From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Student Teachers

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

End of Semester Thoughts #1

Kori, Taylor, Bailey, Rebecca, Joo-Hyang, and Renee with Lisa
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
Renee Art – Central College
Student taught at Foreman High School
This experience is one that you will never forget and definitely should consider being a part of. This program is very challenging but you learn more about yourself and others than you will ever know. The things I enjoyed most about this experience include, working at an urban school, living in the middle of the city and becoming a Chicagoan, living with people from many different schools across the country, being challenged and figuring out how to manage life like money, transit, food and fun. I learned so much through this program. I learned how to manage my time; you think you know how to do this from college, but you don’t you learn it here! I learned how to live with a new person that I never met. I learned how to live in a city filled with millions of people. I learned how to TEACH! This experience is once in a lifetime and something you shouldn’t pass up!
Kori Aubel – University of Mount Union
Student taught at Kenwood Academy
The experience I had through Chicago Semester is one I will never forget! The part that I enjoyed most about this experience is getting to live in the city! I am from a very small town so getting to experience living in the big city was really exciting!
I believe that teaching in Chicago has really opened my eyes to diversity. I had never been in such a diverse learning environment and this experience really helped me to see the differences between rural and urban education. I think every teacher should experience teaching in the city, learning about the differences in education between rural and urban schools.
I would strongly encourage someone who was considering the Chicago semester experience to just do it! It may seem a little overwhelming but it is definitely worth it. This experience really gives you a chance to grow as a person and a teacher. The lessons you learn here truly are priceless.
 Joo-Hyang Lee – Calvin College
Student taught at Mark Sheridan Math & Science Academy
If you want to experience what it is like to teach in inner-city schools, Chicago Semester is a good program. It is definitely out of your comfort zone but it broadens your views about education, city, students, and teachers. You will definitely see and experience students with diverse backgrounds. Some students have parents who are gang members and you hear their stories.
You will get to learn more about yourself and your teaching style. In classrooms, you heard, read, and discussed about inner city schools and students. Then you talk about how you can “fix” the issues. Once you come to Chicago for student teaching, you realize that it is not that easy.
While student teaching you can also explore the city. It depends on what you like doing, but for me I enjoyed visiting different coffee shops, local cupcake houses, local restaurants, and little shops. Transportation is accessible anywhere that if you want to go somewhere, it is a bus or subway ride away.
Taylor Schroyer – Calvin College
Student taught at Perez Elementary
The thing that I enjoyed the most about the Chicago Semester experience was getting the experience of what life will be like post-college.  We got the experience of living in a big city, using public transportation, and work.  I really enjoyed learning about how to navigate through a big city.  I think this experience has really helped me feel prepared to go into the "real world" post college because I have had the experience of living and working in a city already.  I would definitely encourage anyone to apply to do Chicago Semester, but especially people that are interested in working in an urban setting in the future.  I have always wanted to work in an urban school and I think this semester has given me great insight into what that will actually be like when I graduate.  Chicago Semester gives you the work experience of being in an urban setting, but you also get the experience of living in an urban setting and what that really means. 
Rebecca Verhage – Trinity Christian College
Student taught at Walsh Elementary
My favorite thing about doing Chicago Semester is being able to live in the same community as my students. I know this is a new thing for Chicago Semester because this is the first year this housing opportunity has been available, but I honestly think it made the program for me. I have found that I have gotten a lot out of living in the same community as my students. A lot of teachers drive into the neighborhood from other parts of the city and because they see me in their community, the students accepted me into their school community more easily. Also, I have really enjoyed seeing where it is they live and what types of things affect their daily lives. I was walking home one day and met a couple of my students coming out of a corner store and they wanted me to try their hot Cheetos with nacho cheese on top, which I did, and we talked for a bit. I found out later that almost all their friends know that I stopped and talked with them. Another day I met a student riding his bike in the neighborhood and he rode by me with a shocked glance, which was hilarious, and then that opened some conversation with him later. When they see you in the community, they tell all their friends and you become part of that community. Also being in the community lent itself well to my being able to go to some of their volleyball and basketball games which means a lot to them, even if they don’t talk to you at the game, they ask you the next day if you’re going to come to all the rest of their games too. Living in the area your students live helps them know that you in it with them.
My second favorite part was the art events. I think they were totally worth it. In the busyness that comes with student teaching, I would not have had time to look up different things to go do and see so it is nice to have something planned for you every week and I have loved all of the events so far. It has helped me to get to know and see other areas of Chicago and learn how to use public transit better too. It is also a great way to hang out and get to know other people in the program, so I would definitely recommend it to anyone doing the program.
Through this experience I have been reassured that I am in the right profession. There were a couple times that I wasn’t sure if I was really cut out for teaching. Some days were hard and I had a hard time with classroom management at the start. But regardless of the type of day I had, I never left school mad at the kids and I never dreading going to school, even as early as it seemed sometimes. Whenever I left on a day that had been a bit hard, I kept thinking about how I was going to do things differently to reach that student. What was going to make a difference for that kid. And every day when I got home, I could not help but spew stories about my students. They are hilarious and wonderful and they have become my life. The students are what make teaching worth it. It the little victories that mean the most, whether it is the raising of the grade, an unexpected compliance of a student to do what you have asked them, or a willingness of them to confide in you. That’s why I want to go into teaching; to build relationships and make a difference in my students’ lives if possible.
Bailey Yoder – University of Mount Union
Student taught at Kelly High School
Student teaching in Chicago is an eye opening experience. It is wonderfully hectic, crazy, busy, stressful, and extraordinary all at the same time. The most rewarding experience I had this semester was the fact that I got to meet so many outstanding people, both teachers and students. I learned so much about the career, and myself in this experience. I learned that it is not all sunshine and rainbows every day. You’re going to have major thunderstorms, and maybe even a tornado. But you can’t let it derail you. Keep going. An administrator in my school told me that the best thing a new teacher can have is perseverance. Persevere through the storm and stay on the train. The end result will reveal the sunshine.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Student Teaching - The End

