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Chicago Center Alumni Highlight: Nate Otto

Seeing and hearing the success stories that our Chicago Centers alums produce is what makes it all worth it. We feature Fall 2017's Nate Otto from Bluffton University, as he tells us about his process to the Chicago Center as a student, and what he is up to now.

"When you take someone from a small town to a big city like Chicago there is no certainty that the result will be a positive one. In my case however, the result was very positive and only reinforced the decision to leave my small-town area and head to the big city. I moved into Chicago in late August with no clue what to expect and virtually no experience in a city, but needless to say, it would be an adventure.

I first heard about the Chicago Center from a professor in the education department at Bluffton University, a liberal arts college in northwest Ohio where I completed my undergrad work. This professor urged me on and encouraged me to get outside my comfort zone and complete my student teaching in Chicago Public Schools.

My placement was a math and social studies position at James Shields Middle School in the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago. Part of the Chicago Centers program in the city involves immersing its students into the city life as much as possible. Every day my commute to school was a 40-minute, multi-bus ride from Hyde Park to Shields Middle. This was one of the best parts of the experience for me. Having the freedom to travel throughout the city both to school and to other places offered me a certain freedom to just explore what Chicago had to offer. It allowed me to not only learn about what it takes to be a teacher in Chicago, but also what it meant to embrace everything the city has to offer from sporting events to theater to museums and the Lake Shore.

I split my semester between two seventh grade classrooms learning the ins and outs of what it meant to be a teacher. Things like how to enter grades, how to plan a lesson, how to effectively manage a classroom of 34 seventh graders, were all part of the daily agenda. Some came easier than others. I worked with two cooperating teachers with very different styles of both teaching and classroom management and I am only now realizing how valuable that was. It let me see two styles and how both could be effective. This split experience allowed me to further craft my own teaching style and glean bits and pieces from each of these experienced teachers.

The placement I was put into was a really good fit for me. It also worked out that the two teachers I would be with were in rooms adjacent to each other. I worked with the same students the entire semester and this really allowed me a chance to get to know them and learn along with them on a daily basis.

My favorite part of the Chicago experience was the group living arrangement. I lived in an apartment on the third floor of our building with seven other young teachers doing the same program that I was. The support and community that we built were huge parts of my successful experience in Chicago and I am grateful for that. We cooked meals together, discussed the failures and successes of our days and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. This community atmosphere served as a support system throughout my time in Chicago.

I am currently teaching 5th grade math in the Wooster City School District. I am using many of the skills that I learned and worked on in Chicago and am very glad that I made the decision to take the leap of faith and complete clinical practice in Chicago."

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