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King University News :: King College Education Students to Serve in Chicago Area School System

On June 10, thirteen members of King College’s Teacher Education Program will depart the Tri-Cities region, bound for the Chicago, Ill., Oak Park School District. 

Ten teacher education students along with faculty representatives Matt Roberts, associate dean of teaching and educational development, and Gloria Oster, director of Teacher Education, both of King’s School of Education, along with Ken Oster, adjunct professor of Spanish for King’s School of Arts and Sciences Department of Languages and Literatures and, will be working in the school district that bills itself as the “capital of diversity” in Chicago.  The Oak Park School District is split almost evenly among Asian, Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic ethnicities. 

While in Chicago, King students will be working mostly with at-risk students in a summer school setting.  “We want our students to have an opportunity to observe how schools operate when dealing with diverse student populations such as Chicago has,” said Gloria Oster.  “We feel our teacher candidates will be better prepared for their careers by witnessing the challenges and successes of a school system quite different from what they have seen in field experiences in East Tennessee.  Another dimension to this ‘urban field experience’ is that students partake of the history, culture, architecture, and cuisine of an iconic American city.”  

One distinctive for the education students will be a panel discussion with experienced educators from Chicago.  Panel participants will include the Near-West Chicago superintendent, the former superintendent of Oak Park Schools, in addition to educators from elementary, secondary, and second career teachers.  

All teacher education programs evaluated by the State of Tennessee Board of Education require teacher candidates to be well-versed in teaching diverse populations.  “The Teacher Education Program set out to determine how to address the diversity standard in a proactive way, when the opportunities within our region are limited,” said Roberts.  “The impetus for taking the students to Chicago is for them to have an opportunity to get outside their bubble, experience education in a large urban setting that will develop their skill sets in the way they regard people of diverse backgrounds,” said Roberts.  “It is really a win – win situation.” 

This is the second time that King's Teacher Education Program has provided teacher candidates with an opportunity to experience the urban milieu,” said Ken Oster.  “Everything, from their placement in local schools to their negotiating public transport, is intended to broaden and deepen their understanding of the human condition.

In 2011, the Teacher Education Program took 14 students to Chicago; this year 10 will make the trip.  The students will participate in a mini-emersion experience where they will observe and tutor.  They will be in the same school for one week – a kindergarten through grade 12 campus.  

Last year’s trip was funded through a grant from the Appalachian College Association.  This year, grant funding was not available, and students held multiple fundraisers to garner the necessary funds to go to Chicago once again.  Students will stay at Concordia University while in Chicago.  

“Chicago has more than 100 languages represented in their school systems,” said Roberts.  “Our students will have the opportunity to work with English Language Learners (ELL).  Through supplementary coursework and practicum hours, education students at King are eligible to add an ESL (English as a Second Language) endorsement to their initial license. The hours earned working in Chicago will count toward the additional endorsement. Currently in Northeast, Tenn., the number of English Language Learners is growing.  An ESL endorsement is absolutely relevant in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. There are already multiple languages represented within our region’s schools including Spanish, Russian, and Arabic.  

“One way we truly want to make a difference in the lives of others is by being intentionally oriented as an institution to relationship,” said Roberts.  “Though our trip to Chicago will only be for a week, we will stay with the same classes to help foster meaningful bonds, not trying to see all of the diversity in the whole city, but rather focusing at the individual level.”  

“Working in and among cultures to which we are not ordinarily exposed reinforces the idea of stewardship and service,” said Roberts.  “Part of the mission of King College and the School of Education is to be cultural transformers in Christ. When our students experience opportunities such as the Chicago trip, their life perspective develops a philosophy of ‘paying it forward.’” 

While in Chicago, topics King students will learn include: how to plan lessons that incorporate diversity, and how to create a classroom environment that is conducive to diversity.  

“In education, there is a definite emphasis on differentiating instruction for diverse learners,” said Roberts.  “This might include learners who are more kinesthetic in their learning style versus someone who is a visual or auditory learner.  In a very intentional way, this will distill the fact that kids do not always share the same background knowledge.  We have to help our students, as future teachers, understand they need to find ways to access and build upon students’ prior knowledge and beliefs.” 

Jessica Hammond, rising senior at King College, is studying to be an elementary teacher.  She works in the Teacher Education Program as a work study student and is a member of the Women's Volleyball team, as well as the president of STEA-KE (the Education service organization).  When Hammond went on this trip to Chicago in 2011, she was not sure what to expect. 

“It was not my first time in an urban area, but it was my first time in Chicago,” said Hammond.  “I anticipated a lot of diversity, and I was hit hard with it on my first day in the classroom.  I was placed in a kindergarten class where the teacher taught half in Spanish and half in English.  I couldn't even pronounce over half of the students' names.  The principal at this school was extremely welcoming and compassionate toward our group.  After my three-day experience in this school, the principal and I stayed in contact.  He has also offered to write letters of recommendation and help out in any way possible when it comes time for me to apply for jobs.  

“After going to Chicago, I have a deeper understanding of the culture in more urban areas, as well as the culture here in East Tennessee,” continued Hammond.  “The contrast in teaching styles and discipline are significant, but yet, we are all still teachers reaching for the same goal: to engage and inspire students to become the best they can be.  Whether it is in Chicago, Tennessee, or even another country, I hope I never forget that goal when I'm a teacher.”