by Rebecca Verhage - Walsh Elementary School

This last week of student teaching was a whirlwind. We had testing going on for NWEA and I had to go and do observations in other classes. My students accused me of betraying them by going to other teacher’s/grade classrooms. It was great though. I got to see lots of different teaching styles and it was also interesting to see how some of my students acted in other classrooms with other teachers.

My students started asking me about when I was leaving three weeks ahead of time. Here are some of their comments.

Student A: Ms. Verhage, you’re leaving in two weeks right?
Me: Yeah, unfortunately I am.
Student A: What are you going to do, are you going to go back to Washington?
Me: Yes, I am going to go back to Washington to sub for the next semester in my hometown.
Student B: Washington State right? (this was a common question throughout the semester)
Me: Yes, Washington State.
Student C: What’s the difference?
I laughed and then drew him a map after which he said, “Oh,…where are we?”
At that point I began to think we should have been teaching them geography.

Student 1: Ms. Verhage, you leaving soon aren’t you?
Me: Yeah, December 6th is my last day.
Student 1: Oh OK.
Me: Are you excited or sad?
Student 1: Sad.
Me: Really? That’s surprising. You’re always upset with me for making you sit down and be quiet.
Student 1: Oh, no no no (shaking his head vigorously), I’m excited because you’re always here when there is a sub and then we can never get away with anything but when you’re gone, we can take advantage of having a sub!

Student A: Ms. Verhage, why do you have to leave? Who is going to help me unlock my locker when you’re gone?

When I was out of the classroom, I guess my students were asking if they could come to my graduation. They almost went to the principal and asked to be excused from school to be able to take a field trip to it until they realized it was on a Saturday and they wouldn’t have school anyway. I had several students ask where and when it was though and how they could by tickets to come. They are so sweet. They told my teacher that, “We have to go. It’s important right? And we should be there because we are a big part of her education!”  They’re the best;)

My students were wonderful and threw me an amazing farewell party where we had cookies and hot chocolate for the last hour of school. The room had streamers and other decorations that they spend all of their lunch and recess putting up while I was sent to help the science teacher. They made me a cardigan that they had all signed and a picture frame with pictures of both classes. Some of the students even bought me gifts or printed out photos for me which was so sweet.

I had written a note for each of the students which I gave to them on my last day, along with a pen and a pencil. In our class, not a day went by that one or more students didn’t ask me for a writing utensil, so it was a bit of a joke.

