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Drugs in schools

Most drug violations in CPS involve an ounce or less of marijuana. Schools are quick to call police, yet rarely have the resources to offer education, counseling or other non-punitive help to students.

After graduation, new teachers start job hunt

Future is uncertain for teacher candidates

Angel Torres worked overtime to complete his student teaching.

Torres’ work day began when most people are asleep: At midnight, he started his overnight shift as a senior service technician for People’s Gas, helping the Chicago Fire Department and other public service agencies respond to calls about gas-related fires and explosions.

At 8 a.m., when Torres’ shift ended, he headed to Ames Middle School for his student-teaching assignment.

 Sleep?  “Whenever I can, I guess,” Torres said during the school year.

The grueling routine is now over, and Torres--along with fellow student teacher Michael Vargas, profiled in the first installment of “Becoming a Teacher” --are both catching up on sleep. 

But with the district’s budget woes and the labor unrest surrounding the Chicago Teachers Union contract negotiations, the two men face an uncertain job market. Torres, who recently graduated from Northeastern Illinois University through the Grow Your Own program, hasn’t yet begun to apply for jobs and is taking a summer class to finish an English teaching endorsement.

“I am trying to make myself more marketable,” he says.

Hiring in CPS typically takes place later than hiring in other school districts in the region. In fact, late hiring has long been a factor that, according to teacher educators, hampers the ability of CPS to attract top teaching talent. One educator has said that late hiring “allows the suburbs to cherry-pick” the best teachers and faulted the district for not holding teacher career fairs until the spring.

Yet CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler says that the current hiring process “enables us to attract an excellent talent pool of prospective teachers.” The hiring timeline depends on student enrollment projections and the Illinois General Assembly’s budgeting process, she adds.

“Suburbs typically are funded with a greater percentage of local property tax dollars than is CPS, thus making their hiring timelines less reliant on state appropriations,” Ziegler says.

Teachers who do find jobs face potential layoffs if enrollment on the 20th day after the start of the school year doesn’t meet projections. It’s another phenomenon that has been problematic in CPS, although the impact has lessened in recent years: Last year, 167 teachers were cut and 86 of them were re-hired in other schools, according to CPS.

At Ames, his supervising teacher suggested to Torres that he also practice teaching other core subjects besides his primary assignment, 7th and 8th-grade world history. The experience will make him more versatile, he says, and prepare him for potential jobs teaching lower elementary grades or self-contained bilingual classrooms--in both cases, teachers must teach all subjects.

Given the shortage of bilingual teachers, Torres will have one advantage in the job market as a bilingual candidate. But teacher supply statistics from the Illinois State Board of Education show that in fall 2010, social science teaching jobs were among the most competitive, with more than 28 graduating teacher candidates competing for each open position.

Meanwhile, Michael Vargas has begun his job search by networking and “trying to use any connections I’ve made, to try to get someplace that’s a good fit.” Over the summer, Vargas plans to drop off resumes in person.

“It’s about marketing,” he says. “I graduated with 300, 400 teachers. That was just at my school [Northeastern Illinois University]. It’s a pretty deep pool. You’ve got to do anything you can to highlight yourself.”

Vargas says he also is putting in time to help Grow Your Own, which focuses on increasing diversity in the teaching workforce by training candidates who already have ties to underserved communities, in its ongoing battle for funding. “Since I’m at work, I can’t take the trips down to Springfield. But I’m calling legislators,” he says. “It gets to the point where they already recognize your voice.” 

Anne Hallett, the director of Grow Your Own Illinois, says that funding is slated to be cut from $2.5 million to $1 million in the coming fiscal year. She expects candidates will still be able to have their tuition covered, though.

“It’s a one of a kind program that generates an enormous amount of excitement around the country,” Hallett says. “We just hope we can make sure the legislature feels the same way.”

Helping students become ‘investigators’

Torres earned an associate’s degree before he enrolled in Northeastern Illinois University in 2005 to pursue his teaching goal. Seven years later, he graduated.

As a student teacher, he initially struggled with classroom management. But over the course of the semester, Torres says he learned how to share the classroom with his students by moving from a teaching model that relied on lectures to a model based on discussion. Doing so helped keep his students more engaged in lessons—a key factor that can curb misbehavior.

“I needed to be more aware of the amount of time I was spending either presenting a lesson or speaking,” Torres says. Too much time on either one would keep students from becoming “investigators” of the material, he says.

