From the Perspective of Chicago Semester Student Teachers

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Final Stretch

Sarah Schmitt - Cooper Dual Language Academy

This week, students created 3D models of the heart using paper cups, string, scissors, markers, and tape. The students wrapped up the Human Body unit about a week ago so we have decided to focus on the circulatory system this week.

The students enjoyed the opportunity to create their own heart model because it allowed them to use their creativity, apply their previous knowledge about the heart, and work with their peers. It was also a nice break for me, since I didn’t have to talk the whole time and students were able to explore on their own. I’m still trying to find the balance of providing students with structure and modeling as well as giving them the opportunity to think for themselves and discover on their own.

In other news, this week I also attended the fine arts event at the Lookingglass theatre company where they performed Beyond Caring a play about temp workers. It was a little unnerving with all of the loud noises and some of the content, but I enjoyed the performance. It’s always nice to go to the art events to mingle with Chicago Semester students from different programs and catch up with my fellow student teachers later in the week. This week, we reveled in the fact that one of them had gone to see Hamilton this past weekend and that we are nearing spring break!

This weekend, I took advantage of the weather and had a bonfire at a friend’s house. I can feel spring is in the air, which means a break is coming soon! This next week is my last week of full control! We will be wrapping up poetry by analyzing Count on Me by Bruno Mars and Roar by Katy Perry. Students will also begin discussing the respiratory system before we start our next unit after break. I will also have my first interview at a charter school and get my edTPA score back, let the final stretch begin!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Creativity is Key

Sarah Schmitt - Cooper Dual Language Academy

This week felt like a real taste of full control since it was our first normal week in a while. My teacher wasn’t getting observed, we didn’t have PARCC testing, or any of the other events that have seemed to scramble our schedule these past few weeks.

It was a long week but I was proud of the amount of work I was able to get done each day. Although the workload is pretty non-stop with student teaching (and with teaching in general) it was satisfying to create a lesson and implement it the very next day.

This week we wrapped up Frindle, The Human Body unit, and opinion writing with students completing final projects and assessments for all of them. My homeroom had a final project that asked them to create their own advertisement for a new product or interview a parent about a teacher that had influenced them. These were some of the results…

I was impressed with the amount of work my students had put into the project and it was fun to have them present it to the class. My students haven’t had many opportunities to practice speaking in front of a group in English, so it was good practice for them to present something that they had created to their peers.

Last week, I wrapped up The Human Body Unit with the FOSS curriculum and for the next two weeks we will be discussing the circulatory and respiratory systems. I will be creating this unit since my school doesn’t have any resources already created for it. I will also be creating a poetry unit for the coming weeks. There is a lot of lesson planning to be done and changes will need to be made to those plans as we go along.

Time is flying by and as we approach graduation I can’t help but feel prepared. This student teaching experience has prepared me for the Chicago Public School system, allowed me to practice living as an urban professional, and given me many opportunities to realize my potential as an educator.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Planning for the Future

Sarah Schmitt - Cooper Dual Language Academy

This was a busy week for me outside of the classroom. My students were taking PARCC tests almost the entire week, which meant that I was banished to hallway patrol. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds because I quickly learned that it provided me with free time to check up on emails, get advice from other teachers, work on homework, and … FINISH MY EDTPA!

This has been a long-time coming, friends. I am thrilled to say that I have completed the last major assignment of my undergraduate career (assuming that I passed all sections, knock on wood for me, will you?) This marathon of an assignment has been the bane of my existence since sophomore year. While I think it is beneficial to critically examine and reflect on teaching practices, this was a bit excessive and a huge stressor to add to the already rigorous student teaching process. If you are reading this and haven’t yet completed your edTPA fear not, there are resources and people available to help you! You will get through it, I did!

In other news…

Since I wasn’t able to be in the classroom much, I decided to attend two job fairs. The diversity job fair I attended on Thursday was unsuccessful. I had signed up for it thinking that there might be some teaching positions available working with bilingual students. I quickly discovered that all they had to offer was jobs selling Italian cookware (which was quite nice since I was in the market for a new strainer) and medically based jobs. The vendors I talked to politely tried to make their positions fit with my elementary education major, but it was clear that this job fair wasn’t meant for me.

The job fair I attended on Saturday was much more successful since it was only for CPS charter schools. I have had some reservations about charter schools in the past, but I decided to attend to see what was available and gain some practice talking to potential employers. In the end, I was able to apply for a job, talk with principals, and provide my resume for further contact.

This week, I will finally return to a normal schedule of full-time teaching. I have noticed some behavior issues so I have created a new “Goal Setting” chart for some of our students. The chart will allow them to evaluate their own behavior on a daily basis and get teacher feedback at the end of the week. This week we will finally be wrapping up the book Frindle, opinion writing, and our Human Body units with assessments.  

