In the following pages, Catalyst shares the stories of eight new teachers as they decide where to take their first jobs. Writer Grant Pick selected them from 50 he met at job fairs last winter and spring or through the Teacher Recruitment Initiative, a joint venture of the Chicago Public Schools and the non-profit Financial Research and Advisory Committee. The thumb sketches indicate their job decisions with the Chicago Public Schools.

Jada Kemp, an elementary education major at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, launched her job search just the way Board of Education officials had in mind. She filled out an application on-line, had interactions with the Teacher Recruitment Initiative (TRI, a foundation-funded partnership with the board) and worked with recruiter Steve Heller to pinpoint schools where she would send a resume and interview.

But then, to Kemp, 22, the Chicago Public Schools are old shoe. She attended Poe Classical School and Kenwood Academy. “Despite the systems’ bad reputation, I know there are schools that are tops,” she says.

As a senior at the U. of I., she participated in a year-long round of student teaching that had her in three different schools in Danville and Urbana. She served as an assistant instructor in kindergarten and in 2nd and 4th grades, deciding that she prefers working with older elementary-age youngsters. At graduation, she had no intention of remaining in or near Champaign-Urbana: “These are college towns, and I’m graduating and moving on.”

While Kemp checked out opportunities in Oak Lawn and Evergreen Park, she anticipated choosing Chicago. “I want to teach where students and parents are concerned with learning,” she said, supposing that reform is recasting more schools along the lines of the ones she attended. Her father, a counselor at a rehabilitation center, and her mother, a Chicago State University administrative assistant, wanted their daughter to be located “in a place where the danger is less,” Kemp said.

TRI sent Kemp a list of five openings at Northwest Side schools, but they were too far from her home in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, and she never pursued the opportunities. Instead, she heard through the grapevine of a 5th-grade vacancy at Kozminski Community Academy in Englewood, and was hired. “I’d hoped to be teaching a younger grade, but I’m relieved to have gotten something,” she remarks.

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