Urban Student Teaching program testimonials

KELSEY PIGATI, FALL 2015 of MILLIKIN UNiversity

When the Chicago Center individuals visited Millikin University to offer us the option of student teaching in Chicago, I knew instantly that it was something that I was interested in doing. I was born and raised in Decatur, Illinois and had lived there my entire life. I was interested in the Chicago Center because I knew it would be a great opportunity to move away from home, live in a complex with people my own age going through a similar experience, and a chance to test out living in a big city. Living just three hours south of Chicago, I had previously taken many trips there and absolutely loved the city. Whenever my family would visit, the feeling of big city life lit a spark in me. Needless to say, the Chicago Center was the chance I had been waiting for.

 

In January 2014, I took part in the Chicago Center Immersion, offered through my university, in which I was able to go into local schools and work with students from various backgrounds. During this short trip we visited many different parts of Chicago, including the cultural areas of Pilsen and Chinatown. We took a crash course on how to work the public transportation of the city and were able to travel on our own to and from our schools and other parts of the city. We even stayed in the homestead during our visit. Funnily enough, in the first few days of the student teaching practicum, we went through an orientation that was very similar to what we had already experienced through the immersion. We even participated in some of the same training and cultural tours again and I enjoyed them even more the second time around.

 

When I was student teaching in Chicago I was placed at Sidney Sawyer Elementary School in a third grade traditional, self-contained classroom. Sawyer Elementary is located near Gage Park, has over 1700 students, which are predominately Hispanic, and offers not only monolingual English classrooms but bilingual and dual language classrooms as well. Student teaching here was ideal for me because I was also in the process of obtaining my ESL endorsement, so working with the English language learners helped me to gain more experience in that field. I learned so much from my Spanish speaking students including phrases and few words daily. We had constant conversations about their cultural upbringings and my students always had questions about my family and home life. Once, we read a book called Too Many Tamales for our reading unit and the students were confused when they realized I had never tried a tamale. On my last day of student teaching there, one of the parents brought in tamales for me to try and the students absolutely loved my reaction.

 

My favorite part of my placement was the 50 minute bus ride to and from my school. During this time, I managed to read the entire Harry Potter series as well as a few other novels and reflect on the day ahead or the days lessons that I had taught. Of all the things I miss most about Chicago, it’s that daily commute. Using the public transportation in Chicago was one of the most empowering experiences and I continue to make frequent trips to Chicago and still use the public transportation with ease. I also enjoyed the people that I met and lived with at the homestead. In our time there, we would always make plans to go to certain events and we all enjoyed that there was always something to do at any given time in the big city. I know that I have made some life-long friendships with the people I experienced the Chicago Center with.
 

I currently reside in Decatur, Illinois and teach third grade at the Lutheran Schools Association. In my classroom I constantly incorporate real-world connections and never miss an opportunity to teach my students about other cultures. I know that as a teacher, I am not only helping to develop students intellectually, but also allowing them to grow socially while integrating 21st century skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration, all of which was fostered during my time in my internships at Millikin University and again in my student teaching through the Chicago Center. My future plans include eventually obtaining my masters in curriculum and instruction and moving down south to be closer to my family there. I will forever be grateful for the time I spent in Chicago, the people I met there, and the experiences that can never be replaced. I would and have recommended the Chicago Center for anyone who thinks they would enjoy living in a big city, wants to be somewhere that is culturally diverse, and wants an experience like no other.

"My decision to become an Elementary Education major came with a non-negotiable goal: to student teach in the city of Chicago. I can distinctly remember the conversation I had with my adviser my sophomore year when I decided that there was no other option for my student teaching path. I was deadset on making this goal a priority. Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is my beloved alma mater. I owe my love of learning, extending my horizons, and meeting new people from different backgrounds to that tiny institution made up of just 1,400 students. I loved my time at Coe, but being from a much larger city in Colorado, I yearned for a fast-paced, urban experience that could fulfill my obsession with mass populations. Fast forward a couple of years later as I finished up my senior year of college: I was absolutely thrilled that my dream had come true and that I would be living, learning, and growing in Chicago for my Fall 2017 student-teaching term.

 

My first placement was a seven-week assignment in a first grade classroom at the Nettelhorst School, an art and music magnet in the vibrant Lakeview neighborhood. My second placement was also to take place over the course of seven weeks in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade social studies at John T. McCutcheon Elementary School in Uptown. While Uptown is just a few red line stops north of Lakeview, the population is vastly different in that it contains high international and homeless community members. I had a bit of an idea of the fact that the journey that I was about to undertake would change my life for the better in unimaginable ways. However, I never could have truly prepared myself for the changes that I would undergo as a person and educator during my time in the Windy City.

