Teacher profiles: Michael Diaz

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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.

A child of a single-mom household and the only member of his immediate family to attend college, Michael Diaz is committed to giving back. He once dated the daughter of Lourdes Monteagudo, the former deputy mayor for education who now heads the Teachers Academy for Mathematics and Science, and he says Monteagudo inspired him to consider Chicago as a place to work. Diaz is also an alumnus of three city grammar schools and Weber High School, a Catholic institution that was closed this year.

Diaz studied secondary education at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, with a major in English literature. “Michael is one of those extraordinary students,” says Robert Jimenez, a professor of bilingual education and literacy development who became Diaz’s mentor. “He has a hard time keeping his hand down in class, and when he speaks he has interesting things to say.”

Upon graduation, Diaz submitted his resume to the Chicago Public Schools, though he had misgivings about the system’s recent drift toward more standardized tests. “The tests reflect the persona of middle-class America, and so there’s a cultural bias against the poor. That’s bad for the community. I’m bothered about being placed in a school where they’re only worried about grades.”

He also turned his ear to the schools in Tampa, Fla., and in northwest suburban Leyden Township, which offered him a $40,000-a-year slot as a bilingual coordinator. “That would be ridiculous for someone coming out of college, but they’re desperate,” said Diaz.

Over the summer, the 23-year-old Diaz worked under Jimenez with immigrant Mexican children in a Champaign public school, an experience he found satisfying. In July, he received an e-mail from the Board of Education, informing him there were no high school English literature positions available. “That finalized my decision to stay at Champaign,” he reports. Anyway, he says he wants “something broader” than teaching in a classroom; he envisions even law school. “I want to become part of the up-top’ group.”