Monday, March 6, 2017


Sarah Schmitt - Cooper Dual Language Academy

It is week 5 of my student teaching experience – which is something to celebrate! We are 1/3 of the way through the semester! Although it is only a short while away, there is still a lot of lesson planning, edTPA, and job fairs that stand between me and graduation.

On Tuesday we celebrated Valentine’s Day and we had a party with my homeroom class. We played music for the kids to dance to, they passed out their Valentines to the class, and we laughed… a lot! I opened up the white board for the students to write on which ended up being pretty hilarious and sweet. Here are some quotes from the students:
“Don’t worry Ms. Schmitt, even when you leave you will still be in our heart.”
“Ms. Schmitt and Ms. V, you girls are the best!”
And… “You look like my mom.”
It was a nice reminder to enjoy this experience and the kids I get to work with every day. While it may be easy to focus on what didn’t get done that day, ultimately I am there for the students and to help them learn and grow.

On Wednesday, I decided to cook for my roommates (with their help of course.) It took a little longer than anticipated, but the end result was a success – pasta, laughter, and storytelling.

On Thursday, my teacher texted me before school to say that she would not be coming in because she was sick. I wasn’t too concerned since I had already experienced full control when we had had a sub earlier and I had a plan this time.  Since it was “A Day Without Immigrants” many of the students in my classroom and throughout Cooper were not at school, which made class sizes much more manageable and kept behavior problems to a minimum. The day didn’t go quite according to my plans since I had to postpone filming and teaching lesson 4 of 5 for edTPA until Friday when all the students would be there. Other than that, I felt much more comfortable “subbing” this time since I knew the students and the curriculum plans.
Overall, my biggest celebration is that every day I am getting closer to graduation and becoming a better teacher through this experience! This coming week I take over another science class and have my second observation – this will be my final week of partial control before six weeks of full control!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Week 4: Surprise!

Sarah Schmitt - Cooper Dual Language Academy

On Monday, after a long weekend of studying, my roommate Mallory came to me with some big news: Yogurtland was offering free frozen yogurt for national frozen yogurt day!  Naturally, we took the “L” downtown at rush hour to get our own cup of goodness. There, we ran into many other Chicago Semester friends and took a tour of their Canterbury Apartment. It was nice, but I really enjoy La Casa since it is so close to my school, has more of a neighborhood feel, and its more spacious.

The rest of the week went by in a blur and before I knew it Friday had arrived. I struggled to keep up with lesson planning, evaluations, grading, and everything else this week. It is a lot to manage and I didn’t even get to start creating lesson plans for edTPA until Friday. I did film my class just to introduce them to the video camera so they wouldn’t goof around too much when I start filming on Monday. They were pretty silly and cute as I walked around and they each took a moment to dab, pretend they were melting, or say “hello” in a funny voice. I will be saving that video to remember them by.   

I took over reading and writing this week, which meant that I introduced Frindle to my students. To my surprise, they loved the book and many of them wanted to read it the next day when they had time to read independently. I even had one boy come up to me and ask if he could read the next chapter at home. I told him he could, but that he had to stop there and he couldn’t tell his classmates what happened next. It was exciting to see their genuine interest in the story and characters. My guided reading group was also captivated by Cam Jansen and The Chocolate Fudge Mystery. They begged me to keep reading and to finish the book on Thursday with them. We kept stopping as we read to make predictions which they were eager to make and see if they were correct. On Friday, before they started reading with Compass Learning I had them answer a few questions about the story and they were all able to tell me the characters, what the chocolate fudge mystery was, and their favorite part.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were interested and eager to read.

The last surprise this week was on Saturday. My aunt and I had planned to go out for dinner near her house in Forest Park. When I got there I was greeted by my parents sitting in her living room. I was glad to see them after a long and stressful week. We ended up going to the Half Shell as a belated birthday present. My parents had always talked about taking me to this quirky, dimly lit, crab leg joint, but it had never worked out– finally that day came! We spent the night laughing, cracking crab legs, and sharing stories from our week. This week I will teach my edTPA lessons on summarizing and take over teaching science for 222. We’ll see what surprises this week has in store! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


Sarah Schmitt - Cooper Dual Language Academy

This week, I was given more freedom to assert myself as a leader in our classroom when working with small groups. In science, students had the opportunity to create their own “telegraph” by using electromagnets and send secret messages to another group by using a code. My CT asked me to lead the groups working outside of the classroom. While I initially struggled to keep students on task, make sure that the “telegraph” was working, and explain how to transfer messages– by the end of the week I had mastered my “spiel” and the students and I were able to efficiently complete the activity and have fun with it.

I also started leading the Bananas, my guided reading group by introducing a novel called Cam Jansen and The Chocolate Fudge Mystery. My students immediately enjoyed the book and many of them were disappointed when the class period was over because they wanted to read more. The group I work with are considered to be in the strategic category for literacy which means that they need focused and clear support to continue improving their reading scores. They have been consistently improving the whole year, so I am hoping to keep that pattern up.

