In this essay, Illinois State University student Alexa Leyba writes about her passion for working in Chicago Public Schools, where her education began. Leyba is a student teacher with the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline’s Pipeline Immersion Community Schools (PICS) program.

“I am a Chicago native, born and raised on the north side of the city. I am a product of Chicago Public Schools, which has profoundly impacted major aspects of my identity, including my career path. Chicago’s Mather High School was a diverse setting that taught me to be culturally competent and inclusive. I have learned to do more than just tolerate difference, but also accept, cherish, and encourage it.

Graduating from Mather directly impacted my decision to teach within an urban setting. My academic journey is one of many struggles and triumphs. During freshman and sophomore years of high school, I viewed myself as an average student and seemed to be in a state of limbo. I didn’t have a favorite subject, and going to school felt like more of a social act rather than a scholarly pursuit.

Then suddenly, during sophomore year, in the midst of my high school career, Mrs. Kordik, the Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition teacher, encouraged me to take her course. I was immediately consumed with self-doubt. I didn’t think I had what it took to pass an AP class. I even consulted family and friends, who believed I should take the “easier” class. However, Mrs. Kordik assured me I was capable of an advanced placement course. Mrs. Kordik saw my bright future, my potential. She saw something within me that was waiting to be unleashed. It was her encouragement that pushed me to build academic stamina and a strong work ethic. She taught me that improvement requires revision and reflection, and her passion for language inspired me to find my unique voice.

At the end of my junior year, I passed the class with an “A” and passed the Advanced Placement test. But something more profound had occurred. I was transformed. Mrs. Kordik ignited my passion for English, making it a subject that truly mattered to me. She also transformed the way I saw myself by helping me see beyond my current condition. Mrs. Kordik is the reason I started my pursuit to become a high school English teacher. For that, I am thankful and forever grateful.

Alexa Leyba

Illinois State student teacher Alexa Leyba.

I have devoted myself to working in a high-need school within CPS because I want my students to feel empowered. I want my students to utilize the potential that burns inside them. I want my students to be the future leaders this world needs. It only feels right to go back to my CPS roots and help students plant seeds of new ideas that will rejuvenate our society.

Chicago Public Schools are often degraded and over-simplified to a negative image and often discussed within the same conversation regarding corruption and systematic problems. This deters future teachers from wanting to teach in an urban setting. However, what I tell these cautious teachers, so often consumed by the illusion of fear, is that we can’t forget whom we are teaching. Chicago Public School children need good teachers who are devoted to making an impact on both personal and societal levels.

I started student teaching at Roosevelt High School in the Albany Park community on January 23. I look forward to working with all the diverse students that make up our English Freshman, Senior, and One Goal classrooms, who will all be expected to add to an environment that cultivates learning. I look forward to hearing their stories and catering my instruction to the students’ needs as they relate to their future endeavors. I look forward to integrating restorative practices and elements of my Peace and Conflict Resolution minor into my instruction. I look forward to the struggles and triumphs I will endure throughout my student teaching experience because, in the end, I teach for my students.”