From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Student Teachers

Monday, October 13, 2014

Student Teaching - Week #7

by Rogelia Pena - Cooper Dual Language Academy

For most of my life, teaching was off my radar. However, when I was a junior in high school I started working as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher at an institute in Venezuela. Since I needed to earn some money, I figured that I could use my English language skills to do so. After being hired and trained for a few months, I got my first classroom full of 8 to 12 year old children. However, it was when I taught middle schoolers from the poorest area of my city that I fell in love with teaching. These students taught me more about the world than the English grammar I taught them. They opened my eyes toward poverty, cultural oppression, socioeconomic issues, social-emotional learning, social inequalities, and about the severe educational gaps that affect all of the above. I realized that I may not be able to feed all the poor, but that I could do something through education. This is why my career choice goes well beyond liking kids.  I believe that education can empower minorities and the oppressed.

The first art event I attended through Chicago Semester consisted of a documentary about homelessness in Chicago. I still can’t believe there are about 15,000 children registered as homeless (students in temporary living situations) in the Chicago Public Schools. In the video there was a teacher who became an advocate for one of her homeless students. She also enabled him to connect with literature heroes and stories that resonated with him. Because of her guidance, he was also able to go to college. I think that a lot of social changes start with education, which is why I feel honored to become a teacher.
LaCasa roommates
In order to do so, and to get certified to teach in the state of Illinois, I need to submit and pass a summative assessment that contains video clips of my teaching, samples of students' work, lesson plans, and about 20 pages of commentaries (most of it logically linked to educational theorists and research). As a student teacher, I not only spend about 2 hours preparing lesson plans everyday (after teaching for eight hours), but I also work on my certification project, attend a night class, constantly communicate with other teachers, parents, and students, and I spend about 4 hours grading (weekly) while I pretend to watch TV with my roommates. Do I get a lot of free time after work? No. Do I have lots and lots of energy after 3pm?  No. Do I get to explore the city of Chicago every day?  No. Is all of this work fun?  Not always. Is it all worth it?  DEFINITELY!  The world needs ambassadors of God’s love and freedom, and I think it starts with committed and passionate educators.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Student Teaching - Fall 2014

by Rogelia Pena - Cooper Dual Language Academy

I clearly remember one of my Judson professors asking my class, “Honestly guys, when could you ever afford to live in Chicago’s Gold Coast if it is not through this program?” I won’t deny that living in the city sounded very tempting when I heard about the Chicago Semester Program (CS). However, after talking to one of the CS representatives about what my teaching experience would be like in the city, I was more than convinced that I wanted to do the Chicago Semester Program during the fall semester of my senior year. A CS representative told me that in the city I would find diverse students with urban problems…just what I wanted!
My name is Rogelia Pena, and I am an international student from Caracas, Venezuela. Even though I have been in the U.S. for over three years now, I have not fully adapted to living here. Something was just not right. At first, I did not know what it was. I mean, my native language is not English but language is not necessarily a barrier for me. I know my family is far away, but I have never felt lonely here either. Judson University’s international community has given me a very special place to belong to. What was it then? Then it hit me: I simply missed the city life too much. Judson is great, but it is still located in the suburbs. In the city, I have met people that have very different cultural, religious, and political backgrounds. But we are still in the same boat: we all experience urban problems and yet we are in awe of the hidden secrets that the city embraces. The Chicago Semester Program exposes young adults like me to this paradoxical reality of the city (specifically Chicago).
Cooper Dual Language Academy
As a student teacher who believes that education has a great impact in social issues, I chose to student teach in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), which is a very challenging school districts. It is the third largest school district in the nation, as well as one of the most diverse. Since my concentration is on English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual education, I was placed at Cooper Elementary Dual Language Academy, a school with a student population that is over 95% Hispanic. I am in a 4th grade bilingual classroom, and I am teaching Language Arts and Science. Even though the students are very limited in their English proficiency, they have rich cultural backgrounds. I look forward to getting to know them more, and I can’t wait to start teaching them full–time in a few weeks.
By the way, I decided to live right across the street from the school at La Casa, an awesome building for college students located right in the heart of the Pilsen neighborhood. I am not living in the fancy Gold Coast neighborhood like I originally wanted. However, every day I am grateful for choosing Pilsen whenever I meet a friendly neighbor in the street, get some fresh bread at the bakery, or stand in front of a colorful mural. There is so much to do and see in this rich neighborhood!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

End of Semester Thoughts...

Blair, Krissa, Rita, Erin & Drew
Imagine that an education major from your college is considering student teaching at Chicago Semester.  Consider what you would tell that person in order to encourage him/her to apply to Chicago Semester. 

Blair Berhow-Goll, Central College, Secondary Education

The most enjoyable part about Chicago Semester was the kids. Honestly, I look at the student’s I have gotten to work with, and I praise the Lord that He placed me with them. I loved loving them. I loved teaching them. I loved joking with them. I loved learning how to interact with students from different backgrounds and lifestyles than my own. Teaching in small-town Midwest, simply wouldn’t have given me the same experiences and joys.

I have learned so much about myself while teaching here. I know I can handle inner-city students. I know that I can teach. Walking into this experience, I felt like a child. I remember saying, there is absolutely no way I am ready for this, no way I know enough, no way I am strong enough, no way I am prepared enough. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Nearly 4 years of a college education will prepare you for teaching. I learned the strength and power I have inside of a classroom. I have the power to put students at ease or to stress them out.