 

I arrived in Chicago in August 2017 and immediately began my orientation experience with the Chicago Center. To say that the directors of the program prepared us for two weeks worth of full-on Chicago immersion is quite the understatement. I was in heaven. We had the opportunity to tour various neighborhoods, attend wonderful plays, eat delicious food, and visit Chicago landmarks such as Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and even do a river taxi tour! The time that we spent exploring the city prepared us for a semester of living as city residents. I would argue that one of the most essential features of our orientation program was the Chicago Transit Authority tour that we were sent to explore. Had we not learned the ins and outs of Chicago's public transportation prior to being sent out to complete our studies in the city, I don't believe any of us would have adjusted as well as we did to our commutes. Orientation welcomed us to the city and to a community of leaders who were very clearly there to guide and support us.

 

During my first placement, I had the privilege of working with a veteran educator who also happens to serve as a board member for the Chicago Teachers' Union. The lessons that she taught me about interacting with young children are irreplaceable, and I owe my confidence and success thus far in working in primary grades to her mentorship. Each day I traveled one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening to get to and from the Nettelhorst School, but I wouldn't have traded my experience there for anything. I learned valuable lessons about teaching ethics, pro-social, and pro-emotional practices to students. Our classroom quickly became a family. I distinctly remember my final moments in first grade, choking back tears and reminding my students that I would surely see them again someday. I intend to keep that promise. My second placement led me on a new, more challenging journey. Nonetheless, I prevailed at the end of the semester with a wealth of knowledge about teaching middle school students. I witnessed the strengths of my cooperating teacher as he engaged with students from very different backgrounds than my own. The interactions that I had with the students at McCutcheon taught me so incredibly much about privilege, access, and opportunity for students in urban settings. Many of the students whom I taught came from low socioeconomic means. This presented me with obstacles that led to my understanding that each student deserves a personal, heartfelt approach to education. I would not be the educator I am today without my experiences with the students and staff of John T. McCutcheon.

 

I was extremely upset to leave Chicago at the end of the semester. My seven roommates and eight other housemates had become a quintessential part of my life. We bonded in so many ways and on so many different levels. If nothing else, I consider myself extremely lucky to have come out of my experience at the Chicago Center with fifteen new friends. I still keep in touch with several of my peers and look forward to reuniting with them to learn about their journeys after Chicago. Leaving the staff and directors at the Chicago Center wasn't easy either. The support that is provided to students during their term in Chicago is indescribable. We were truly treated as members of a community built on the foundations of knowledge, acceptance, and encouragement. Nancy, Lane, Scott, Cameron, Julian, Joe, and Clint were always available to answer questions, provide insight, and make our experience as fulfilling as it possibly could be.

 

I am currently five weeks into my first year of teaching at Adelina Otero Elementary School in my hometown of Colorado Springs, Colorado. I teach kindergarten and learn something new right alongside my students each and every day. I adore my administrative staff and am very lucky to have strong building leadership among the veteran teachers within my building. While the district that I teach in is nowhere near the size of CPS, I have found some comfort in knowing that I serve a student population with similar issues and demographics as many of the schools in Chicago. I have made it a priority to spend my time at my school implementing the strategies for management, instruction, and developing personal relationships that I learned during my student teaching semester.

 

Chicago was my home. I loved every waking second that I spent walking the sidewalks to eat lunch at Whole Foods, riding the bus to meet friends, taking the red line to go to a Sox game, and so, so many more unforgettable experiences. I miss Chicago wholeheartedly and still hope to return one day. Until then, I will continue to feel forever thankful for the experience and opportunities that the Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture gave to me. I had a goal, fulfilled it, and wouldn't trade it for the world. If you or anyone you know is looking for a similar experience, you surely will not be disappointed in what this program has to offer.”

MEGAN SMITH, FALL 2017 OF COE COLLEGE

 Kim Meyer, Fall 2017

of Bluffton Univeristy

"During my semester in Chicago, I spent my time student teaching at a fine arts magnet school in the Pilsen neighborhood. Irma C Ruiz is a school of 689 students from Pre-K through 8th grade. Due to the schedule, I only got the chance to work with about 550 of those students, but they were truly wonderful. I taught music through many different venues at this school, including extra curricular activities. I taught general music lessons during the day and then taught either choir, guitar, or helped with a musical after school. I also helped with teaching drum-kit to individual students with social-emotional needs. 

Throughout the semester, I learned a lot about myself and how I want to teach. I can remember one of my classes, where a student was looking at the notes I had written on the board. I was teaching rhythm to 6th grade and one of the students raised his hand and said, "I like how the quarter rest looks like a three with a line on it and the eighth rest looks like a seven with a dot, which is one less than the name." I had this moment where I realized that one of my students had noticed something I had not realized in my 12 years of looking at those exact same symbols. After that day, I started trying to let students share more about their observations and opinions of what they were learning and I have really learned more about my students because of it. 

