‘Here’s the city … learn about it’

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For 33 years, 14 small colleges, most far removed from Chicago, have been sending student teachers to the city, placing them principally in the Chicago Public Schools. In recent years, about a third have gone on to become CPS employees, says Demetria Iazzetto, director of the Urban Education Program.

For 33 years, 14 small colleges, most far removed from Chicago, have been sending student teachers to the city, placing them principally in the Chicago Public Schools. In recent years, about a third have gone on to become CPS employees, says Demetria Iazzetto, director of the Urban Education Program.

Sara Arthur, a recent graduate of Beloit College in Wisconsin, is one. “Before Urban Education, I had always pictured myself teaching far from Chicago, maybe in Rockford where I grew up,” says Arthur, who now teaches at Mark Sheridan Math and Science Academy, where she did her student teaching. “I went into my student teaching with preconceived notions of what it was like to teach in a Chicago public school. But I met wonderful kids and had a great experience.”

The Chicago Public Schools now wants to launch a similar program to extend its recruitment reach, and Iazzetto has a few words of advice: “I think it’s a good idea as long as they don’t just dump the students here. They have to give the students the full urban experience. Then they will get committed people who will want to stay.”

For the Urban Education Program of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, as the institutions collectively are known, the full urban experience means an immersion in cultural diversity. Through education seminars, regular meetings and city excursions, the program shows participants what it means to be an urban teacher.

“We take students into ethnically diverse areas of the city and say, ‘Here’s the city. Learn about it, because this is what you will be a part of if you teach here,'” explains Iazzetto, who became director eight years ago after working at the University Without Walls program for adult students at Northeastern Illinois University.

Because many of Associated Colleges’ students come from rural areas, the program provides a common residence where they can share experiences and support each other. According to Iazzetto, students can often be found talking about everything from educational philosophy to their students as they eat dinner, do laundry, or watch TV.

In response to the increasing number of non-English speaking students in urban areas, the program puts an emphasis on bilingual education and teaching English as a second language (ESL). This year, it hired a coordinator for this specialty, Susan Kilbane, who taught 10 years at Telpochcalli Academy in Little Village and has served as both a cooperating and supervising teacher for Urban Education. Her responsibilities include a separate, nine-week summer program with separate courses for bilingual, ESL and regular teachers.

Iazzetto and Kilbane keep in close touch with the member colleges, which include nearby Lake Forest College and the University of Chicago as well as Beloit, Lawrence and Ripon in Wisconsin; Carleton, Macalester and St. Olaf in Minnesota; Coe, Cornell and Grinnell in Iowa; Knox and Monmouth in Illinois; and Colorado College. They make two-day visits to each campus each year, meeting with student teaching coordinators and talking with interested students.

“The first time I ever even thought about teaching in Chicago was when Demetria came to visit Beloit,” says Sara Arthur. “She came to talk to us and really got the wheels turning.”

Program advisors from each campus also are invited to a meeting in Chicago each year; typically, they all come.

Program alumni extend the link, serving as mentors and often as cooperating teachers for each year’s crop of about 30 student teachers. “It’s nice for new teachers to have a support system,” Kilbane notes. “Urban Education’s alumni network offers this to new teachers in our program.”