Urban Reflexive The story of Pilsen, Chicago

Prior Experience:

Before working in Pilsen, I have had the luxury of being able to teach in CPS schools in past years. As a Golden Apple Scholar, I have been able to immerse myself in the CPS atmosphere on a few occasions. During the summer of 2015, I co-taught Accelerated Algebra – Trigonometry to Juniors and Seniors of Foreman High School in Portage Park, Chicago, Illinois through the help of fellow colleague Mrs. Strzalka. From this experience, as well as my experience teaching and observing Farragut High School in Little Village, I have been able to better understand the atmosphere and community that CPS schools offer students. I grew up a student in District 211, where I attended Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. I grew up the proverbial upper middle class lifestyle, so I have zero right or privilege to talk about how I can relate to these students; however, I do know what its like growing up in this area based upon these clinical experiences that I have been fortunate to have. From Foreman, to Farragut and now to Benito Juarez, I have been able to experience a different style of classroom, take notes, and essential learn about what it takes to be a CPS teacher. Teaching is something that I have loved doing since I started coaching high school athletics when I was a freshman in High School, and for me to experience teaching in a different socioeconomic area than what I grew up in, really has been very beneficial to my future teaching career.

My Beliefs:

Chicago Public Schools are notorious for having a negative stigma. When talking to relatives about the various places that I would like to teach in the future, for some reason or another, no one wants me to teach in CPS. Why? At the end of the day, regardless of what types of students are in the community, teaching is a profession. My goal as a teacher is to shape the minds of the future leaders of our world, and these students have the same right as any to have that aspiration. Urban education is underfunded, under represented and truly undervalued in the community of teaching. The media persuades the middle class and upper-middle class to believe that CPS is something that it isn’t, which is a dirty school with no good students. From my clinical experiences and the observations that I have been able to make, these students are a group of good teachers and a support system away from changing this stigma. “Urban education” should not even exist, and if my experiences have taught me anything, it is that the teachers that teach in CPS value teaching a whole lot more than the number of zeroes on their paycheck can even reflect.


When I first walked onto Benito Juarez Community Academy campus, I was immediately blown away. Being familiar with the Chicago Public School System, I had seen what a typical CPS school looked like. Benito Juarez looked almost like a college campus to me. The large layout, the large fields, it had a big school feel to me. When I first walked into the school, I, as well as the other 219 students, was required to walk through metal detectors. The idea that safety is a giant concern for this school was a very ensuring feeling for me. Since I have had previous experiences in CPS schools, this idea of safety precautions was nothing foreign to me. Then, we were guided to the common area where we, in our business professional attire, were viewed as immediate outcasts to the population of Benito Juarez Community Academy. Little did I know that in a window of five hours, this “outcast” feeling would change drastically.

Overall, my experience at this school was very fond. I enjoyed being able to be a complete stranger in a school and be invited and welcomed as if I was a fellow teacher. During the course of the school day, many opportunities presented themselves. Mr. Kielba’s classroom was a very inviting, interactive class to be a part of. The students in his Pre-Calculus course all were Juniors and Seniors, and demographically speaking the classroom was primarily Latino-American. The reason this is important is because Mr. Kielba was not Latino-American, but still maintained a positive, healthy relationship with each of his thirty-two students in this class. The same amount was shown towards me when I was able to walk around the room and work with these students. The most memorable part of this classroom experience was actually during Mr. Kielba’s free hour for preparation. I had been able to talk to him about my prior experiences in teaching and was able to devise a lesson plan “in the dirt” so to speak, to teach his students. I had been talking to him about how I teach adding and subtracting polynomials for my tutoring sessions, as I am a Mathematics Content Tutor for the Julia N. Visor Center at Illinois State. He really enjoyed the idea of my lesson and decided to implement my technique into his teaching. This was the most memorable for me because in front of me was a fifty-something year old teacher, one who had been teaching since before I was even born, and I was able to influence and inspire him to teach a particular topic differently. This experience is one that I will remember for as long as I live and hopefully be a catalyst for many great future teaching moments in my career.

As the day concluded, I was finally able to see outside the classroom what Benito Juarez had to offer. The school was a very large school, much larger than Conant High School, which was the high school that I had attended. The artwork that covered the walls was unlike anything that I had seen in the school setting, as well. The concept of murals as the artwork for the walls was a very amazing thing to see, as the students who inhabit the school did many of the masterpieces. I believe that school pride and passion for knowledge are two of the largest factors in a positive high school experience for many students. Benito Juarez Community Academy was one of the most delightful schools that I have spent my time in, and to see the type of positive environment that these students are living in makes me hope that whatever school I choose to teach in can meet of exceed these precedents that BJCA has set.

At the beginning of the day, I had a very strong understanding of what to expect from a Chicago Public School. Underfunded, underrepresented, and undervalued, like I said previously. Urban schools are faced with the challenge of students not showing up from class, not being motivated in the school system, or even funding. Chicago Public Schools are not as privileged as districts in the suburbs. I come from an area where students get iPads for their classes, for example. This can prove to be a huge disadvantage for middle class students because they aren’t exactly getting the same level of teaching as a student from Barrington, or St. Charles might. This idea that level of schooling should reflect the area that you live in is total garbage and it is one of the large problems in the schooling world. These challenges that students have to face in the classroom that other “more privileged” students don’t creates an unfair, unequal swing of knowledge capacity and lessons everyday are depreciated because of it. In BJCA, students are at an immediate disadvantage even based upon something as simple as the type of calculator that students are given to solve problems. These students are given TI-30’s to solve problems that I was given a TI-84 to solve. This puts them at a disadvantage simply because of demographics, things that they, as students, cannot control. This is obviously one example, but these are the types of disadvantages that students face that simply is not fair, especially those in urban settings.

Reflecting and Extension:

This experience has really opened my eyes as to the types of learning that students in the urban setting can receive. Being in the urban section of TCH 219, I have been learning about what it takes to teach and learn in the urban environment. This course has taught me various tips and tricks as to how to handle the disadvantages of teaching in an urban environment. This played very well into this field trip because it allowed me to better understand and experience the different types of learning that takes place in an urban setting versus the more rural learning environment. Overall, what I have gained from this experience is that teaching in CPS is not the worst thing in the world, far from it. If anything it just makes me that much more eager to get out into the real work and teach for myself. Teaching is a very strenuous and challenging occupation. Why go into teaching? I aspire to become a teacher a person cannot put a price tag on the memories that I make and share with my students. I want to thank Pilsen and Benito Juarez Community Academy for all that it has done for me in my endeavors to become the best teacher that I can be.


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