This autumn the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program celebrated its tenth anniversary, inviting experts, future educators, and local media to join in an open house and panel asking hard questions and developing answers for the toughest issues facing urban education today.
With on-the-ground program observation, a Q&A with director Kavita Kapadia Matsko, and an expert panel discussion “Why Teach? Why Now?” the UChicago UTEP Open House gave attendees the chance to experience firsthand how a deep commitment to inquiry forms the cornerstone of the University of Chicago program.
“The unique feature I’d emphasize for UChicago UTEP is the depth of the program,” said Doug O’Roark, director of secondary math and biology teacher preparation with the Urban Teacher Education Program and one of four expert voices on the afternoon panel.
“We are in fact a five-year program. Our vision of what it will take to “Be the Change," which is our slogan, is that we need to provide our students up front with a two-year masters—which involves a year-long residency, small group work in the summer, tutoring in the first year—and that coupled with three years of coaching support and inquiry work after graduation. That is the depth of experience needed.”
Education experts from diverse organizations joined O’Roark on the panel, including Eliza McNabb, recruitment manager for Teach for America, Dr. Robert Lee, director of the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline at Illinois State University, and Anna Listak, executive director of Urban Teacher Residency United. Answering questions from the audience moderated by director Kapadia Matsko, the panelists brought unique perspectives to the most urgent education issues.
Among the wide range of topics covered, from getting teacher evaluation right to transforming the schoolhouse, each panelist spoke in some way to the need to change the narrative surrounding teaching in the United States.
“We need to set up teaching as an intellectual profession,” said McNabb of TFA, “something that is deeply challenging day-to-day, something where you are using strategic thinking and your critical abilities, something that is going to be engaging.”
“I spend a lot of time talking to seniors in college,” she said, “and a lot of these seniors are telling me, ‘I want to go into consulting, I want to go into finance.’ When I ask them why, I think the answer they don’t tell me is that they want to make a lot of money and be respected. I think what they do tell me is ‘I want to work with people and it’s strategic thinking, and I get to really analyze data and apply myself.’”
McNabb paused as the audience and panelists laughed ruefully.
“And that opens the door wide open for me to talk about teaching,” she continued, “but I think we really need to help people understand this on a broad level, especially our undergraduates who don’t have that perspective on teaching right now.”
As the panel concluded on a reflection of teaching as a profession, O’Roark laid out a vision of a full and fulfilling trajectory for an educator’s career—a trajectory that just might bring with it the other transformations necessary to change the prospects of children growing up in urban America.
“For UChicago UTEP,” O’Roark said, “our model is that there’s a ladder—a lot of teachers reject this idea of a teaching ladder but I think we need one. I think it’s a more attractive field if I know I’m going to be novice and then I’m going to mature and then I get to the fifth or sixth year and I don’t just plateau, then I learn to how to be a mentor teacher and then maybe an induction coach. To know that there’s a career and an environment that supports that.”
“This is all connected to teacher evaluation as well,” he said, returning to the most contentious topic of the day, “because when evaluation is done well, I’m participating, I’m self-evaluating, I’m talking to someone and having a professional conversation. It’s not that the principal is coming to observe me today and I’ll be fired or not. That is not an environment that is attractive—but one where my growth is supported? That would be attractive.”