One pattern I am hoping to break is all of the gossip we have been dealing with in our classes. My teacher always reacts as soon as the problem arises by discussing the issue with the student in the hallway. While I believe that this is an effective method to deal with the behaviors, it often leaves me in charge of the rest of the class for 5-10 minutes at a time. Although my CT is only on the other side of the door, the students take this an opportunity to act out. While I try and nip these behaviors as soon as they arise, students often ignore my attention getters, warnings, and directions leaving me frustrated and disappointed in myself and my inability to change their behavior. I shared my frustrations with my CT and she was very supportive, reminding me that it takes time to build a relationship of respect and that I should stop them as soon as they act out to redirect them.

As far as my life in the city – this week I went to Troy LaRaviere’s Social Justice talk on Wednesday at the University of Chicago. He discussed his encounters with racial prejudice and his work in CPS. This weekend, I went to Los Comales with a friend who came to visit me. I decided to switch it up from my usual carne asada tacos for a torta – que rico! I also went to see Magic City at the Chicago Children’s Theater which I loved due to the use of shadow work and childlike storytelling. I have also been working on lesson plans for this coming week since I will be taking over reading for 222 and introducing Frindle. During the rest of the week I will begin completing self-evaluations, my first observation, and starting to plan for EdTPA which I will begin teaching/recording the following week! 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Sarah Schmitt - Cooper Dual Language Academy
Hello! I am Sarah Schmitt and I have recently begun my student teaching adventure through Chicago Semester, a program affiliated with Monmouth College. I will be graduating this May with a degree in Elementary Education and a Spanish minor.

I have always had an interest in learning new languages and I actively pursued a minor in Spanish through traveling abroad to Spain and taking classes at college. Through a college sponsored trip, I was able to visit Pilsen my sophomore year. During our visit we toured the area to see the beautiful mosaics, visit the National Museum of Mexican Art, and eat authentic Mexican food. I distinctly remember crossing the street and being drawn to the school with beautiful mosaics spanning the front of it.

Flash forward to January 12th, 2017 and I am lucky enough to be placed at that school: Cooper Dual Language Academy in a bilingual 4th grade classroom. My 4th grade placement is a bit different for me coming from an elementary education background. My CT and I are the homeroom teachers for the bilingual class (222). In addition to this class, we also teach 224 and 226, which are two other 4th grade classes that do not require as much Spanish support. Students rotate classrooms to receive instruction for all subjects and ensure that their needs are met (13% of the students at Cooper require special education services and it is a magnet school for the hearing impaired.) In the classroom that my CT and I are in we only teach reading and science which will provide me with the opportunity to revise my lessons and not to make too many lesson plans! :) In addition to having a great placement I also have a cooperating teacher who is incredibly friendly and true to her title (cooperative), providing me advice about teaching as well as things to do in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood is a great location – La Casa is right off of the 18th stop on the “L” – not to mention that I live a block away from my school! I live with five other girls (four from Chicago Semester). Our apartment looks like an Ikea showroom since the walls are bright green and everything is very new. My favorite part is the kitchen with the island/counter where we all can cook while we talk about the days’ events. Two of my roommates are student teachers so we always have a lot to share from student stories, edTPA, or lessons we taught. I also happen to know both of them prior to attending Chicago Semester since one of them goes to Monmouth and the other was part of Golden Apple, a teacher preparation program I attended for the past two summers. Two of my other roommates are in the nursing program and the other one has an internship at a publishing company. While we all have different schedules, we get along well and seek out opportunities to spend time together. Last weekend, for my birthday they made a cake and we went out for Mexican food.    

So how did I land this incredible opportunity? When I started to consider my student teaching placement, I knew that I wanted to complete it in CPS. While Monmouth didn't initially have a program that would enable me to do it at the time, they eventually announced that they had partnered with Chicago Semester to allow students to have an urban student teaching experience (Side note: Monmouth College is in the located in central Illinois near Galesburg). With Chicago Semester, there is a lot of freedom that has allowed me to experience living in Chicago as a young, working professional. As student teachers, we meet with our supervisors for seminar/reflection once a week and the rest of the week we are shadowing our CTs and gradually gaining more control in the classroom. Chicago Semester also regularly schedules events that allow us to experience the culture and beauty of Chicago such as beginner salsa classes and trips to many of the museums. They also have a page that connects us to events happening in the city, after filtering through it I recently went to the “college night” performance of Gloria at the Goodman theatre, the Harold Washington Library, and tried out many of the local restaurants in the Pilsen area. Since Chicago Semester provided us with a UPass we also have free public transportation which allows us to get to our placements and explore as much of the city as possible!

While I enjoy exploring, my main focus this semester is teaching 4th graders at Cooper. As we begin Week 3 of my placement I am gradually gaining more control in the classroom. I will be leading a group of students during “Words Their Way” (a daily vocabulary and spelling practice for students at their level) as well as leading the “Banana” group of students during guided reading twice a week. Next week, I will also begin teaching reading to 222 by introducing Frindle. I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming weeks!