Urban Experience Reflexive A day in the life of a cps teacher

Prior Experience

My experience with urban education was slim to non-existent before I came to college. Upon attending ISU, I realized that my school district (D211) was more affluent than I originally thought it was. Besides attending Hoffman Estates High School, I had never interacted with schools that were outside of the suburban areas or considered "large metropolitan urban" environments. My observations were completed in Hoffman Estates, or in the Normal Community where much of the same qualities were set in place throughout the atmosphere.

From high school to college, the water towers guided my wondering about what education meant - that is, the one I was receiving, and the one I would soon be giving to my future community.

As a student knew that my high school and that my neighborhood was diverse. I knew that my school offered ESL classes, special needs services, AP classes, athletics, scholastic programs, ACT prep, extracurriculars, and staff support. As a teacher candidate, I knew that the schools I was observing in offered me comfort. They seemed normal, they felt normal, and they were reminiscent of the experience I had in high school. When hearing the words "urban education" I never considered it to relate to me or my education. I did not live in the city and my postage location never said "Chicago." CPS, with all that is politically aimed at the school district and the immense media coverage I engage with on it, was the epitome of Urban education for me. The big, affluent city schools, the underfunded, understaffed city schools, the schools being shut down, and the schools being built in Chicago were so far urban to me that I never felt I would belong in one as a student or a teacher. Now, things are a bit different. Urban education is not a stigma or a science that I can choose to associate myself with or choose to ignore. It is a part of the educational world that has not touched me personally, and that I must go out and seek to be a part of. Urban education is not always poor, it is not always struggling, and it is not always subject to white saviorism or complacency.

Urban Education Is Changing - For You, and For Me

I often look to the clouds when considering change
I look to the sky to show me the worlds power of transitioning

And sometimes I hope that all the time I spend looking up at the atmosphere above reflects something constantly changing in me. Specifically, in this instance, that would be how I view, interact with, and become an invested ally for urban education. Before our trip to Chicago, I was overwhelmingly excited to invest my entire being into the community we were setting foot in. I was ready to change and to be challenged by everything I had ever thought previously (whether those thoughts be due to socialization or reality). I was ready to be uncomfortable, because comfortability has no place in teaching and learning for a radically appealing, socially just pedagogy.


Walking into the Benito Juarez Community Academy was enticing, and nothing I had ever seen before. Going through a security line, scanner, and officer was something I had only ever experienced in airports, and that was a privilege that I was never faced to deal with. The stipulations associated with this process often ignore safety and turn towards stereotyping the people within the building. I made a conscious effort to not let my privilege or positionality impact the way I went about my day. My brain opened itself up to the new-ness of the day, and I was ready to listen, learn, and live as if I were a CPS teacher in this community.

The immediate reactions I had to this environment was how powerful it was. The people from staff to students were powerful. I expected to see a school that was, for a lack of better words, scary. My mind brought me to that place where I completely misjudged what this environment would be about, when it was actually inspiring and tantalizing from every corner crevice and crack. The liveliness of the hallways startled me, but the personalities I encountered with each step were fascinating. Hearing Spanish used freely and consistently was refreshing and made me wish I practiced mine to understand just a little bit more, to hold onto another thing that was unique about this school.

Overall, my perception of BJCA was that it was special, in general and to so many people. The staff that so kindly interacted with us cared about the kids and their work. The initiatives set in place were explained to be pushed radically, and without regret. Passion was constantly being identified as I observed and talked with the teachers at this school. Whether it was seeing librarians give amazing presentations about the multi-cultural, historical, and young adult lit they have to offer, to hearing all of the teachers talk about the school wide reading program occurring the following week, everyone was constantly doing something to benefit the students in the most brilliant way. I felt like I saw the teaching and leading that I learn about in my classes every single day. Despite the issues I was exposed to, such as awful attendance issues, limited resources, and a transitional teaching period, this urban education setting offers so much validity for students in this community. I was surprised to see that the teachers here reflected the student's diversity, needs, and identities. One teacher in particular fascinated me with his devotion to connecting with students' families.

Engaging with the Community

One of the teachers I observed admitted to me that he had no formal Spanish speaking skills before teaching in BJCA. However, within his class I saw him interact with the kids, make jokes with the kids, and sing songs all in, you guessed it, Spanish. He explained to me that the main reason he has become so well spoken in this second language is because its not only what the kids use very often with their friends, but its also what most parents in this community use for conversation. In fact, it is the only language they are able to use in situations that involve communication.

I was informed that the day directly before we had visited, this teacher conducted personal parent teacher conferences in which he spoke with available parents, in English and in Spanish, about the progress, attendance, and personalities of their children. He said not every English teacher does this, but he personally feels motivated to connect with the community in which his students make an important part. (He even wanted to take me to his favorite lunch spot, because they are the best tacos I would ever have in my life. This, was perhaps the most passionate point of the conversation). Anyways, my point is that this specific conversation inspired me to become personally invested with my environment to a passionate level from this point on. It impacted how I viewed this school, the teachers, the students, and the community I was exploring, and exploring ended up being my favorite part of this entire journey.

I had a good day, and BJCA encouraged me to continue that path even after leaving its doors.

Reflection and Extension

This experience has given me wings, literally, to take me outside of my comfort zone and seek something more than the norm.

It has given me the courage to stand up for what I believe pedagogy, learning, education, and justice should be.

And it has also given me pineapple pie, which you cannot deny is just flat out amazing.

The most important thing that I have gained, however, is a new perspective on what it means to be a teacher that serves student needs, as opposed to being a teacher that gets destroyed by the system.

In my own philosophy of teaching I see myself taking the beauty that I witnessed in Pilsen into my passion for building relationships, thinking thoughtfully, and shaping the world with creativity instead of simply "teaching." Teaching is not reduced to being a degree. Pilsen showed me that teaching is beauty, art, and personality mashed together chaotically.

Teaching is colorful and vibrant, and loud in times of doubt.

Teaching is a reflection of ones identity, and the beliefs they hold inside of what students are capable of.

Teaching is challenging, but with a supportive community is perhaps the most empowering thing ever created.

In my teaching career I will

Foster Pilsen's culturally responsive literature within the English Classroom and encourage students to read for fun outside of the classroom. Providing them with the resources to find what they enjoy to read is the first step, and second is making class time for them to invest themselves individually in those experiences.

I will also incorporate multiple discourses within my classroom and encourage students to utilize their multiple languages to communicate and display their knowledge. Allowing students to draw on other languages they may speak and utilize their unique language identities is one way in which urban education can transform the ways in which students begin to adopt a sense of self and importance with their school work

And finally, in my own philosophy of teaching, I will incorporate the belief that all students should receive the equal opportunity to an education that represents their identity, history, and story. The pieces that we were exposed to within the National Museum of Mexican Art affirmed this for me. My classroom philosophy will not ignore or neglect a student's experience, but rather, will expose it with the use of literature and education to validate a real human experience.

I want to thank Pilsen for all it gave to me. I have never been more excited for teaching.

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