Jebba Biddle-White

Fiske teachers pose for a photo during the 2019 strike.

Jebba Biddle-White, front left with red hat, and her colleagues during the 2019 strike.

CTU delegate and Fiske Elementary math teacher Jebba Biddle-White took a circuitous route to teaching. But, thinking back, she said, she always knew education was the field for her.

“As a child, I remember asking for a chalkboard for Christmas and using it to play teacher with my older brother. I was always trying to teach him something,” she said. “And then I felt like I wanted to return to my neighborhood and give the students there the same kind of quality education I received when I was young.”

Born in Englewood and raised in Woodlawn, Biddle-White is CPS through and through, attending three different elementary schools. She attended Beale, which is now Nicholson, for preschool, Dulles for kindergarten through sixth grade, and McCosh, which is now Emmett Till, for middle school, before graduating from Hyde Park Career Academy High School.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in finance from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she worked as a personal banker and then at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. While married and pregnant with her first son, Biddle-White earned an MBA from the Keller Graduate School of Management. Feeling like there was something missing in her career, she went back to school when she was pregnant with her second son and received her second masters degree, in education, from Roosevelt University. Her math and science endorsements are from the University of Chicago.

“I had phenomenal teachers that shaped me as a young person,” she said. “I wanted students to see that, to understand that just because you’re from Englewood or Woodlawn, it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. Look at me.”

She began her career in CPS in 2005 and joined the CTU as soon as she could. “I was always for the union because I trusted they would make the right decisions for us,” she said. She joined the Fiske staff, which was Sexton Elementary at the time, in the beginning of the  2012 school year, before the historic CTU strike. She acknowledges the 2012 strike was challenging. It was the first CTU strike in 25 years and members didn’t really know what to expect.

Then came  the devastating school closings that Mayor Rahm Emanuel imposed in 2013. Sexton became a “welcoming” school —  after Emanuel closed Fiske and 49 other schools —  and moved into the Fiske building. “That was a hard transition for us and so sad for the families. There were conflicts between the different groups of students, but we managed to get things right and become one,” she said. “We focused a lot on school culture — things like peace circles to bring the students together.”

She stepped up to serve as Fiske delegate in 2015 because she felt she could be of service to her colleagues.

“I like being a leader,” Biddle-White said. “I like learning new things and sharing that information with others. That’s so important, especially during a strike when you have to stay strong for your people.”

Biddle-White has taught a range of subjects in CPS, but it is obvious that her real love is math. The favorite part of her job is showing students multiple ways to solve problems.

“When I was taught math, there was only one way to solve the problem,” she said. “When I show students multiple strategies to solve problems and give them a choice to select the strategy that works best for them, they are elated, it’s like a light bulb going off. I love to see the amazement on their faces.”

She is dedicated to her Fiske students and wants them to be critical thinkers and risk takers. But she also loved spending this past summer teaching math at her old elementary school because “it felt like home.”

In her free time, Biddle-White loves spending time with her sons, one of whom is 18 and a current student at Morehouse College, and the older 23-year-old, a graduate of Marquette University. She also adores cooking, baking, shopping, traveling and attending plays at the Goodman Theatre.

She might have taken a roundabout path to education, but she ended up right where she belongs.

“When I walk into my classroom in the morning, I present good vibes, I put a smile on my face, leave my problems, if any, at the door and concentrate on my students,” she said. “I truly love teaching.”