As the students read my notes to them, one girl started crying. It surprised me because she tends to be one who doesn’t really show any emotion other than boredom or irritation with the boys in the class. Another girl came up to me and told me that I helped her a lot with her self esteem this semester and that she would really miss me. Her telling me that meant the world to me. Yet another girl told me that I was a part of their family now and they loved me. One boy even told me that he felt like he had the best teacher, and he didn’t mean Mrs. Ionita. He also told me he thought I was better! I am not inclined to agree with him, but it was nice to hear how much they all had grown to love me because I felt the same about them. The last few minutes of class were emotional. My teacher started crying so then I started crying and some of my students were crying. We were “a hot mess” as Mrs. Ionita often will say but it’s OK. I’ll miss them a lot.

View from the train
With my wonderful roommates
Student teaching was one of the best experiences I have had thus far in my life and I feel very fortunate to be able to say that because I know not all can. Not only was my school experience great, I had wonderful roommates and I had a great time exploring the city for our art events and on the weekends. If any of you readers ever have the chance to do Chicago Semester or to be invested in the lives of kids, don’t hesitate because it is more than worth it!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Student Teaching - Week #13

by Rebecca Verhage - Walsh Elementary

For those of you with any experience in teaching or working with middle school students, you know that you can never guess what will come out of their mouths next. Here are a few conversations I've had with students in the last week that have made me both laugh and reflect on why I chose to go into teaching. I hope you enjoy!

Conversation One

A teacher shared a conversation she overheard during the afterschool program. The first student had gotten in trouble during science class and had to stay after for detention.  When students serve a detention they must fill out a reflection sheet that requires them to think and talk about what happened that led to their detention.  Then they have a conversation with the teacher for the last five to ten minutes of the detention about what went wrong and how to change it. The student came back to class after having this conversation and was asked by another student what happened.

Student One: I had to talk with Ms. G about what happened in class.
Student Two: They’re (the teachers) really nice to you after you get in trouble aren’t they?
Student One: Yeah

Kids are so smart sometimes. Maybe that’s why the students keep getting detentions. It’s a sure way to get some one-on-one attention from the teachers, even if it is negative attention.

Conversation Two

One student constantly throws away pieces of paper, makes paper shooting devices out of pens, and is just generally a disruption. As the students were settling in their seats and waiting for class to start, I noticed him rolling up a piece of paper.  I decided to nip it in the bud and asked him to give me the piece of paper.  He sounded frustrated, and a bit dramatic, when he said, “Why you always got to take my stuff?” He was referring to the other pieces of paper and pens that I had taken away from him in the past. He then asked, “How would you like it if I took away your ring from you?”  I decided to leave it and talk to him about it later when another girl at his table piped up. “That’s completely different; that would be stealing.” I love it when my students back me up.

Conversation Three

I was beginning class and passing out the homework when one of my students asked, “Miss Verhage, can you be our eighth grade teacher?” A couple other students chimed in agreement. While I was flattered, I was also a little leery. It makes me nervous when students like me. It’s not that I don’t want them to, because I do, but I also want to make sure that they don’t just like me because I’m too easy on them or because they think they can get away with more when I’m teaching. Hopefully it is true that like me for the right reasons. 

Conversation Four

This week the fire alarm was set off accidentally by one of our students. It was during the passing period so it didn’t really disrupt class, but of course, the students were all over the place as a result.  We had one student who took complete control of the situation, trying to calm his peers down saying, “It’s alright guys, it’s alright. I’m just so hot; I set off the fire alarm.” Typical middle school boy.

Conversation Five

This Friday I had the chance to hang out with some of the eighth graders after school. I was on my way to the bus stop when I met up with a boy on his bike waiting for a couple girls from his class to hang out. I stopped and said “Hi” to him and asked him what he was up to. He told me I should wait to say “Hi” to the girls when they came out, so I did. They came a couple minutes later bearing cheese fries which they insisted I try. They were actually pretty good. I felt privileged to be included in their group as a teacher even though I only know them from seeing them in the halls because none of them are my actual students. 

Now the boy had to wait for his sister to come grab his bike and the girls were on their way to deliver some cheese fries to a friend back at school, so I said goodbye to them and was about to leave too. Then the boy asked me something; it was obvious he wanted company while he waited. He’s quite the social butterfly. So I stopped and talked to him for a while. He peppered me with questions. His first was, “How do you like teaching?”

I replied that I like it a lot. I love being with kids and getting to know them. I told him that all the kids are good kids; even the ones that at times drive me crazy or are disruptive in class are really great kids. Middle schoolers' always keep life interesting.

