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!