Teacher profiles: Sara DeVries

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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 classroom should fit each student’s individual needs,” says Sara DeVries, a special education major at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. “I’m for inclusion.” When she shopped for a job, DeVries felt the philosophy of Chicago Public Schools squared with her own.

Yet DeVries, 22, hesitated about Chicago. The Rockford-area native was worried that Chicago’s starting salary, $33,810, wouldn’t cover the cost of living downtown—”you know, the rent, parking and transportation”—and about being located far from the school that hired her. “And there are rumors you hear about,” she said, which she defined as “safety issues.”

DeVries conceded that her parents (a businessman and a retired teacher who reside in Rockton, near Rockford) “aren’t really thrilled” about her considering Chicago. “They’d basically like me to stay in Rockford.” Her older brother taught in Berkeley, a suburb of Chicago, which she sees as a more comfortable option.

By summer, the special-education major had applied to work in numerous suburbs (“little places I’ve never heard of”) and in Chicago. “It’s still an option I’d like to look into,” she said then.

She’d been taken with the city the prior summer when she sold clothes on Michigan Avenue and shared an apartment in Lincoln Park. She’d even scouted Lincoln Park High School and Newberry Math and Science Academy to see if they appealed to her.

June saw DeVries balancing offers from elementary schools in Rockton and Orland Park. She chose Orland Park because she’d be teaching younger students than in Rockton (kindergartners through 3rd-graders), because a good friend lives nearby and, she says, “’cause I wanted to move away from home.”

Chicago, which would have paid DeVries more, proved too slow on the draw. At the beginning of July, two Chicago principals called DeVries, alerting her to openings at their facilities, one in Lincoln Park. “If it had been earlier, I would definitely have considered the job, depending on how my interviews had gone,” she says.