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Edina Malagic gets a double dose of learning what it means to be a teacher in an urban school when she reports to Spencer Elementary Technology Academy on Chicago’s West Side.
For the first part of her day, Malagic, a junior at UIC’s College of Education, spends hours in high-performing, veteran teachers’ classrooms to learn the practical side of teaching. Afterward, she is steeped in theory through her regular college coursework.
And she never leaves Spencer to do it.
It’s a unique arrangement, for sure. But through COE’s latest effort to create better teachers by leading the way in reshaping teacher preparation, Malagic and her peers are getting far more exposure and experience in a school than state law requires, and nearly double that of what other Illinois colleges offer.
That puts them at a distinct advantage.
“I am literally able to apply everything that I learn in the classroom straight into the classrooms in the schools,” she said. “It's not just theory, it’s hands on.”
COE’s urban elementary education program, a bachelor’s degree program, now embeds 100 juniors and seniors in two West Side public elementary schools. The junior teacher candidates are paired with highly effective teachers, many of them UIC graduates, and spend part of the day fulfilling state fieldwork requirements, such as observing and working with groups of students in classrooms. The rest of the day, they attend the content methods classes that typically are held on UIC’s campus in another part of the public school. Their professors come to them.
For example, one morning Malagic observed how a veteran kindergarten teacher taught her youngsters how to read before she even cracked open the cover of a book. As the children gathered in a circle at her feet, the teacher read the title and let her students talk about the pictures underneath it. She asked them to use that information to predict what might happen when the story unfolded. After that, she began to read aloud.
That’s a lot of teaching technique to take in. But Malagic also had her eye on something else: Whether gender played a role in how the children answered or how the teacher responded to them. That’s because at the end of the long elementary school day, Malagic and her classmates were expected to discuss this topic with their professors in Spencer’s media center room.
“It's amazing, because my instructors get to see what I see and therefore they can provide the correct resources and tools catering to what I am experiencing,” Malagic said.
Nurturing the profession
The benefits are two-fold, explained the program’s coordinator, Eleni Katsarou. It gives students more time to practice their craft before they lead a classroom, while exposing them to situations that arise in urban schools -- as well as expert advice on how to handle them.
It sharpens a professor’s practice, too, Katsarou said. By being in the school, they are exposed to the realities of everyday teaching, and how public-school instructors are pressed to meet state and federal mandates while upholding values of equity, diversity and social justice at the same time. For example, when a teacher candidate asks sticky questions -- such as how to handle children who tease a girl for getting new hair extensions while staring down the clock to cover every topic in a 90-minute reading block -- the professors will be able to provide more than a textbook answer.
“At UIC’s COE, we are committed to our school and community partners by getting our TCs [teacher candidates] to participate fully early in their training, in the hopes that they will be hired in the same schools. And stay,” Katsarou said.
COE’s teachers are already are in high demand in Chicago’s public schools, and federal statistics show that more than 70 percent are still in their jobs five years after they graduate – far above the national average – even when those schools are in underserved communities.
However, the new program illustrates the college’s commitment to finding better ways to prepare teachers. And it underscores the college’s mission to serve communities with few resources by supplying the school system with highly effective teachers who are dedicated to the students and families who live there.
“We believe that the preparation of urban teachers is our most important and most serious endeavor,” Katsarou said.
Interested in teaching? Find out more here.