Bill Curtin

By now, most readers probably know Kankakee High School teacher John Donovan has been fired for his use of a racial slur in class last week. I’m glad this horrible incident was resolved quickly — but it didn’t have to happen.

I taught English at Kankakee High School for six years, where I helped my students share the pride they felt for their city in our Letterman gazebo project. Their work showcased Kankakee at its best. But even as we shared the good we saw in Kankakee, we knew we were working against racist perceptions of our city, our school and our students.

Unfortunately, not all of those perceptions came from outside the school. While the vast majority of those I worked with at KHS loved their students and went above and beyond to lift them up, I also knew some teachers who thought it was fine to share casually racist comments.

Bill Curtin is a National Board Certified Teacher who taught English at Kankakee High School from 2009 to 2015 and was the recipient of the 2015 Daily Journal Progress Award for Innovation in Education. He now serves as policy manager for Teach Plus Illinois, where he leads a fellowship that empowers teachers to take leadership over key policy issues that advance equity, opportunity and student success.

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