on a daily basis has led our lives to become intertwined, and I thank those of you who have reached out with kind words of encouragement and support, letting me know that the joy and excitement I have felt in getting to know you is mutual, as is the sorrow over this abrupt rupture. Serving our students and laboring alongside all of you has been a humbling experience. Thank you all for the wonderful memories we have created together, and for your love and support. Best wishes as you continue, in solidarity with one another, educating for justice.

To parents and guardians,

Thank you for having given me the chance to work with such excellent young minds and hearts and for partnering with me in their education. Your hard work in raising these students makes our (teachers’) jobs infinitely easier and more enjoyable. It’s been one of the greatest honors of my life to get to know and guide these young men and women. I cannot thank you enough for that opportunity.

To my students,

I have much to say to you, but more than anything I want to say thank you for having filled my time at Ignatius with laughter, intelligence, challenging questions, and the ability to accompany you in your high school journey. I will miss the many class periods we spent in insightful discussions about the sort of things that really matter in life, and that hopefully you’ll remember 5 or 10 or 30 years down the road, the sort of things that made me want to be a teacher in the first place. There were many times I wished the class period would never end, and I feel lucky to have been your teacher. I wish you all the best in the future.

To my seniors, I’d like to give you one last “gift”…homework! 😝 Each year past, our class has read aloud “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” by Marina Keegan. Marina was a bright undergrad who could craft an essay with the skill of a seasoned writer, yet capture all the angst and life of just beginning adulthood. Tragically, she was killed in a car accident shortly after graduation, but she lives on in her inspiring writing. Please give it a read: http://yaledailynews.com/blog/2011/09/30/even-artichokes-have-doubts/

On the very last day of school, I have traditionally played a commencement address given by J.K. Rowling in 2008. Please hear in what she says everything I wish for you, only articulated far more elegantly and with far more wit than I could ever hope to muster. What she says ties in to many of our lessons throughout the year. Listen for how she speaks to you, right now. Maybe listen to her again in a year or two, and once again around this time in four years. There’s more magic in this one speech than in all of Harry Potter!

J.K. Rowling’s address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHGqp8lz36c

With gratitude, my undying affection, and best wishes for the future,

Mr. T

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