Teacher profiles: Alma Park

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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.

When Alma Park approached job-fair booths last spring, the University of Chicago graduate (major: biology) with a University of Michigan master’s degree in curriculum development, recruiters woke up. “Oh, wow,” recruiters would tell her, “you went to excellent schools.”

With college loans to pay off, Park was looking mainly at salaries. She also was determined to apply only to a district within an hour of her family home in Homewood. By June, she had applications lodged with Naperville, Wheaton, Orland Park, Barrington, Glen Ellyn, Evanston and Chicago. In all, she made submissions to 39 districts. Her goal was to teach 4th- or 5th-graders: “Before they face the peer pressure of junior high, you can set good morals and give them confidence.”

Chicago’s recruitment booth at the University of Michigan left her under-whelmed. “It was like, Hi, fill out this form.’ They didn’t interview me.” Yet Chicago itself appealed to the Korean-American Park for its diversity: “It’s so hard for students of minority races and cultures to succeed because they have so much pitted against them.”

However, the system’s city residency requirement was a drawback: She had planned on living with her parents in Homewood.

By June, Park was more willing to live on her own and interviewed with the principal of Sunny Hill School in northwest suburban Carpentersville. He offered her a 5th-grade classroom and gave her just a week to decide. The age group was right, and the school, being largely Hispanic, is diverse. The job paid $36,000. “I said yes because I didn’t want to gamble on not getting other offers,” says Park, 26, who has taken an apartment in Mt. Prospect.

A principal from a Chicago school was supposed to have called Park as she weighed the Carpentersville offer, but didn’t. Too bad. “Chicago was what I most wanted,” she remarks.