Program sends future teachers to urban schools

Nathalie Tadena

Karin Hong went from cash to kids last June when she traded in her life as an investment banker to become a public school teacher.

“I’ve always had a passion for justice, and education is a powerful tool for social justice,” Hong said.

Hong is one of 59 student interns enrolled in Northwestern’s Teacher Education Alternative for Chicago, an alternative-certification program for college graduates and mid-career professionals who want to make a fast transition into teaching.

Now in its 10th year, NU-TEACH has placed more than 500 interns in Chicago schools.

“The program has been exceptionally successful,” said Dr. Sylvia Smith-Demuth, director of the Alternative Teacher Certification Program. “We’re proud of the number of teachers and the quality of teachers that have gone through the program.”

The 12-month program targets highly qualified individuals with backgrounds in fields such as engineering and accounting to teach in inner-city schools. Interns are recruited through a partnership with Inner-City Teaching Corps, Urban Impact through Education and Chicago Public Schools. During the summer, interns go through an eight-week intensive program where they complete coursework and student-teach alongside a faculty member. Interns then teach for a year in an inner-city public or parochial school in Chicago while attending class at NU once every two weeks to evaluate their progress. After one year, interns can continue to teach for four years to receive teacher certification.

Flavian Prince, an NU-TEACH intern, said teaching in an urban environment has been a “trial and error” experience.

By applying what he learns in his teaching courses to the school, he has seen an improvement in his students, he said.

“I’m teaching at the lowest-performing school in Illinois,” Prince said. “It’s supposed to be the worst, but now I think it is the best.”

Though Prince said he had plans to become a history professor, he decided to become a public school teacher after conducting research and working with homeless children in Brazil.

Prince said he hopes to set up his own professional vocational program in the future to “really help inner-city students seek a light at the end of the tunnel.”

But there are other reasons why interns come to the program.

NU-TEACH graduate Peter Goff said he left chemical engineering to find a profession that was better suited for him.

“If I did my job well, then I made the company more money,” Goff said. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t the kind of feeling I wanted to come home to in 40 years.”

Goff taught chemistry in Chicago for four years and is now applying to graduate programs in educational policy.

To promote further dialogue, SESP has made arrangements for interns to attend today’s performance of “No Child” by the Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago. “No Child” is a one-woman performance starring Nilaja Sunday, depicting her teaching experiences in a New York City public high school.

“A lot of people don’t realize how difficult teaching is,” Demuth said. “I hope (the performance) raises consciousness and dialogue efforts to take steps to improve social policy issues within the community at large.”

Reach Nathalie Tadena at [email protected]