Chicago is one of the most sublime experiences you will have, if you choose to teach here. It is all that sublime implies; beautifully inspiring. With the people, buildings, lifestyle, culture, neighborhoods, and students I can imagine it to be very hard to be disappointed with a decision to be here.

Rita Clousing, Calvin College, Elementary Education

Student teaching through the Chicago Semester is a GREAT experience. It’s not easy, but it gives you an honest perspective as to what it is like to teach full time in an urban setting. I found that this semester is a great transition between college and “real life”, which has been nice. Living in the city is so fun, as there is always so much to do in culturally diverse settings that aren’t available elsewhere. This semester will challenge you and push you to grow as an individual and as a teacher. My experience in CPS left me confident of my teaching abilities, and the kind of teacher I want to be. Come to Chicago. Experience the city, meet some incredible children, and make some new friends. I’m so grateful for my experience here in Chicago!

Krissa Hetletvedt, Northwestern College, Elementary Education

What I enjoyed most about my student teaching experience through Chicago Semester were the kids. Kids are kids no matter where you are, but the kids at this school were extra special to me. I loved working with these kids because they came from backgrounds and cultures that are so different from my own. They taught me something new everyday! What I have learned about myself for my future career as a teacher is that I have the desire to teach kids that really need that support, stability, and love that they might not be getting at home. I would definitely recommend participating in the student teaching program through Chicago Semester. I believe that I will be a better teacher because of my teaching experience in Chicago.

Erin Schrupp, Bethel University, Elementary Education

When coming to Chicago Semester, I was nervous about being in a big city with a whole bunch of people I didn’t know. My family wasn’t here, I didn’t have any friends here, and I felt I was starting my life over in a way. But I never realized that the classroom I was placed in and the cooperating teacher I was placed with, would become my “family”.

My classroom becoming my family has been what I have enjoyed most about the Chicago Semester experience. Being a part of something greater than myself has always humbled me and filled me with joy. I enjoyed traveling on the “L” and taking the bus to my school MOST days. I enjoyed this overall experience of really delving into the city in a new light and daring to try new things I never would have back home. I have tried a whole bunch of different cuisines and have seen different sights that I never would have expected to see. I’ve been blessed with two of the greatest roommates I could have been placed with during this time who have comforted me and have also challenged me. I absolutely adored this whole experience and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Student teaching in Chicago has taught me a lot about myself. I came here and had two options: I could remain the same old Erin I was back home, or I could be someone completely different if I really wanted to. I decided to just be myself and see where it took me. I realize that since coming here, I’m a lot stronger than I once was. I’m not talking physically strong (although walking everywhere every day has increased my cardio) I’m talking mentally and spiritually strong. When I came here, I hated being alone and I struggled with traveling by myself everywhere or every single day. No one was here to really hang out with me and I felt lonely a lot of times. I continued to struggle through this with the Lord as He always proved faithful and gave me peace. There was one day where I was over by Lake Michigan and I finally felt content exactly where I was. I felt OK with being alone and traveling alone. It has made me more independent and I am very thankful because of that.

In regards to my students, they have taught me more than I ever could have taught them. They’ve taught me what it’s like to say you’re sorry when you know you’ve wronged someone, that you should love the life you’re living even if you’re just making a paper airplane, and that hugs really can go a long way when someone needs one. They’ve taught me what it really means to love without judging someone and to not be afraid of who I am because who I am is perfect and exactly who I’m supposed to be. My students have made me a better-rounded individual and for that I am extremely grateful. If it wasn’t for them, my eyes wouldn’t have been opened to all the silliness and fun opportunities I’ve had in Chicago thus far. I whole-heartedly love my students and I honestly don’t know what I’ll do without them.

Drew LeGendre, University of Mount Union, Middle School

Personally, I understand all of the reasons that students choose not to student teach in Chicago.  Making my decision, I was giving up spending my senior year on campus with my friends; I was leaving an environment I was comfortable with, and leaving a school system I was familiar with.  I was going to live in a city I was unfamiliar with, a city classified as “dangerous”, and the third biggest city in the country.

After completing my student teaching in Chicago, I do not regret a single thing about my decision. With Chicago Semester, I have enjoyed most experience the transition between college and the real world.  Not only am I working a full time job, but I am living in the real world, which is not surrounded by a college campus or town.  I have learned so many things that will help prepare me for my future, and being on my own. 
From Chicago Semester, I have learned that I am ready for all that life past college will throw at me.  I learned how to react to students directing their anger and frustration towards me.  I learned how to write a unit lesson plan, and to teach it in a three week period. I have learned how to take a shower, drink two cups of coffee, eat breakfast, get dressed, and remember to bring everything for school in 45 minutes.   I have learned to take my family and friends to see the sights of Chicago, and experience all the city has to offer. I have learned how to prepare students for exams that will determine what high school they will attend and if they will have to stay for summer school.  

I have learned how to buy a homeless man a dinner, and shake his hand when he is crying out of happiness.   Living and teaching in Chicago has transitioned me from being a student to being a professional, and being a positive person, both inside and outside of the classroom.  I would encourage every student to step outside of their comfort zone, and experience living and teaching in Chicago.  Every person will learn and gain something different, but at the end of it, you are guaranteed to come out prepared for anything the future might throw at you.