August 18, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 20

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    Students prepare for teaching careers, studying methods, others’ philosophies

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Student Evelyn Pollins (left), who was photographed here with instructor Kavita Kapadia (center) back in November 2003 when the Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program began, has completed the coursework to prepare for her teaching career in the Chicago Public Schools system.

    The first group of University students to complete preparation through the Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program will graduate with their M.A.T. degrees at Summer Convocation and begin to use their new skills in the Chicago Public Schools this fall. The teacher-preparation program is part of an expanded effort by the University to become involved in urban schools in general and the Chicago Public Schools in particular. Eight of the nine students graduating expect to be teaching in the fall.

    “This is a really special group of students,” said Kavita Kapadia, Director of the pre-service program that is administered through the Center for Urban School Improvement. “Many of the practicing teachers and principals who have observed them working with children have noted that their knowledge and practice are developed beyond what they expect of beginning teachers.

    “This is really gratifying for us to hear because we’ve spent two years working closely with them. Our program provides them with many opportunities to practice designing rigorous academic experiences and rich learning environments, and practice making skillful decisions based on evidence they collect while they are teaching. We’ve seen a great deal of development occur with our students during the course of the program, and it’s good to know that people in the field are recognizing this as well,” she said.

    The new teachers-to-be shared their enthusiasm for the program at the University’s charter school, North Kenwood/Oakland, where they recently described their experiences in the program to Kapadia; the program’s Associate Director, Marvin Hoffman; and representatives of the Center for Urban School Improvement and the Graham School, which grants their degrees.

    Megham Freytag said she discovered through the program that she needed to “understand the lessons from the child’s perspective.”

    Having completed her student teaching in two very different settings, Freytag also learned the importance of the physical space in which she will teach. Classrooms that provide flexibility to work in groups and to establish focal points of interest, such as an area where students always gather to read, help build community in a classroom and engage students better in learning, she said.

    Their videotaped student-teaching experiences also provided opportunities to learn from their mistakes, such as what Evelyn Pollins learned after viewing a classroom mathematics lesson she gave. Pollins said she found that her own attitude sets the tone for the classroom. When the lesson went badly, she began sounding frustrated with the students.

    “Learning to control my frustration with students to the degree that they can’t really tell how upset I am, I’ve decided, is by far the most important and, unfortunately, the most difficult” thing to do, she wrote in an evaluation she distributed at the session.

    Students in the Urban Teacher Education Program began their preparation to be teachers in their fourth year in the College. Students in the program take core courses on education and teaching and then visit classrooms and tutor students. Their work continues the following summer, when the students take part in small, group literacy programs.

    During the second year and final summer of the program, students spend nearly 80 percent of their time testing their pedagogical skills in a classroom setting under the supervision of experienced teachers, in much the same manner physicians train medical students.