He laughed at this and told me, “Miss Verhage, you make me laugh.” He then asked me about my family, where I lived, do I like living in Pilsen, how many roommates I had and how big our kitchen was. Did I cook, what do I do on the weekends, what nationality I am, and his follow up question to that was an awkward, “So are you Caucasian?”

Then the question that I was surprised to hear him ask. “Miss Verhage, what do you believe?” So I told him that I was a Christian and that I had grown up in a Christian home where we went to church every Sunday and we did devotions together every night after dinner. What he asked next was very insightful I thought. He said, “Yeah me too, but what about as an adult; what do you believe?” He understood that sometimes you just go along with what your family does until you’re out of the house, and that it doesn’t matter much what your family believes so much as what you yourself believe. After I answered, he told me a little about his family. How his father was a pastor now but that he didn’t grow up a Christian. His grandma was Catholic and his grandfather was Muslim. He told me how his father became a Christian the year he was born shortly after his grandfather and uncle died.

He told me other things too. He comes from a large family like mine, with six siblings.  He also told me what it is like to be the second youngest. They apparently have a ton of pets. It was neat to get a little insight into this student’s life.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Student Teaching - Week #12

by Rebecca Verhage - Walsh Elementary

Home Visit

The girls had a volleyball game and one of our students wanted to stay after school for it, but needed a ride home. My teacher offered him a ride as long as it was OK with his parents, which it was. After the game, my teacher told me she would take me home too since it was on the way. When we pulled up in front of his apartment, she looked at me and asked, “Are you ready Miss Verhage?” So I hopped out with her. Apparently we were going to make a home visit.

We followed the boy up two flights of stairs to his home. My teacher told him to tell his mother we were here. As he opened the door, his dog raced out and happily jumped around us sniffing and wanting to be petted. There was a bit of a commotion as he told his parents we were there. His dad went to hide in the other room and the rest of us tried to get the dog inside. As we entered, I looked around and noticed how small the place was. We were immediately in the kitchen which was a bit of a disaster. There were dishes with scraps of food on them on the table, and it generally looked like it could use a good cleaning. When my student walked in, he instantly picked up his nine month old sister and kissed her on the forehead. He looked like a little father the way he bounced her and held her close. His little brother ran up to him wearing an oversized t-shirt that could have been his dad’s and nothing else. He asked if he could use his brother’s tablet and after a little teasing, he obliged.  His little sister was there too; she was a third grader and was wearing clothes that could use a bit a washing.

The father works at a bar and the parents often go out to the clubs on the weekends leaving the boy to take care of his three younger siblings. You could tell too, by the way he cared for them little ones. My teacher had never spoken to the parents because she never had the correct phone number.  Instead she had always gone through the grandmother. Now this student is a sometimes a trouble maker, but we weren’t there to talk about that.

You see, this boy had a bit of a break down a couple weeks earlier where he and my teacher were talking about his behavior with his grandma. During the conversation, my teacher asked him when was the last time he had hugged his dad and when was the last time he had been told by his parents that they loved him. He shook his head and said that he couldn’t remember. His grandma said the same thing. My teacher encouraged him to try telling his dad that he loved him that weekend.  When he came to school on Monday, and my teacher asked how it went, he said his father just asked him what was wrong with him and why he was acting so strange. (It’s no wonder kids act up. They just want love and attention and if they can’t get it positively, then they go for the next best thing.)

We could tell his mother was a bit apprehensive when we entered the apartment. She was expecting to hear what her son had done wrong this time, but instead my teacher praised him. She told his mom what a good kid he was, admitting that he had his moments, but that we loved him and the other students loved him. We were there for about fifteen minutes and the whole time my cooperating teacher praised him and as she got to know the family better.

I’m glad I was able to be a part of that visit and it was cool to see the mom’s demeanor toward her son change as she heard the teacher say good things about him.  (And the boy beamed with pride!) I don’t know if anything will change with his parents but it meant a lot to him.

The next day at school the boy told the entire class how we both went to his house the night before. He told them how his dog attacked us (a little bit of an exaggeration) and how we met his little sister.  He was baskin’ in the lime light!