Teaching, for me, has almost always been something I have wanted to do, but there were some times in college where I began to question whether I could be a good teacher. One of the reasons I came to Chicago was to teach in a setting different than my own and challenge myself in order to truly see if I had what it takes to be a confident teacher. Where I am from in Ohio, the demographics are pretty much the same, white and middle class. There is some diversity, but nothing like Chicago. I really felt in my heart that if I truly wanted to know more about what kind of teacher I wanted to be, I would have to try teaching in an urban setting away from all the things I thought I knew about teaching. Honestly, as scared as I was to step so far away from my family, I think it was one of the greatest decisions I have ever made. I learned a lot about myself, both personally and in the academic field, and a lot about many wonderful students, who I will miss dearly. 

   

When I was getting ready to leave Chicago, I wrote a post on Facebook about how hard it was to leave all these kids that I had grown attached to. I only share this because of the response I got from my Elementary Music Teacher. She said "Now you get it. Your students literally become a part of your ever growing family. It always hurts your heart to see them leave, but you are confident they will open their wings and fly." This post has stuck with me the last several days, and makes me think about how much I believe that my Ruiz students will grow over the next several years as they become adults. This also makes me excited, because I have accepted a position at Beardsley Elementary in Elkhart, IN, where I will get the chance to find new students to add to my family and help grow. In my interview for this position, they told me they always have a concern about whether new teacher candidates can handle their diverse student body, but they did not feel that way about me since I came from CPS. I think having come from a place so diverse truly put me ahead of all the competition for this position.

It's with a bittersweet feeling I left Chicago, but I know that it will forever be a part of me. Chicago has truly shaped my teaching career for the better. However, it is time for me to move on and find my own school where I can help students grow."

"For me, my decision to come join the Chicago Center and student teach here was an opportunity for me to dip my toes into the water and figure out if teaching in the city was for me. I knew that it would be challenging, but I thought it would be rewarding and provide me with an opportunity to grow- I was right! My past education classes taught me that learning and growth occurs when there is dissonance; the more uncomfortable you are the more you will grow. I felt that if I did not follow this, then I could hardly expect my future students to do this too.

I felt all the nerves one would feel when people keep reminding them all summer of the terrible students in Chicago Public Schools. After being here two months, I can tell you they were not describing my students, but rather their stereotypes. At the same time, I realized their fears had become my fears too. However, I have been blessed with some amazing students who teach me patience, perseverance, honesty, and the value of diversity. They put a smile on my face and make it easy to come to school each day. I am dreading leaving them in December, but I am thankful for the lessons they have taught me.

Throughout my education I have gone to smaller rural schools, so I knew it was time for me to branch out and the Chicago Center helped me do this and prepared me for a smooth transition. Orientation taught me  about the city while also helping me adjust and feel comfortable with public transportation. The support and guidance I felt during orientation did not end after my first two weeks in Chicago. We have seminar class every Monday where we discuss problems and issues both in education and what we see firsthand in our classrooms. In addition, we have speakers who are very knowledgeable that come from time to time and Nancy Friesen, our seminar instructor, always offers a plethora of knowledge.

I also wanted to learn and adjust my instruction to better understand the differences students have when it comes to learning and barriers that impeded learning. My placement is at A.N. Pritzker Elementary in Wicker Park, which makes it about an hour commute. It’s worth it because I love my students and I have a fantastic cooperating teacher who not only supports and challenges me, but also gives me room to grow. Unfortunately, my experiences from my childhood are similar to my students. As a result, this gives me empathy and a chance to use these traumas in a positive way. I am reminded that when students walk into their classroom they bring with them their experiences and backgrounds. I am starting to accept that I cannot change this, but I can provide them literature that inspires them, offers them an escape, and allows them to cope. 

At the end of the day, I get to come home to an apartment of student teachers who can relate to my experiences and stress that comes with student teaching. We make meals together, devor Paige’s cookies, bowl at Seven Ten Lanes, and meet at Jimmy’s, the local bar, on Fridays to end the school week. I absolutely love living in Hyde Park; however, there is a stereotype because of its location on the southside. Even one of my students was shocked when I told him where I was living. He immediately told me, “You live on the southside? Miss A., you shouldn’t be living there.” I love being a part of this underdog identity and have embraced it (I even invested in a White Sox t-shirt). I can honestly say that I have never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. I’ve actually found the community to be welcoming and friendly. Plus, Obama’s house is just a couple of blocks away!

I love how diverse and accepting the city is, allowing everyone to be themselves without judgement. And no matter the day, you can always find entertainment, whether it’s going to the Hyde Park book sale, attending a play, or hitting the dance floor. Plus, you have tons of options when it comes to food, which makes it difficult to keep money in your bank account.

I am grateful to have had this Chicago Center experience and recommend it to anyone who has a passion for teaching. There is no better place to student teach than here."

 Elizabeth Abitz, fall 2017

of Ripon College

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Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture
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