Thu, 09/29/2011 by Rebecca Vevea - Chicago News Cooperative
The gap between the number of minority teachers in Chicago Public Schools and minority student enrollment has grown significantly over the last decade, but one CPS school is working hard to change that by preparing the next generation of teachers.
At Wells Community Academy, where the racial breakdown of students is almost evenly split between African-American and Hispanic students, more than 60 high school students will participate in a teacher training program that gets them to the front of the classroom nearly eight years ahead of schedule.
Students enrolled in the Chicago Urban Teacher Academy at Wells take a four-year curriculum in partnership with National Louis University designed to focus on best practices in teaching. One day per week students work in classrooms at one of three nearby elementary schools – Peabody, Talcott or Moos.
Ernesto Matias launched the program two years ago and now it has three cohorts of students, one group that started last year and two groups of freshman. He hopes that someday he can hire his own students as teachers.
"Not only have they familiarized themselves with the trade, but they will have the classroom experience too," he said. "At the end of four years, they’ll really know if teaching is what they were meant to do."
Research indicates that there is a persistent gap between the percentage of minority students and the percentage of minority teachers across the country. According to state data, the demographic breakdown in Chicago Public Schools in 2000 indicated that roughly 45 percent of teachers were white, 40 percent black and 11 percent Hispanic. In 2010, 50 percent of teachers were white, while 29 percent were black and 15 percent were Hispanic.
"Our students, a lot of them come from communities where there are not a ton of positive role models," said Andrew Cengel, a teacher at Wells and an adjunct professor at National Louis. "It would be nice if, when they walked into a classroom, they saw someone who looks like them."
Jesus Fegura, a freshman in Wells' Teacher Academy, said an elementary school teacher inspired him to become a teacher too.
"He kept telling me not to join a gang, because then I wouldn’t go to college," Fegura said. " He stopped me from growing up on the streets. I told myself, when I grow up, I want to be just like him."
In CPS, where the graduation rate hovers just above 50 percent, the program also aims to keep students engaged in school, making them less likely to drop out and more likely to attend college. As Fegura put it, he and his classmates learn “how to like why you’re here.”
The program, Matias said, is modeled after the Urban Teacher Academy in Florida’s Broward County Public Schools that was launched in 2000. Students there who successfully complete the program can earn college credit and be eligible for scholarships. While that’s not yet offered at Wells, Alison Hilsabeck, dean of National Louis University, said they hope to develop a similar system for students to continue their education beyond high school.
Programs like the one at Wells are popping up at a time when colleges of education nationwide are shifting their emphasis to providing students with more practical work inside classrooms, rather than waiting until the final semester of college to begin student teaching.
"You often hear that schools of education could improve if they just admitted the top students," she said. " I would argue that this is not about talent sorting. It’s about talent development. Rather than put up barriers, we need to build it."
A study released this month by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education showed that the recruitment of minority teachers is improving, but gaps persist and retention is still a problem. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education released national data showing that teachers at schools with more Latino and African-American enrollment are paid about $2,500 less than their school district’s average salary.
"You read the newspapers and listen to politicians and you would wonder why anyone would want to be a teacher," said Cengal. "A lot of people who enter a university or go through one of these fast-track programs, I don’t think they really understand what they’re getting into. My kids, by the time they finish this program, will really know what teaching is all about."
This article Turning Students Into Teachers was written by Rebecca Vevea with photo by Andrew A. Nelles and originally appeared September 29, 2011 on the Chicago News Cooperative website: http://www.chicagonewscoop.org/turning-students-into-teachers/. It is re-printed here with permission.