ENGLEWOOD — Sharon Eskridge was 38 years old when she decided to become a teacher after hearing negative statements about black children on the radio.
"I would always hear how black kids could not learn. And I would say to myself, 'That's not true.' So that's when I decided to go back to school to get my master's," said Eskridge, who lives in Ashburn, but is a native of Englewood.
She graduated from DePaul University, and for the last 14 years, she has worked as an elementary-school teacher. The last two have been at Earle STEM Elementary School, 2040 W. 62nd St., as a language arts teacher for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
Previously, she was a teacher at Victor Herbert Elementary School on the West Side, where she met Ketesha Melendez, a math specialist at the time and is now the principal of Earle. Eskridge decided to leave Herbert so she could work for Melendez.
"She is an excellent principal, and I thought my teaching practice could skyrocket under her leadership," said Eskridge, whose mother is a former library assistant at William Harper High School and whose father has owned George's Barbershop in Englewood for the last 50 years.
Eskridge said she "love[s] the fact that I now work in the neighborhood where I grew up."
While violence has plagued Englewood for decades, Eskridge doesn't let that bother her.
"I do worry about my students getting home safely after school, but I do not dwell on that too much," she said. "I guess because I grew up here and I know Englewood is not this bad place everybody makes it out to be."
Some students come from unstable homes and as a result have behavior problems at school, Eskridge said. But she said that is when having a good relationship with students come in handy.
"I have had kids curse at me, and the key is not to yell at them because they may hear that all the time out on the street," Eskridge said. "But if I come to them in a positive way then there's a greater chance they will turn themselves around and act right."
Eskridge said she was always inquisitive and originally wanted to be a TV journalist. But after getting married, Eskridge said she got off track and did not pursue her dream.
But Eskridge goes out of her way to stay in touch with her students after they graduate from elementary school. Recently she gave one former student a birthday card and said she also attends their sporting events.
"I love them and they love me," an excited Eskridge said.
One downside to the job is teachers often spend their own money on supplies. While Eskridge gets reimbursed for up to $250, per the Chicago Teachers Union contract, it's often not enough.
"After that, you are on your own. One thing I can say about Mrs. Melendez, is that she will try to reimburse me. Right now I want my eighth graders to read, "To Kill a Mocking Bird." And I plan to buy copies for students out my pocket," said Eskridge.
Chicago Public Schools closed dozens of underutilized schools this year, including Elaine Goodlow, whose building is now occupied by Earle.
Eskridge said she was stunned by the teacher lay-offs. Had she been laid off last school year, she would have pursued another teaching position "because I like teaching black kids. I find them to be very intelligent. I have fun with them. I can challenge them and they meet challenges head on."
While Eskridge said she someday would like to become a principal or assistant principal, she would be perfectly happy if she ends up retiring as a teacher.