Bridging the Cultural Divide Between Teachers and Students

HARI SREENIVASAN: But, first: Urban school
districts are tough places to be a teacher — but also where the best and the brightest
are needed the most. In Chicago, which is dealing with one of the
worst budget crises in years, recruiting and holding on to good teachers is an uphill battle. The district also faces a common dilemma. Even as the student body is growing more diverse,
the teaching profession is not. One university teacher-training program is
trying to step up to the challenge. Lisa Stark of Education Week has the story. LISA STARK: It’s summer in the city of Chicago,
the nation’s third largest public school district. And these aspiring teachers are getting to
know each other, the first step in an intensive summer fellowship to prepare them to teach
in urban schools. WOMAN: I want to be a teacher in Chicago Public
Schools. MORGAN BRAUER: Because I think I can make
a really big difference. MAN: And make sure other students who come
from backgrounds like myself get these opportunities. LISA STARK: These fellows, 21 of them, are
all students at Illinois State University, training to be teachers. They have high hopes, but most, like Morgan
Brauer, have little or no experience in the inner city. We first met Morgan the day before, at her
home about an hour away. Tell me about this neighborhood, how you grew
up? MORGAN BRAUER, STEP-UP Fellow: So, I’m from
the suburbs of Chicago, Rolling Meadows specifically. LISA STARK: Morgan typifies America’s teaching
force, mostly white, mostly female. MORGAN BRAUER: I grew up, it’s everyone
basically goes to college. There is not really like any question. Like, I was going to college. That was that. And I think that’s kind of why I want to
teach in Chicago Public Schools, is because they don’t have the same opportunities that
I did growing up in the suburbs. So, it’s just going to be a new experience. LISA STARK: This morning, Morgan is leaving
for this unique teaching fellowship that takes her out of Rolling Meadows for a new home
in Auburn Gresham, a predominantly African-American community on Chicago’s South Side, one of
four neighborhoods fellows are placed in for one month, all with high-poverty schools,
many with high crime rates as well. It’s a nonstop four weeks, assisting in
the classroom in the morning, volunteering in the afternoon. Classes and seminars fill evenings and weekends,
all to help them appreciate and understand the culture of these communities. ROBERT LEE, Illinois State University: And
they hope that, when this is all finished, that you come back and become a teacher for
their community. LISA STARK: Robert Lee runs this fellowship,
called STEP-UP. ROBERT LEE: This infusion, this allowing candidates
to experience firsthand and start to confront their — their own race, their own class,
their own sources of privilege, leads to a much stronger teacher when they enter the
field. LISA STARK: Only 7 years old, with 144 participants
so far, it’s a small program, but one that takes enormous effort, including finding funding,
about $8,000 a fellow. ROBERT LEE: That’s where the challenge is
going to be. LISA STARK: Virtually every teacher college
requires so-called cultural competency training, but Professor Carol Lee says many programs
come up short. CAROL D. LEE, Northwestern University: The
notion of cultural competence is often pitched as something special you need to know if you’re
working with colored kids. And I’m saying, I don’t care where you’re
teaching. The cultural competence means that I have
to go into that community with the humility in order to learn. LISA STARK: One of the key ways that STEP-UP
fellows learn is from the host families. Yolanda Smith will provide Morgan meals and
a place to sleep, but, most importantly, lessons that can’t be taught in the classroom. What do you hope Morgan leaves this neighborhood
with? YOLANDA SMITH, Host Mom: Just to learn about
us, and don’t believe the hype. LISA STARK: What is the hype, in your view? YOLANDA SMITH: That we’re shiftless and
violent. And I just want us — want her to see the
human side of us, not what is portrayed on the media. MORGAN’S MOM: We’re so thankful that you’re
watching over her while she’s here. YOLANDA SMITH: I sure do, me and God. MORGAN’S MOM: Yes. Yes. LISA STARK: Not all of the fellows are from
the suburbs. Asia-Ana Williams grew up in Chicago. ASIA-ANA WILLIAMS, STEP-UP Fellow: I’m,
like, a little nervous. This is going to be my first time teaching,
so I don’t know how I will do. And that’s, like, scary to think about. LISA STARK: Asia-ana was recruited by Illinois
State while in high school as part of an effort to encourage students of color to become teachers. ASIA-ANA WILLIAMS: I want to come home to
students who look just like me, who have been through things just like I have, and help
them the way my teachers helped me. LISA STARK: She too is in an unfamiliar neighborhood,
the largely Hispanic community of Little Village. It didn’t take her long to feel at home. TONY VELAZCO, Host Dad: This is really good,
so try it. ASIA-ANA WILLIAMS: My host family can’t
get rid of me now. Like, I love them too much. Yes, they’re pretty much stuck with me. LISA STARK: The Velazco family has taken in
fellows since the STEP-UP program began seven years ago. What do you tell these student teachers who
come to your house? TONY VELAZCO: Not to have the savior mentality. They’re not coming in here to save people. They’re here to be part of the community. And they really have to get to know where
the kids are coming from in order to be able to teach them better, to reach them, to inspire
them. LISA STARK: Finding host families and local
schools is done with the support of community groups, such as the one run by Carlos Nelson
in Auburn Gresham. CARLOS NELSON, Greater Auburn-Gresham Development
Corporation: The teachers in our schools have daunting tasks. And it’s way beyond just being able to teach
kids math and reading. But they’re also having to deal with social,
emotional challenges, kids that haven’t had a full night’s sleep, that haven’t
had a full meal. And that’s why we need to prepare educators
to be more in tune with teaching the kids in our South Side community. LISA STARK: The hope with a program like this
one is that, if teachers are truly trained to teach in urban schools, not only will they
take jobs here, but they will stay. VANESSA PUENTES HERNANDEZ, Assistant Principal:
Hey, guys, what’s up? LISA STARK: Assistant Principal Vanessa Puentes
Hernandez, who has worked in the district for a decade, has seen teachers come and go. Turnover in some Chicago schools is as high
as 50 percent over four years. VANESSA PUENTES HERNANDEZ: It takes a village. It really does. And so it’s important to learn about the
community that you work in, because you want to be invested in that, not as an outsider
coming in and maybe gaining some experience and leaving, but as someone who truly wants
to create change. YOLANDA SMITH: That’s a lot of work. That’s a sacrifice. MORGAN BRAUER: It really is. They care so much about their community. It’s kind of sad to see like how much effort
they’re kind of putting in, and they still get seen in such negative lighting. LISA STARK: Most of STEP-UP’s graduates
end up in Chicago or other high-need schools. And over 80 percent are still in the classroom
after five years. ASIA-ANA WILLIAMS: We all came from so many
different backgrounds, but I think that the common ground was always that we all wanted
to be good teachers. These schools deserve good teachers, just
like any other school district. LISA STARK: And you want to be one of them? ASIA-ANA WILLIAMS: And I want to be one of
them. And I am going to be one of them. LISA STARK: And with the help of this program,
she’s likely to have some company. Reporting from Chicago, I’m Lisa Stark of
Education Week for the “PBS NewsHour.”

Dereck Turner

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