From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Student Teachers

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fall 2014 - Final Thoughts

Haley, Hannah, Shelby, Rachelle, Rogelia, and Brianne
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. 

Shelby Carmichael – University of Mount Union
Chicago Semester is a decision I will never regret. If I could, I would recommend it to every single student who is devoted and eager to evolve into an amazing teacher as well as grow personally. Chicago Semester gave me the opportunity to live in the heart of Chicago and get involved within the city. I enjoyed experiencing the variety of cultures that Chicago has to offer, whether it be just speaking to different people, going to festivals and of course, my favorite, the food experience.

Through student teaching in Chicago I learned accountability for myself, how to deal with situation involving students that I had never dealt with in Ohio.  I became much more independent as well as confident while doing my student teaching. I’ve learned to voice my opinion but also how to sit back and take in the concerns of others. Student teaching in Chicago made me grow as an individual in my faith as well as in the classroom as a teacher.

Rachelle Cole – Northwestern College
I understand why some people may be hesitant about choosing Chicago Semester for their student teaching.  You would be giving up (possibly) your last semester on a college campus with friends, moving to a huge city full of unknown, the “scary” stories of students in Chicago Public Schools.  For my mom, it was the fact that I was going to be living in such a dangerous city, where statistics say your chance of becoming a victim of crime is 1 in 99 (yes, my mom looked it up).  However, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything else.

What I’ve enjoyed the most about this experience has been the times that I’ve spent in the classroom.  I remember coming into this experience telling myself, “I am in no way prepared for this.  I don’t know how I’m going to handle such an urban experience.  I can’t handle inner-city kids.  I’m not strong or tough enough.”  However, I’ve learned that I can teach.  I am strong enough.  Inner-city kids do not mean that they don’t care, that they aren’t loving, that they don’t want to try.  They want to be successful, love grasping new concepts, adore their teachers, and enjoy school.  I have fallen in love with my students and have loved getting to know them at a personal level; their interests, their strengths, their needs, their dreams.  From this experience, I’ve learned that I would love to teach students who may need the love, support, and stability they may not be receiving at home.  I believe that I’ve become a better and more confident teacher due to my experience here in Chicago working with students whose cultural backgrounds are different from my own.

I’ve felt that this experience has been a great transition into the “real” world.  I pay rent, maneuver around the city using public transportation (my biggest fear), buy my own groceries, created friendships with strangers, make my own meals, start conversations with strangers, and also learned how to be okay with saying “I don’t know” or “I need help.”  I’ve learned that living in a huge city isn’t so scary, there isn’t crime happening everywhere you turn, and there are friendly people with huge hearts wherever you go.  Chicago is a wonderful place to live because there are so many new things to experience, sights to see, and there is always something going on.  I encourage you to take a leap of faith and come to Chicago.   I guarantee that you will come out feeling stretched, challenged, and prepared for whatever the world throws at you!

Brianne Dekker – Calvin College
If you are interested in inner city public school teaching, Chicago is a great place to see if it’s the place for you. You will experience firsthand how teachers struggle within the bounds of a public school, how troubled students can thrive or flounder in the school setting, and how you as a teacher can make a difference. This experience comes along with all the expected challenges and joys, as well as some unexpected ones. Most of all, this semester offers a multitude of learning in a unique and diverse city. I learned so much about the ways I prefer to teach, what environments I thrive in and what environments are hard for me to work in, and how to create relationships with some wonderful kids. Although the challenges and difficult setting might be intimidating, the students you’ll meet and touch are what make it all worth it. They’re full of love and wonder and so much intelligence. Learning to bring that out of them even in the most challenging of settings is such a rewarding experience, and that’s something all Chicago Semester student teachers are challenged to do and, with the required amount of work, succeed in.

Haley Luurtsema – Calvin College
I would encourage all education majors to student teach in Chicago. What I liked the most about the Chicago Semester experience was the community and the professors. Lisa, my student teacher supervisor in particular, helped me so incredibility much during my experience in Chicago. During our seminars she taught us not only how to become a better teacher, but she was very helpful if we had any questions. Whenever she observed us, she had so much to say and could always find areas where we needed to improve. We learned about diversity in Chicago, social justice, culture, classroom management and more. We were able to create a literacy edTPA, perfect our resumes, and develop our online portfolios as well.

During my Chicago Semester experience I also enjoyed living with other student teachers. We often would bounce ideas off of each other and talk about the hilarious things that happened at school that day.

Throughout this experience I have learned that I can teach in a public school. I believe that I have the skills to manage a classroom full of 30 students. I learned that I constantly want feedback as to how I can improve my teaching and how I want to keep growing as the years go on. Chicago was such a great experience that I would never take back. Exploring the city and experiencing the diversity of the city was incredible. I was able to become more independent by riding the trains and subway by myself even though it was scary at first. Chicago opened my eyes to life outside of West Michigan and challenged me in my teaching profession and Christian faith as well. I would highly recommend this program to anyone.

Rogelia Pena – Judson University
Student teaching in Chicago has given me a broader worldview. Chicago Public Schools is the third largest district in the nation and, therefore, one of the most diverse ones. The struggles, experiences, opinions, and passions that students bring into the classroom cannot compare to the ones one would hear about in the suburbs. I would strongly recommend student teaching in Chicago because education becomes the door for social change in the hands of these students. Teaching becomes more meaningful, and the challenge is worth it. Plus, Chicago is a wonderful and culturally rich city to explore. 

