No one could imagine that we would be living through a global pandemic since March, but we have. Many Illinois State graduates were able to secure jobs in Chicago Public Schools and are learning how to navigate remote learning alongside their veteran colleagues. After participating in ISU National Center for Urban Education (NCUE) programs, Kaitlin Cadagin and Nadya Chiavola, who graduated last May, decided to teach in Chicago and continue their journey of being community teachers.
Cadagin is teaching at Hedges Fine and Performing Arts Elementary School in the Back of Yards community, a predominately Latinx neighborhood. Hedges fine and performing arts programs appealed to Cadagin because she originally pursued a theater degree before transferring to Illinois State University for education. Cadagin shared that she also chose this school because “the staff made me feel like a priority.” Throughout this fall, she has consistently felt appreciated and supported, which is critically important during these challenging times.
As a first-year teacher, there is always difficulty in adjusting to specific school cultures and the expectations of school administration. Cadagin shared that “learning these things on TOP of how to teach remotely has been exhausting and overwhelming.” However, she has still been able to create community in her virtual classroom and has built relationships with her students in various ways. She has prioritized Social Emotional Learning (SEL) so her students feel safe in her class and can build confidence.
This summer, NCUE sponsored an intensive training course with SEL Chicago for recent graduates and Cadagin as well as Chiavola participated. Cadagin’s community building has included guiding daily morning meetings, allowing students to share as often as possible, and teaching SEL lessons/discussions at least twice per week. While being in the virtual space, Cadagin is making a point to intentionally build community in her classroom even via the computer screen.
Chiavola began her teaching career at Joshua D. Kershaw Elementary School located in the Englewood community, a majority Black neighborhood. Kershaw is a magnet school with an International Baccalaureate (IB) certification and includes a Mandarin Chinese language component. When asked about beginning her teaching career, Chiavola responded, “To be a first-year educator at Joshua D. Kershaw Magnet, an IB World School, means that I have the unique opportunity to engage my students in inquiry-based instruction, which revolves around the central focus of intercultural awareness.”
Chiavola shared that students interact with worlds in which they are unfamiliar, bringing new knowledge and experience to their own lives. “Being that I was born in and adopted from St. Petersburg, Russia, I have been able to share my own story with my students with the hope that they can create a personal connection to the diverse world around them,” Chiavola said. The appeal to teaching at Kershaw is also grounded in the school’s mission to ensure and promote their students’ academic excellence through self- and intercultural awareness. Chiavola shared that Kershaw also focuses on SEL through practicing mindfulness, yoga and positive reinforcement.
Chiavola notes that though teaching remotely has its trials and tribulations, she has been able to build a strong bond and connection with her second-grade scholars. Even through a computer screen, they have been able, “to learn from one another, have fun and embrace our mistakes and differences to create a more peaceful, understanding learning environment.” Chiavola emphasized that student autonomy in the classroom is important, even in remote learning settings. Chiavola expressed she has been able to be a community teacher in the virtual classroom through, “incorporating student lives and culture into my lessons to create relevancy and ultimately influencing and motivating life-long learners.”
Chiavola also shared that it is important to involve parents and guardians in student learning during remote learning as her second-grade scholars need the assistance of an adult at home to help them navigate remote learning. “It is truly incredible what a community can do when they unite for the greater good of our youth here in Chicago,” Chiavola affirmed.
Through the pandemic, recent graduates are adjusting to their roles as new educators who are beginning their careers remotely. Cadagin and Chiavola stand out as they are ensuring that they prioritize connection with their students and with others in the school’s community. They are truly using their community teacher skills in order to build relationships through one computer screen at a time.