At the start of his assignment at Ames, in Logan Square, Torres’ greatest fear was that he wouldn’t be successful helping children learn. But he soon discovered that teaching was the easiest part of the job.

The toughest challenge was adjusting to an environment in which his ideas about what school should be like did not match the reality on the ground.  

“There are always things you would like to do to benefit children and the [CPS] administration plays a major role in creating obstacles,” he says. His observation is that students miss out on deep learning because instructors teach to the test—a complaint that many teachers have voiced because of the pressure to raise standardized test scores.

A case in point: 8th-grade students who don’t know how to structure an essay or spell simple words. “Schools have lost the art of [teaching] writing,” Torres says. To make matters worse, Ames serves 7th- and 8th-grade students, who come to the school from five different elementary schools—which makes it tough for Ames teachers to align their teaching and coordinate with students’ previous teachers.  Plus, Ames has one fewer grade than most middle schools and a shorter time to get them ready for high school.

Torres was also frustrated at the reality of bilingual education on the ground. Ideally, students would receive an increasing percentage of their instruction in core subjects in English as their skills grow in their new language. But at Ames, he says, limited resources forced students to be placed in English-only classes, “scattered throughout the school,” before they were ready for it.  

Not an outsider

Torres has long seen first-hand, from other vantage points, how schools can fail students. Born and raised in Humboldt Park, he had a less-than-positive experience at the neighborhood’s Clemente High School.

“They wanted you to graduate, but what you were going to do after that wasn’t their concern,” he recalls.

His son’s experience in school was similar, and solidified Torres’ desire to become a teacher. “When my son was in school, no one was actually guiding [him and his peers] in a positive direction,” Torres says. “Many kids need a good role model, and they can’t find one in the streets.”

Now, Torres lives just seven blocks from Ames. At 47, he’s the last of six siblings to graduate from college. He has five children, ranging in age from 7 months to 26 years old, and three grandchildren.

His background, Torres says, will allow him to be especially effective in reaching out to male students. Latino male teachers are among the most underrepresented group in the teaching force.

“I try to make that my objective, to reach out to the boys who come from [single-parent] homes,” Torres says.  To connect with them, Torres talks about sports. And when students ask about his 9 years in the military, the explanation is simple—and likely a reason that many teens in the community can relate to. “I was trying to find a way to go to school, and they offered to pay,” Torres says.

Torres, who found out about Grow your Own from an aunt who saw him struggling to continue financing his education, hopes to stay at Ames.

“If I don’t have the opportunity to stay at Ames, the neighboring schools that send their students to Ames – if I can get into one of those, I would be happy, as long as I get to stay in the neighborhood,” he says.

Torres adds: “I need the students to see that I am part of the neighborhood, not an outsider coming in to make money and leave. You need to try to make changes, not pull your resources out of the neighborhood.”

11 comments

SCB wrote 2 years 14 weeks ago

Teacher Training

There are many themes I could comment on quite thoroughly here. In keeping with the Subject line, I will say that another interesting story would include teacher interviews (new and experienced) to see how their teacher training programs DIDN'T prepare them for the realities of the classroom and the public school dynamic. The art of teaching and navigating the school system, alone, are extremely complex endeavors that take time and practice to become competent, let alone skilled, at. It's too bad that classroom management has to be dealt with first and foremost on the job before strong teaching and learning can regularly take place in high-needs districts, especially. Folks need to regularly be exposed to teaching in a public school--from the teacher's perspective--to begin to appreciate all that that job entails. Too, I could enumerate a list of how my teacher training program didn't serve me as well as it could have; I don't think I damaged any of my students for life, but I do think more of my "practice" should have taken place before my first job. I will save commenting on job-hunting in suburban school districts for another time. Some of us out here who've left the the profession, trying to return, have children and can't be available last-minute for year(s) of subbing before we are looked at as viable candidates. Oooops--guess I couldn't wait.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 14 weeks ago

I admire this person and feel for him-to get a job-difficult to

do in CPS. My questiones beside if the university really helping him go throught the maze that is CPS--how many of his professors have used common core? how many have taught in a public school classroom in the last 3 years-5 years?
How many times was the danielson rubric used to evaluate his teaching? How many times was he taught by professors about danileson?
Did he receive help is setting-up and using a differentiated classroom--now that he can now have 30% special ed and that does not count speech students anymore. (Do his professors know this?)
How often was he guided by his professors on the use of data to create, guide and change instruction? And most impotantly--his consultant teachers from the university for pre-service and student teaching-when was the last time they taught in a Chicago Public School? I do not think we would like the answers to this.

