Support Urban Education
Keep up with all the news, events, people and emerging research at UIC’s College of Education.
By Alysia Tate
For the first month of school, Sarah Kieszkowski struggled to keep many of her third-grade students from arguing. Kieskowski, a first-year teacher at Spencer Elementary Technology Academy and a UIC graduate, now seats many of them – especially the boys – so they can’t face each other, which means they focus on their work.
It’s a simple but effective classroom management technique to keep the peace, one new teachers don’t learn in college, but can glean from an experienced teacher. That’s where Elizabeth Montaño comes in. She knows that it often takes a veteran to mentor young talent to turn them into great teachers. That’s why COE embedded her in classrooms in two Austin neighborhood schools-- to help shape teachers of the future.
Montaño, an 11-year veteran of the California public school system, is an embedded COE faculty member in those public schools. Her role is a special one, part of COE’s Chicago Teacher Partnership Program, or CTPP. CTPP provides a unique opportunity for universities to create a pipeline of education graduates to high-need schools.
Through CTPP, four universities – UIC, Loyola, National Louis and Northeastern Illinois – receive funding from the Chicago Community Trust, which has provided $1 million in grants since 2009 to increase the schools’ capacity to improve elementary teacher preparation and induction programs. The effort is also supported by the Illinois State Board of Education.
As part of that grant, Montaño spends two days a week – one at Spencer and one at John Hay Community Academy – observing Kieszkowski and other teachers during their lessons, modeling lessons for them, and using protocols to review students work and instructor practice. Nurturing and supporting teachers, Montaño said, plays a central role in creating an effective classroom.
“In my role as a support, I can provide so much for teachers,” she said. “I see myself as a teacher of teachers.”
According to her supervisors, Montaño’s work already has had an impact.
“She has managed to get the new teachers to critically examine their practice and make scaffolded attempts at sharper classroom practices in the early grades,” said Professor Eleni Katsarou, director of COE’s elementary education program.
Montaño’s childhood helped shape her commitment to high-quality education for all students, especially those who are poor or have limited English skills. Montaño, 34, was born in Los Angeles, but her parents came to the United States from Mexico as undocumented immigrants. Her mother worked as a seamstress while her father worked construction to make ends meet.
“We lived on a street with all my relatives,” said Montaño, who felt “normal” and accepted in her neighborhood. “I never felt like we were poor.”
That would soon change. In third grade, teachers at her neighborhood elementary school decided she needed a challenge. So they filled out an application for her to attend a magnet school 30 miles away. She was accepted. It was the first time she had white or Asian classmates, most of them upper middle-class.
It was also the first time she felt singled out. Although she was the top student in her neighborhood school, at the new school, Montaño was sent to special classes to “fix” her accent. However, she also realized the opportunities that existed at the new school – things as simple as a science fair – that she never saw at her neighborhood schools. By age 10, she began to question why students from her neighborhood rarely got those opportunities. She carried that question – why – throughout high school.
Montaño began her freshman year in college as business major, but her first economics class showed her business wasn’t her calling. Teaching was.
Today, through her work with COE and CTPP, Montaño hopes her experience and her mentoring will help inspire classroom teachers and keep them in the public school system.
Kieskowski, for one, is grateful for Montaño’s guidance. Montaño, for example, encouraged her to assign worksheets as homework, instead of wasting valuable class time where she could do more meaningful activites to reinforce the same skills.
“She’s so helpful,” Kieszkowski said. “I love it.”