The historic closing of 49 elementary schools in Chicago left many parents bitter and feeling left out as they try to get involved in new schools. Yet parent engagement is essential for school improvement, and principals are faced with the challenge of building trust at schools that scored poorly on surveys of parent involvement.
Teacher profiles:Letitia Maris
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.
She thought she wanted a career in retailing. But after technical school and a year managing Express stores in Kankakee, Calumet City and Orland Park, Letitia Maris felt deflated: "I wasn't proud of what I was doing—it was just a job."
Her solution: return to education, a field she had toyed with since volunteering as a teacher's aide in high school in Hobart, Ind. The daughter of a roofing contractor and a college business teacher, Maris earned a degree in elementary education from Valparaiso University. Late last fall, with December graduation upon her, Maris sent her resume to school districts within 25 miles of her home, principally in Indiana but including Chicago. She applied to Chicago on-line through the TRI web site.
Yet Maris discovered that the principals at the schools to which she was referred wouldn't interview her because she didn't have a valid Illinois teacher's certificate yet. "So I went ahead on my own," she says. "I got a list of schools in areas I wanted to work in and contacted the principals."
In January, Christina Gonzalez, the principal at 850-student Zapata Academy in South Lawndale laid Maris on as a full-time basis substitute (FTB) to replace a 2nd-grade teacher who'd left.
"We like to try people out for a couple years, to see if they're disciplined and have good classroom skills," says Christina Gonzalez, Zapata's principal, who since has been reassigned for alleged malfeasance.
"It was an overwhelming transition," Maris says, "but one good thing is that there was no time to stress about it."
This fall, the 24-year-old Maris is moving into a Hegewisch house she's purchased with her fiance, a Chicago police officer, and, now certified, she's taken over a 2nd-grade class. She says she's found fulfillment: "If I spend two hours planning a lesson, it's not just for a paycheck. I go to work to teach my students to read and to provide them a safety net in life."