Wells High program aims to put teens on the road to teaching

Print More

Jazmin Barajas is only 14, but she knows that she wants to
go to college and one day become a teacher. She won’t have to wait that long to
rack up some teaching experience, though. As part of the new Teachers Academy
program at Wells High School, Barajas will begin to teach
mini-lessons to younger students in just a few weeks.  

 

Jazmin Barajas is only 14, but she knows that she wants to
go to college and one day become a teacher. She won’t have to wait that long to
rack up some teaching experience, though. As part of the new Teachers Academy
program at Wells High School, Barajas will begin to teach
mini-lessons to younger students in just a few weeks.  

The Wells High School Teachers Academy aims to give students
a mix of theory and practice as students explore the teaching profession. Having
classroom experience is likely to give graduates an advantage when they apply
for teacher education programs in college.

 “The experience you get is the whole purpose, because you’re
going to go out and work with little kids,” Barajas says. “It’s going to be
something new for us, and will help us when we go to college and study to be
teachers.” She’s one of 25 students in the program.

The academy is part of the district’s recently launched overhaul
of its career education programs, which have long been considered
scattershot and ineffective at preparing students for good jobs. Mayor Richard
M. Daley chose Wells for the traditional first-day bell-ringing ceremony, where
he announced the opening of the first 30 revamped career academies.

The Wells teaching academy is designed to inspire a new crop
of teachers who will ideally return to work at CPS, says coordinator Andrew Cengel.
Offering classroom exposure addresses a common criticism of teacher education: Experts
say most teacher preparation programs offer too little in-school and classroom
experience, especially for those who want to work in urban schools.

The district hopes to expand the Teachers Academy
to other high schools, including Curie in 2012. Another program, at Orr,
focuses on early childhood education but does not include classroom experience,
although students have the chance to become certified in first aid and CPR for
infants and children.

Barajas and her classmates started off the year studying
coursework in psychology, human cognitive development and social policy. They
also worked on public speaking and classroom management skills.

In the coming weeks, the Teaching Academy
students will kick off their classroom experience by observing kindergarten or
1st-grade classes and collaborating with teachers on their current
lesson plans. The ideal, says Cengel, is to have a smooth transition in
instruction and to ensure that the students are a help rather than a burden in
the classroom. 

In about three weeks,students
will walk a block to nearby Peabody Elementary to teach short lessons to
kindergarten and 1st-grade classes.

“The important thing
is preparing them from an academic and maturity standpoint, and teaching them to
express themselves in front of the kids,” says Cengel.

Students will begin their instruction with one-on-one
tutoring and small group activities, then work in pairs to teach 20-minute
lessons to an entire class. Because most of the students have little experience
working with younger children, part of the training prepares them to serve as
role models with an upbeat attitude.

“This is a huge responsibility, with the potential for huge
impact,” says Cengel.  “We have high
expectations, and we want them to realize that this will be very different from
high school, and that it’s important for them to be positive and encouraging.  We don’t want any negativity.”

According to the current plan, students will teach
progressively older youngsters as they move up through high school: Sophomores
will teach 3rd through 5th graders, juniors will teach
middle grade students, and seniors will observe and teach high school freshmen.

After four years in the Teaching Academy,
students will ideally develop confidence in their abilities and their desire to
teach, leading to a greater likelihood of college success, says Cengel.

“They’ll already have the repetition, exposure and practice
in their tool bag,” he adds.  “They
should be able to breeze through education courses in college, and be able to
focus more attention on other courses. Even if they don’t choose to go into
teaching, this is still a college prep program, and they still develop critical
skills.”

Ernesto Matias, the principal of Wells, learned
about the concept of the Teachers Academy through Broward County Public Schools in
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Broward’s model has been in place for
10 years and gives students a mix of classroom and field experience, with the
hope that they will earn a degree and come back to teach in the district. Matias
visited the Florida
program and decided on it for the third career program at Wells, which also has
career academies in law and logistics.