Column: ‘Dream jobs’ are a myth, and Janice Jackson’s departure from Chicago Public Schools confirms it

Column: ‘Dream jobs’ are a myth, and Janice Jackson’s departure from Chicago Public Schools confirms it
Dahleen Glanton, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read

Most of us, from time to time, have thought about our dream job. How wonderful it would be to have a profession that not only gives you great pleasure and a feeling of accomplishment, but also pays enough to live a comfortable life.

Perhaps when you were younger, you dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, an engineer, a pilot, a Broadway performer or a dolphin trainer at SeaWorld. Our ideas about our dream job can change over time. Maybe a professional house sitter in Bora Bora or a flavor guru for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is more appealing now.

When she was a young teacher at South Shore High School, Janice Jackson dreamed of something much bigger than overseeing a classroom. Her dream job was to be CEO of Chicago Public Schools. She worked her way up the ranks to get the job in 2018.

“How many people get to really say they have a dream and you actually accomplish it? Let’s just think about that, a dream job,” Jackson said Monday as she announced that she is leaving her dream job when her contract expires next month.

“I know when I was younger, everybody I grew up with wanted to go into the NBA or rap or do this or do that. You don’t always get that opportunity. I was a weird teacher. I wanted to be the CEO.”

Jackson has decided to leave her dream job after just three years. That seems to confirm something many of us learned a long time ago: Dream jobs are a myth.

Sometimes we figure it out for ourselves. Sometimes we have to be pushed. Jackson got a swift kick from the Chicago Teachers Union.

The problem with any dream situation — a dream house, a dream car or a dream relationship — is that it inevitably proves to be imperfect. It often takes a great deal of sacrifice to obtain it, but once you have it, you might realize that way too much work is required to maintain it.

Jackson, 43, indicated that her dream job was forcing her to take too much time away from her family. Ultimately, she had to decide what was more important — her children or the job. That was a nice way of saying that she’s had enough.


Columns are opinion content that reflect the views of the writers.


A year after she took over, Jackson had to deal with a nasty teachers strike, and the threat of another is always looming. Now, CPS is struggling to get back on track after the COVID-19 pandemic forced teachers and students away from the classroom.

The transition back to normalcy will be difficult, and Jackson could not depend on the teachers union to make it easier. She also works for an overbearing mayor who has a toxic relationship with the teachers union.

The union doesn’t think either of them is capable of the job. In February, its House of Delegates issued a no-confidence vote for Jackson and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

In the end, Jackson’s dream job clearly wasn’t what she thought it would be. At some point, most of us come to realize that. Though we might be lucky enough to have a job we love, the dream job exists only in our imagination.

There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming about the possibilities, though. The idea of someday getting our dream job is what provides some students the incentive to stay up all night cramming for exams. The prospect of working toward that dream job is what allows some people in the meantime to toil for years on a job they hate.

I never considered journalism as my dream job. I’ve often thought that I missed my true calling to be a teacher. Then, I sink back into the career I’ve carved for myself and realize how lucky I am to have a job I really enjoy. That’s the next best thing.

There are downsides to every job. It’s possible that Jackson’s dream job was much more challenging than she thought it would be. From a teacher’s perspective, the CEO’s job might have looked like a field of open opportunities — mostly missed ones.

A dedicated teacher who works with children every day knows exactly what students need to succeed and dreams of how much more could be done if the classroom resources were available. Jackson clearly took that vision to the CEO job.

She cited her achievements during her short tenure — higher graduation rates and increased college enrollments. She oversaw the largest capital investment in CPS history and prioritized long-neglected communities on the South and West sides.

But Chicago is a troubled city, and unresolved issues from the communities flow into the schools. Many other good ideas from Jackson’s five-year plan likely will languish now. Once again, Chicago schoolchildren will end up paying the highest price.

Certainly, no one can blame Jackson for deciding it was time to leave. It was inevitable that she would realize one day that her dream job was a fantasy.

For the sake of our children, we wish it had taken longer for reality to set in.

Twitter @dahleeng