Grief Awareness Day

Francisco "Javi" Merino
January 2, 1993 - November 7, 2012
Thursday was the first anniversary of the death of a boy named Javi. He was nineteen when he died, just one house down from where he lived, from seven gunshot wounds. Javi attended elementary school at Walsh and was known by some of our students. Four of the students at our school either saw the shooting or were there to help move him to the car as they tried to get him to the hospital. Javi’s death marked the 449th death in Chicago last year, but was never reported on the news. To this day, no suspect is in custody, so in a lot of ways, these students never got any closure.

A couple of weeks ago, the math teacher was giving her lesson and somehow Javi’s name was brought up during the discussion. Four male students and one female broke down crying. These kids obviously hadn’t dealt with their grief or really had the chance to talk about it. The teacher decided to allow time for students to share about loses in their lives. The counselor planned the day with both large and small group sessions in order to provide different types of opportunities for students to grieve.

Javi’s mom was there and spoke with some of the students who knew him in a small group of their own. I later found out about some of that conversation. Javi was good friends with the older brother of one of our students. That brother was involved in gangs and drugs during high school until Javi came alongside him and encouraged him to get away from that stuff. Our student thanked Javi’s mom sharing that “Javi helped my brother be a brother to me.” After Javi’s death, the brother relapsed. Javi’s mom shared that it was Javi’s dream to get kids off the streets and working. He wanted to open a barber shop with lots of chairs so he could give everyone jobs because if people were working, there would be less gang violence. She spoke to the students asking them to help her carry out Javi’s dream. She told them they needed to stay away from drugs and gangs because those things don’t help and to work hard to do something meaningful with their lives…for Javi.

During the large group session, students and teachers alike shared the grief in their lives. One teacher shared that her brother had been killed, shot by a thirteen year old boy who had been promised a new pair of shoes if he killed this man. For a new pair of shoes, a widow was made and three children lost their father. My teacher shared that it was this incident that reaffirmed her desire to work with youth at this critical age to help them understand the choices they are making. It was a powerful story.

I was half shocked at all the examples of gang violence or other losses these students could name. A lot of these students have had a dad walk out on them or have parents who are separated and who are conflicted about it, being angry at their parents, but still loving them because they are their parents. One student shared with me that his cousin, a seventeen year old, who lived with him and his family had been shot two years ago in front of his school. He told me that they used to play basketball and video games together. He said they did not really talk about his cousin at home anymore but he would like to talk about him. It’s sad to think that these kids don’t feel able to share what they are going through with their parents or even other adults. However, it was really cool to see how all the students came together to cry and comfort each other. As my teacher pointed out, while most people did cry, it was the tough guys that were bawling, proving that there is always a reason behind their rough exterior.

On a bit of a lighter note, during the small group session I was in, we did some journaling first and then kids had the opportunity to share what they wrote. The first child to share spoke about how he deals with grief. He said that sometimes he gets really angry with his parents and that he draws as a way to relieve that stress. For instance, if he were mad at his mom, he would draw a dinosaur with a big nose and if he were mad at his dad, he would draw a Teletubby with a big belly. It was a great way to lighten the mood a bit because no one can listen to that and not laugh. I love this kid.

While this day came about as a result of the students who needed to deal with the death of Javi, I think it ended up being good for all students regardless of whether they knew him or not. In the future, they are going to try to do more things like this and more than just once a year because they want school to be the kids’ community, a safe place for them to come and share what they are going through and find support from friends and staff. And that’s what a school should be.  These kids need to deal with all the stuff that goes on in their lives before they are able to learn anyway.   As one teacher put it, “While I want them to learn and be prepared for further education, I want to teach them to be good human beings first. If they go away with nothing else, that is the most important thing I could teach them. There is already too much hurt in this world, we don’t need to add to it.”

Student Artwork

Art Event of the Week

Timeline Theatre
This week we went to the Lifeline Theater production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” It was a wonderful production with great actors. I have to admit that I was a little partial to the child in the play because he was super cute and funny even though he had a fairly small role. The story was especially interesting to me because it tied into what we are teaching in class this week. Our class is starting a poetry unit and we decided to use one of Maya Angelou’s poems. Then as we started planning, we decided that having some background on her would help the children understand the poem, and that led to us planning an author study where we looked at multiple of her poems would be a great way to set up the unit. Maya Angelou played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement, working with both Malcolm X and Dr. King. In the play, the African-American family is confronted with racial discrimination and segregation as they plan to move to an area where there are no blacks.  They are offered money if they agree not to move.  The family must then decide what is most important, the badly needed money or standing up for their rights. I enjoyed the story a lot. There were many laughable moments but also some really sad ones. The characters had hard lives but in the end I think they all realized that family is what is important and that it is important to be proud of whom you are.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Student Teaching - Week #11

