From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Student Teachers

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Student Teaching - Week #8

by Rogelia Pena - Cooper Dual Language Academy

I am like a grandma when it comes to technology. When I finally decided to get a smartphone I didn’t even know how to download an app or text through a touch screen. I know, it’s embarrassing! So my sister basically took the phone from me, downloaded and updated everything for me, and handed it back expecting that I would magically know how to work that thing. Well, of course I couldn’t. I told her that she needed to show me and then see me do all of those things by myself before I could handle my new toy independently. Most people actually learn new things through a step-by-step process similar to the one I went through with my phone. Implementing this process in the classroom has been interesting and effective.
In the field of education, this process is known as gradual release of responsibility. The purpose of this teaching technique is for students to have all the previous experiences and supports they need before they must master a skill on their own. This strategy is particularly important for ELLs (English Language Learners) because these students not only have to learn a new skill, but they also learn it in a second language. It requires extra effort and more steps in between before they can become proficient at a new skill or task.

I implemented this strategy last week by having students work on a sample activity with me. We read a story together and I showed them how to identify its plot elements. After that, students practiced the skill of “dissecting” a different story. I thought that they would be ready to do this independently by the third lesson, but they still needed more guided practice. Sometimes they need to read the same paragraph at least three times before they can understand it. Therefore, they definitely need a gradual release of responsibility with all the steps in between, which takes more than one day. Because everything takes longer, getting through the content is also a slower process compared to the other two fourth-grade classrooms I teach.
At first, I was getting very impatient and a bit frustrated because my lessons were not going as planned. They were good lessons, but they were not tailored to the specific needs of my students. After talking to my cooperating teacher and getting to know my students better, I have now accepted the fact that these students have their own pace… and it is OK. Their bilingualism is an asset and not a hindrance!
At the Roosevelt Theater for a performance of
Swan Lake by the Joffrey Ballet 
It took me awhile to remember how challenging it was for me to learn English (not that I have stopped). As I watched a ballet performance last week, I was also reminded of how much practice I needed with dancing in order to feel comfortable and do it independently. I still can’t dance ballet, but I can dance salsa now! One of the art events planned by the Chicago Semester was the classic Swan Lake performed by the prestigious Joffrey Ballet. It was long but definitely worth it! It was amazing to see what humans’ bodies can do with so much practice and dedication. It was very fun to dress up for such an occasion and to enjoy this unique show with other Chicago Semester students.

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!