Hanna TeWinkel – Dordt College
If you are considering coming here for a semester, it is definitely worth it! If you are like me, coming from a small town for most of your life, or even a smaller city, it was an amazing experience to come here and experience city life. I loved meeting new people from different schools and getting to know the city with them. I also have friends and family in the area who could come down and visit some weekends and it felt great to “show off” my city to them whenever they did come to visit. I really enjoyed seeing the beauty of God’s creation shown to me in a different way. I am not used to the big buildings, multitudes of people, or fast paced way of life, but that’s what made it so interesting. I could also see the brokenness of the city as well, which made me appreciate the things I do have and my overall experience. By student teaching in the city, I would say the same thing. It was so wonderful to work with students of different races, in communities that differ from my own. I loved the school that I worked at along with the families who send their children to it because there is so much diversity. I learned that I need to have more fun with the profession, smile a little bit more to my students, and enjoy learning with them instead of worrying about if I get to do everything that is on my lesson plan. I really look forward to creating my own community of learners wherever God calls me to go. I am so thankful he called me to Chicago, and can’t wait for where he leads me next!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Student Teaching - Looking Back and Looking Forward

by Rogelia Pena - Cooper Dual Language Academy

Student teaching in Chicago has been one of the best choices I have made while pursuing an education in the United States. I wanted the challenge of teaching English Language Learners with low socioeconomics and surrounded by urban issues, and that is exactly what I got! Even though it was hard to keep up with lesson planning, grading, monitoring struggling learners, working on my literacy performance-assessment, etc., it was all worth it! I was very blessed to work with my cooperating teacher, who took on the job of a facilitator, mentor, and friend. I will miss her and the students very much! I also met other wonderful teachers at Cooper Dual Language Academy. It is because of their hard work that the school is now considered a number one school in Chicago despite the many challenges that these students face in their communities.

I have not just learned from these teachers, but also from my Chicago Semester supervisor. Her feedback has been helpful during this time of professional development. It was so rewarding to read her last piece of advice, “Find a teaching job!” Along with the other Chicago Semester staff, my supervisor has been approachable and caring. In class, the other student teachers and I learned about meaningful ways of engaging with diverse students in an urban setting. My favorite topic was definitely about social justice and its relation to education. In fact, I was encouraged by my supervisor to attend the annual Curriculum Fair hosted by the Teachers for Social Justice (TSJ) in Chicago.

TSJ is an organization of teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, and other educators working in all sorts of environments in the Chicago area. These educators believe that their role involves confronting the social, political, and educational inequities within U.S. school settings. Like me, they see children and youth as critical change agents essential to the struggle for social justice. When I see my students struggling to thrive academically, when I see their brokenness, and when I see their needs, my heart breaks. When I see other students being confined to their neighborhoods in the most segregated city in America, and when I hear about the significant number of students who are experiencing homelessness in Chicago, my heart also breaks. But then I see the work of wonderful teachers who are breaking students’ paradigms and fostering counter-cultural mindsets I get hopeful. I believe education can facilitate social change.

I also get hopeful when I see the church actively involved in the lives of the youth. I have been particularly blessed by the members of Little Village’s New Life Community Church. Their work in my neighboring community is amazing and the way they invest in people is genuine. Honestly, I would not have made it through this semester if it was not for the church that has welcomed me with open arms. I am also thankful for my housemates, especially my roommate, with whom I have shared professional and personal struggles and joys every day. As an international student I am somewhat used to goodbyes, but I still dislike them! I am truly going to miss all these wonderful communities I have been a part of while living in Chicago, especially my students. It is my hope to find a job in the city once I graduate in May. I believe cities have the potential to be catalysts for change. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Student Teaching - Week #12

by Rogelia Pena - Cooper Dual Language Academy

Mrs. V as Frida Kahlo
I am the "Weeping Woman"
I cannot begin to express how blessed I am for working with my cooperating teacher! We have many things in common. She learned English growing up, so she knows about the challenges and rewards of being bilingual and bicultural. She also likes to salsa dance, and she wants to go to Brazil one day (since she’s married to a Brazilian). But most importantly, she is passionate about her students. I have learned many classroom management strategies from her, as well as other lifelong lessons.

Classroom management is not something one can learn through a college course. It comes with practice and by being immersed in the classroom. My cooperating teacher has supported me along the way to refine my time management and classroom management skills. More than preventing and addressing bad behavior, I have learned that classroom management is about staying connected with the students. When this happens, lessons are smooth and students’ learning can be maximized. For example, my teacher taught me how to “read” my students and follow the natural flow of the classroom. One day, students were working on a science experiment and they were so engaged that they were getting louder and louder. I tried different things to quiet them down but nothing was working. I could tell that they just wanted to share their findings, and they could not hold their excitement. My teacher told me that in times like that I should just let them talk with their “elbow partner” about their discoveries. They just need to get it out of their system!

At first, I thought that by doing so I would be yielding to my students’ will. But in reality, I was not losing control… I was just adjusting my decisions based on my students’ needs. Students like options, choices, and to be heard; so why stop natural curiosity? I would say that is one of the most valuable things I have learned from my cooperating teacher.

Humbolt Park neighborhood
Talking about curiosity, I finally tried Puerto Rican food in Humboldt Park, one of Chicago’s Hispanic neighborhoods. Even though I live in Pilsen and I get to enjoy awesome Mexican food, I was longing for something more similar to home (Caribbean food). So, on Veterans Day one of my roommates and I went to a place called La Bomba (The Bomb). Indeed, flavors were explosive! Before that, we also went to the Shedd Aquarium, which was free on that day. I got very excited when I saw a section on the Amazon. It reminded me of Venezuela (I don’t live in the jungle but I have visited it before). There were piranhas, electric eels, and even an anaconda. My students were excited to see the pictures I had taken! Some of them have never been to a museum before, which is a shame since they live in Chicago. Hopefully, I will accompany them to the Museum of Science and Industry in the Spring.