By Rebecca Verhage – Walsh Elementary

It is crazy to think that my time here in Chicago is almost up. The students just finished their first quarter this last week and for the most part, they did pretty well. Those that didn’t do well didn’t because they hadn’t turned in assignments. The students worked really hard near the end of the semester to bring their grades up a letter grade or so since their seventh grade scores are what determine their acceptance into the high school of their choice. I never realized that the Chicago Public School system was so much like applying to colleges where you can actually go and do school visits and all of that. However, it does get students thinking about their future at an early age which is probably a good thing.

This week at school I was asked by one of my students to go to her volleyball game. It was only their second or third game of the season and they were going to be playing a neighborhood school. They were nervously chatting about it during the day because their opponents were a coed team that could spike! The other team was pretty good and I could see why our girls would be intimidated to play them.  
The science teacher and I went to the game together, but despite our efforts to cheer them on, our girls lost the match. They did have some good rallies during the game though. And we weren’t the only fans either. I was surprised at how many students are either involved in sports or were there to support their peers by cheering from the stands.

Some of my students were sitting next to us at the game and it was hilarious to hear their comments and cheers as we watched. One boy pointed out a guy on the opposing team and was telling me that he was a part of a local gang. His comment was, “I can’t believe a guy that’s in a gang would do something as feminine as play volleyball!” That comment made me think of how important having after-school programs and sports are for kids at this age. It can keep them out of trouble and hopefully out of gang activity too. Also, I was quick to try to refute his statement about volleyball being just for girls by pointing out that it is an Olympic sport. He didn’t buy it. All I can say is that there is never a dull moment around these kids. There is no way of knowing what things will come out of their mouth. That’s what makes teaching middle school so much fun!

While I was at the volleyball game, one of my boys asked if I was going to go to a basketball game too since I made it to the volleyball game. Of course since he asked, I had to go.

I took one of my teacher friends with me, and we were both impressed by the skill of the students. Our school’s security guard is their coach, and he did a really good job with the team. I appreciated how every player had a significant and mostly equal amount of playing time. From what I could see, their coach didn’t differentiate playing time based on skill or grade level but played them all so they could all game experience. The only exception to the amount of playing time allotted was the point guard who played most of the game. It was fun seeing my students excel in basketball when some of the same students struggle academically at times. It was also fun to see a pair of brothers interact on the court when they are more likely to avoid each other in the halls.  I think basketball is a really good outlet and motivational tool for most of these kids. It gives them the drive to work hard in school so they can play and teaches them to work together to achieve their goals. I also think it is important for me as a future teacher to realize what is important to these students so I can find ways to connect and relate what we are doing in school to things they will understand and find important.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Student Teaching - Week #10

by Rebecca Verhage - Walsh Elementary

I’ve noticed over the past weeks that there are some students who are hard to read. They hate you one minute, swear at you and do everything in their power to get under your skin, and the next minute they’re asking sweetly if you can help them and practically jumping up and down because you came to their game. At times they seem bipolar but then you realize there is more going on with these students than meets the eye. I think the mark of a good teacher is the ability to see and recognize each student’s need for attention and love, especially if they don’t get it at home. I’m not convinced students really want to act out. I think the students just want to be heard and understood. As teachers, we need to ask who our students are. Here is what two of my students have to say:

“I am from Chi-city
I am from all over Pilsen
I am from some parts of Oakley
I come from where gun shots never get caught
I come from where everything you pick up is a weapon
Where mistaken identity is made from
I come from where it smells like weed every day
Where it smells like fresh bread when the factory opens
Hearing people screaming for help
Soundin’ like “Whoop!,” kids getting beat by a belt. “

“I am from Chicago. Seeing people wander the streets and men carrying cargo.
Hear the sounds of gun shots, opening the door shops,
sirens from the Chicago 50 cops.
Smellin’ fresh from the panederia, clean clothes from the lavenderia. “

* panederia = bakery; lavenderia = laundromat;

On a slightly more upbeat note, I was really encouraged this week by one of my students. He is a boy who failed seventh grade and is now receiving special education services in our classroom. At the beginning of the year he wasn’t turning in any of his homework, he hardly paid attention in class, and I honestly wasn’t sure what to do with him. I kept entering grades into the computer and would cringe every time I had to give him a zero. He was failing at his mid-quarter progress report. 