Anonymous wrote 2 years 14 weeks ago

CPS Web Site Down

As of Friday June 30 the CPS web site used to apply for a teaching jobs, or to update my resume, has been down. It is Monday July 2 and I still cannot access my resume or apply for a job online. Also the last 2 Job Bulletins do not list ANY teaching jobs either only AUSL jobs are posted on AUSL's web site.... Just talked to Rectuitment at Cps and they claim they don't know why the web site is down either. Hmmmmm...makes one wonder. Our contract became null and void Friday......Web site taken down.....don't let teachers apply for a job? Next call channel 2 and the Trib. This is no way to treat your workforce CPS !!!

Anonymous wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

Teacher training programs

The teacher training program I attended had pros and cons because in the classroom teacher candidates are taught more about the theory of teaching. When I did start my first year of teaching I had to deal with the classroom management aspect of teaching before learning could get done especially as a special education teacher in the inner city. I spent majority of my classroom time managing my students and with little support I was still expected to produce high test scores. Training programs should teach prospective teachers more realistically that before you can educate a child you must have effective classroom management skills. The pros to my training program was that one of my professors was a teacher at CPS and she would tell alot of stories about her on the job experiences. This helped me alot because I understood more what I was possibly going to encounter.

northside teacher wrote 2 years 13 weeks ago

class

they need to give you a class on how to handle the capricous and demeaning manners of your six principlas in six years! how to deal with the "god complex" many principals and some teachers seem to have!!

maybe a class to teach you how to stretch 100 dollars in a classroom budget.

CPS cant even run a meaningful PD day.....universities...really what can they do? no one can prepare you for CPS....it chages , in all honestly, every THREE MONTHS with its magic bullets!

Anonymous wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

SMH

I wonder how you get to finish your schooling and yet your nineteen year old son is homeless, gang banging, walking the streets for days at a time... smh.. I love to see where peoples priorities end up. I am glad that I get to learn from other peoples mistakes.. This to me, is disgusting. And will only continue happening until someone speaks out. How can you befriend and attempt to mentor young boys from single family homes, and yet your ONLY SON is lost. Again, disgusting and distasteful.
Way to go, Pop. smh

Anonymous wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

this man is a liar. he has a

this man is a liar. he has a son who is a 19yr old sophomore, whom is homeless.. involved in gangs and a hazard to himself. this man has not stepped up for HIS ONLY SON.. what makes you think he is a good candidate to teach the youth of Chicago. He is no role model.. he is nothing more then another person attempting to make himself "marketable" by referring to politicians tactics.. lie.. lie ... lie.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

this man is a liar. he has a

this man is a liar. he has a son who is a 19yr old sophomore, whom is homeless.. involved in gangs and a hazard to himself. this man has not stepped up for HIS ONLY SON.. what makes you think he is a good candidate to teach the youth of Chicago. He is no role model.. he is nothing more then another person attempting to make himself "marketable" by referring to politicians tactics.. lie.. lie ... lie.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 47 weeks ago

THANK GOD!

It took a person to write an anonymous comment regarding this God fearing teacher, in order for him to make two reluctant phones calls to his son mentioning "the weather getting colder in Chicago" and asking "if you need anything to eat, you can always count on me for a meal".

Yet again, you arrogance and lack of integrity are all things that no longer go unnoticed. Be truthful, and true to who you really are. Remember what you taught us Mr. Torres, there is ONE entity that sees you in even the darkest of nights. One day you too will be judged as you have judged others.. And you too will have to take accountability for your household.. Even the one you have abandoned.. I'd like to see an article about that :)

Alana Guy wrote 1 year 26 weeks ago

It made me realize how lucky

It made me realize how lucky I am to have a life like this. I salute him for having faith and never lose the changes he can get just to finish his school and to be successful. A person like him will be blessed by God’s grace and support of the people surround him that supports his career and chosen field. I encourage him to continue and enroll at university postgraduate to broaden his knowledge and move forward to gain more.

Mr. V wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

Sad

This is a sad year for teachers in Chicago. I've spent the past few months trying to find a position in CPS, and after contacting more than 60 schools I was still unable to land any interviews for a standard teaching position. You wouldn't think it would be that hard for someone certified in teaching science and social studies with excellent technology skills but I guess the market is just that bad, and it's really making me regret choosing education as a major. I feel like I am a licensed professional with a degree that isn't getting me anywhere.

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