Teacher profiles: Paul Vogt

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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 1998 education graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Paul Vogt was frantic. The Air Force veteran had a wife, a baby due and no a job, and the 1998-99 school year had already begun. “I was freaked out, and so I took the on-line approach,” he says. In September, he applied for a job in Chicago via the TRI web page, and got an immediate response.

Sent the names of a half dozen South Side schools, Vogt made the practical decision to pitch for the job nearest his Northwest Side home. He hired on at Doolittle Intermediate School in the Douglas neighborhood, which draws its student population from the Ida B. Wells housing project. In October, Vogt took over a class of 27 7th-graders.

“There was no order, no stability,” he relates. “A student at Doolittle saying F—- you’ is nothing. Now if a kid says, F—- you, I’m going to kill you,’ then somebody pays attention. Actually, a student did threaten to kill me, and I had a girl drop out because she was pregnant. She was a sweet little girl; that was a punch in the gut.”

Vogt felt buoyed by his colleagues, mainly strict older teachers who reminded him of those he’d had growing up in Rogers Park. “It was like I was working with my parents,” says the 30-year-old. He also developed a rapport with his students: “They each have terrible, terrible stories, and it’s easy to forget that they are 7th-graders, little kids really. A lot of it is the circumstances. These kids live just off Lake Shore Drive but haven’t been downtown.”

“I’m going back this year. I felt I made a difference. But long-term, I can’t see how I’ll have the energy to do what this job requires. You spend more time on discipline than on teaching. When it comes down to it, this is just a job, and I’m no missionary.”