Well one day when I got on him for not turning in a form he was supposed to bring for the office.  He told me he had it, but it was just in his locker. I went out with him to get it and as he was going through his locker and I noticed some half-finished homework assignments he was passing by. I asked him why he wasn’t doing his homework and why he didn’t at least turn in what he had done. He told me he often didn’t get home until late or he would just forget.

Anyway, for the next few days, I kept reminding him in the halls when I saw him to do his homework and bring it to be because I wanted to see his grade improve. Sadly, I’ll admit that I really didn’t expect to see much change, but then it happened. He slowly began to bring in his homework and gradually the quality of his homework began to improve as he read and responded to the feedback I was giving him. I congratulated him on turning in his homework and told him he had to keep on his work. I even stayed after school for an hour one day during the after-school program, to make sure he did the homework assignment. I sat right next to him and didn’t let him talk to any of his friends or let them talk to him, since I knew it was a long and difficult homework assignment worth a lot of points. I even made him read it out loud to me so I knew he understood it.

Then one day as I was entering grades I realized that his F had turned to a D. I was so excited! It was as if it was my own grade and I had received an A+. As soon as he walked in the door, I went up to him, congratulating him on raising his grade.  I told him to keep up the good work. A day or two later, he raised it again to a C. I was ecstatic! And the icing on the top of the cake was that he wrote this for his vocabulary sentence, “I was aghast to find out my F in reading had been raised to a C.” He’s such a mellow guy that he doesn’t really ever show his emotions. He only half smiled when I told him the news, but the fact that he wrote this showed me that it did matter to him and that’s what I wanted. I wanted him to take responsibility for his learning and to do his best.

This kid is not stupid by any means. He is a great thinker and one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. He has seen far more and been exposed to far more than most boys his age, and he’ll tell you about his life as if it’s normal to have to move because a gang thinks you keyed their car and they now want to kill you. Gangs and drugs are everyday life for him, although he doesn’t want to get involved in them. I want to make a difference in these students’ lives and show them that someone loves them. That’s the main reason I wanted to work in a low-income school.  I think that maybe I was able to make a difference for this kid and if that’s the only thing I accomplish this semester, it’ll still be worth it.

Mexican Folkloric Dance Company of Chicago
Life outside the classroom has been great as well. For our art event of the week, we went to see a live mariachi band. I have to admit that I was not overly enthused by the prospect because I imagined something different, but I really enjoyed the music and dancing that night. There were nine different musicians that took turns singing and there was also a group of fifteen to twenty dancers that had an array of costumes. My favorite dance was when the men were dancing with what looked like a scythe for farming and they flipped them around, jumped over them, and slapped them together to the rhythm of the instruments.  I enjoyed how all the dances seemed to tell a story or show a bit of the heritage of the Hispanic people. Just as enjoyable as the actual performers were the little girls dressed up and dancing in the aisle. They were quite cute.

Saturday, I enjoyed exploring Pilsen a bit with one of my roommates. It was a beautifully crisp day perfect for a walk and I loved getting the chance to use my Spanish as we entered a candy shop and a Spanish bookstore where the workers/owners knew very little English. I bought a children’s mystery novel for persons 12 years of age and up (that means I’m not too old for it right?). My Spanish is a little rusty so I figured I’d start with something easy.

My purchases at the thrift shop
We then spent a couple hours stopping in small shops and half a dozen thrift stores just to browse. I bought a dress and my roommate picked out a coat that fit perfectly, and was on sale too! Pilsen is a neat neighborhood because of all the murals along the streets and artwork hanging in almost all 
 the shops. 
 On the outside of a pizza place, I saw a mural that also hangs in a restaurant in my hometown. It was a fun reminder of home.  I love to see the heritage of the people displayed in that way.

Later, my roommate convinced me to go for a run, which, as anyone who knows me well knows, is a miracle in and of itself. I tend to avoid running at all costs so after 23 minutes, I was glad to have made it back to our apartment. I have to admit though that it was fun to explore another part of Pilsen I hadn’t before. However, now my legs are very sore reminding me that I should probably exercise on a more consistent basis.