The written word can teach future educators only so much about the perspectives of urban students.

To gain a deeper understanding of communities and cultures, they need to interact with the community members, school personnel, and students who they will partner with in their future careers. That is why the College of Education’s Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline (CTEP) helps faculty to include the human side of urban teacher preparation, especially when those courses are taught on Illinois State’s downstate campus.

In keeping with this philosophy, Instructional Assistant Professor Kira Hamann ’05 and her urban teacher preparation students recently welcomed 30 junior and seniors from Richards Career Academy, located on Chicago’s South Side. In their two hours of class time together, the college and high school students shared their respective experiences about life in Normal and Chicago. The exchanges gave each of them powerful food for thought that will factor into fast-approaching life decisions.

The Richards students must soon decide which college and career paths they should choose after high school. For the teacher candidates, this was a chance for them to interact with urban high school-aged students and get to know some of them on a personal level. The experience also brought the aspiring educators one step closer to imagining a teaching career in Chicago or other urban areas.

Colleen 'Burger talks with her high school students from Richards Career Academy in Chicago outside Stevenson Hall.

Colleen ‘Burger talks with her high school students from Richards Career Academy in Chicago outside Stevenson Hall.

“The Richards students were saying things like ‘The kids in Chicago kind of get a bad rap, but our school gives us a lot to participate in; we like the extracurricular opportunities Richards offers; and staying in the school until 6 or 7 o’clock makes us feel even safer than going home after the bell,’” Hamann said. “Hearing this was so important because it disrupts potential stereotypes that my college students may have.”

Bringing in diverse perspectives

This connection was just one of many made possible through CTEP’s strong partnerships with Chicago Public Schools (CPS), community-based organizations, and its outstanding alumni who teach in urban school classrooms.

In addition to meeting with Richards students, CTEP coordinator Dakota Pawlicki ’09 recruited Chicago-based education professionals, including Sheenita Robinson of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation, to share experiences with Hamann’s class via Skype. He also organized visits to CTEP’s partner schools so the teacher candidates could gain firsthand experience in urban classrooms.

“Through Dakota and the Pipeline, we were able to find the bigger picture of ‘What does urban education look like from all these different perspectives? What are the similarities? What are the differences? And what is unique within each of these individuals’ experiences?’” Hamann said.

These powerful interactions demonstrate how teacher educators can bring real-world urban issues to the forefront, regardless of where learning takes place.

“The way (Hamann) was able to include these voices in the curriculum really demonstrates next-level engagement for teacher candidates,” Pawlicki said.

Engaging alumni in teacher preparation

The Richards students would have communicated with Hamann’s class over Skype, not in person, if it were not for their teacher and CTEP alumna Colleen Burger ’12. Pawlicki and Hamann initially pitched the idea of videoconferencing the two classes, but Burger offered an even better option—she worked with her administration to organize a bus trip to the University. She knew that the the experience, which also included campus tours conducted by University sophomores, juniors, and seniors, was worth the extra legwork.

“I think days like this are so important for them to come (to Illinois State University) and imagine themselves being in college,” Burger said. “We talk about college, but it is always such a mystified thing in terms of what it looks like and what it sounds like. But after walking around, having conversations with others, and experiencing a college classroom, it’s not so mysterious anymore.”

Though still new to her school and the profession, Burger has taken steps to significantly enhance student-driven activities by establishing a student council at Richards. True to her Redbird roots, the council’s first organized trip was to an Illinois State University Open House, which was one of many that the CTEP office organizes and sponsors throughout the city.

During the spring semester, the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline helped organize bus trips to Illinois State's campus for students of 8 Chicago Public Schools across the city.

During the spring semester, the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline helped organize bus trips to Illinois State’s campus for students of 8 Chicago Public Schools across the city.

Burger, who earned her degree in English education, says the council was also responsible for planning the school’s first Homecoming week celebration. The overwhelmingly positive response from these events resulted in more than 60 members joining the council by its second year. Many of these members also made the trip to Illinois State and Hamann’s class.

For Pawlicki, Burger’s dedication to her students represents just one of the countless examples of how CTEP’s hundreds of alumni are energizing the schools and communities where they live and teach. In addition, the positive impact Burger made on candidates during her visit represents a growing opportunity for alumni to add value to Illinois State’s teacher preparation programs.

“Our alumni are successful and intelligent people who have a lot of valuable insight to share about their experiences in the profession,” Pawlicki said.

When it was time for the Richards students to return north, the scene was “hugs and high-fives,” Hamann said. “They did not seem to want to leave.”

For Burger, the experience served as a wonderful reminder of how far she has come as a teacher, but also how far she can still go to serve her students and aspiring educators.

The educators have already begun talking about how to repeat the meeting next year, and how to further involve alumni in teacher preparation at Illinois State.

“Thankfully, the older notion that you’re done with the University after you graduate is crumbling, especially here at ISU,” Pawlicki said. “Our alums really want to be engaged in preparing the next generation of teachers, and they are invested in this work. One day soon, these Illinois State students will be their colleagues and fellow student advocates.”