Before Phillip Daniel began student teaching at Mather High School in West Ridge last, he was open to the idea of taking a job in the Chicago Public Schools. After a semester at Mather, CPS was where this recent DePaul University graduate wanted to be.
“My view of teaching in Chicago has been enhanced,” he said last summer. “Until I actually did it, there’s a level of intimidation about city schools—coming from the suburbs. City schools absolutely do not have the resources that the suburbs do, so the challenges are different and greater, but the rewards are also greater.”
Daniel’s experience is far from unique. In a survey of recent graduates from three Midwest teacher colleges, 84 percent of the respondents who did their student teaching in CPS said that the experience contributed to their willingness to teach in CPS.
“Student teaching is very, very important,” concurs Zalman Usiskin, director of the mathematics MAT (master of arts in teaching) program at the University of Chicago. “It is the most important thing a prospective teacher does.”
The Chicago Public Schools has come to see that, too, and has added student teachers as a recruitment target. Xiomara Metcalfe, director of the Bureau of Recruitment and Staffing, says CPS no longer will be a “passive participant” in the process, which involves some 800 teachers-in- training this year alone. For one, recruiters will visit teacher prep programs in the metropolitan area to give them information about teaching in the city. In addition, two job fairs are planned for January and April so that student teachers can meet principals who are looking for teachers.
“We want to go beyond merely facilitating the process by which student teachers find out about schools that need them,” Metcalfe says. “We want to get the process moving along.”
Down the road, CPS plans to establish a satellite training camp for teacher colleges outside the metropolitan area; it would offer lodging and specially trained mentors to oversee student teachers’ work. The program would be similar to the Urban Education Program, a 33-year-old program that allows 14 Midwestern colleges to send about 30 student teachers a year into Chicago schools. (See story.)
Chicago often comes up short on student teacher placements because colleges’ supervising teachers don’t live in the city.
“We put most of our students in the suburbs because that’s where the person who supervises them lives,” says John McIntyre, an associate education dean at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. “It’s much more convenient for him than to come to the city.”
On occasion, SIU and others have made arrangements with Chicago colleges to provide supervising teachers for students who wanted to student teach in Chicago.
Another obstacle CPS faces in its bid to increase the student teacher corps is the lack—or perceived lack—of well-run host schools, college officials say.
The largest teaching colleges in the city—University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Northeastern Illinois, Chicago State, Columbia, Roosevelt, Loyola and DePaul—quickly fill up the desirable student teaching slots.
“What are their favorite schools?” Usiskin asks. “Those that are operating well. And there are only so many of them. Those are also the ones that tend not to have shortages of teachers either. They want to put their student teachers in places that are working, and working well, where they’ll get good supervision.”
Usiskin recalls that last year, he had a student who very much wanted to student teacher in CPS but the only acceptable school already had four student teachers in mathematics. “We and the school agreed that it would not be best for them to have a fifth student teacher. So this person wound up not student teaching in the city. And it’s not because this person didn’t want to do it.”
Mather High School is one of the sought-after schools. Last year, it took 40, the most that space would allow, and turned away 10.
Lee Elementary School in West Lawn is another. “The first thing that I notice at a school is if the teachers want to be there,” says Becky Jaracz, a St. Xavier College student who student taught at Lee during the summer. “At other schools I’ve worked at, teachers are always gossiping, and the stress level is high. Here at Lee, everybody seems to like their job. My cooperating teacher has been so generous with teaching magazines and supplies. It’s just been great.”
Student teachers stress the importance of their cooperating teachers, the ones with whom they teach.
“A lot of students, including myself, don’t think we got the observation we needed,” ways Omar Gonzalez, a UIC student who student taught in CPS. “My mentor teacher had only two years of experience as a teacher. That’s not enough time for me to get any meaningful ideas and information about what it’s like to be a teacher.
“A lot of times, colleges just want to fill places,” he adds. “As a result, not all of us get placed with good mentor teachers.”
At Lee School, Principal Marjorie Joy does the selecting, looking for teachers with at least three to five years of experience. “I always look for my best teachers, the ones who have a good understanding of the whole process,” she says.
For her efforts, Joy has been rewarded with student teachers who want to work at Lee after they graduate. In 15 years, she has hired five. “[Student teaching] is a wonderful opportunity to see how [potential teachers] react in a classroom,” she notes. “You get to see them in action. But definitely the best part about having them is what they bring to us. I don’t know how anyone would not want to have a student teacher in their building.”
Recruitment director Metcalfe notes that student teaching also allows both sides to determine whether they make a good pair. “Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher in the Chicago public schools,” she notes. “Student teaching is a good way to weed these people out.”
“We had one student teacher last year, who, after doing her student teaching, decided she was going to go to a very rural area,” says Joe Kallas, Mather’s assistant principal. “She saw what an urban area was like and decided that was not what she wanted to do.”
The University of Chicago’s Usiskin says that suburban schools have a leg up on Chicago because they have the time to recruit student teachers. “The department chairs in the suburbs are quasi- administrators,” he explains. “They have more time than those in the city. Recruiting and hiring is a big responsibility for them. That is not the case in Chicago.”
In the suburbs, he continues, department chairs know what kind of teachers they will need and often will try to recruit in student teachers in those areas. His advice to Chicago: “First of all, I think they have to free up some time. The department chairs have to have the time to take care of the student teaching arrangements. Secondly, it doesn’t hurt to actually train people to supervise. They would help themselves a lot by training people in what is expected of a good cooperating teacher.”
While Phillip Daniel’s positive experience at Mather High turned him on to CPS, the system didn’t land him. In the end, he took a job as a business teacher at St. Gregory High School, a Catholic school on the Northwest Side, because it made him the first offer of a permanent position.