Hooked on Teaching
"Try me,'' the girl said. "Give me a logic problem.'' He did. Soon she asked for another. Then Stephen gave her a whole worksheet. She asked for a grade and another worksheet. "After a while, I'd given her four or five worksheets,'' Stephen recounts. "Then some friends asked for a sheet of problems, too.'' Stephen had discovered teaching.
His first classroom was the Ashland Avenue Bus #9. He and three friends would wait to go home together and then walk to a bus stop up from the school to make sure they could get seats together. During the 45-minute ride to their homes on the South Side, Stephen taught logic. "Pretty soon I started grading them, telling them they hadn't done their homework, giving them tests,'' he recalls. "At the end of the quarter, I gave them a grade. And at the end of the year, I gave everyone a final exam.''
Normally, students with a talent for teaching receive little attention and even less encouragement. There are few tangible incentives or rewards to entice them into the profession. So Stephen had no way of knowing that his newfound passion was about to bring him widespread recognition and a scholarship at a topnotch university. BUT MEANWHILE, word of his back-of-thebus seminar spread. When school opened the following September, several students persuaded him to repeat his logic class. Soon, he had four students grappling with logic problems. The bus was not an ideal classroom, however, so at the urging of his students, Stephen persuaded school officials to let him use an unoccupied room at the high school before classes started. "I had to leave home at 6 A.M. to get there for a 7:15 A.M. class,'' he says. "After that, I started taking attendance.''
Last year, as a 16-year-old senior--he skipped the 6th and 8th grades--Stephen taught his logic class on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. "I didn't want to get up that early on Mondays, and I figured Thursdays they'd have to study for the tests,'' he says.
Nineteen students signed up for his course and three audited it. He drew up lesson plans, assigned textbooks, and required his students to write analytical reports. The class held a mock trial, so he taught the students to construct arguments for the defense and prosecution. He set up a Logic Bowl, pitting the Brain Busters against the Cranium Crackers. He tested his students with mind benders from a fallacy book, and they, in turn, held a stump-the-teacher day, with mind benders devised to baffle Stephen. No one did. But some came close. One, for example, asked for the rationale in ordering the following numbers: 8, 5, 4, 9, 1, 7, 6, 3, 2. (See answer on page 53.)
Sometimes Stephen also tried teaching other subjects. "He took over my world literature class on several occasions, and often had better control than I did,'' recalls Fred Hunter, an English literature teacher at the school.
Stephen says his fellow students responded well to him because he made his classes lively. "We did work,'' he says, "but we always had a lot of fun.'' He is especially proud of his imitation of television game show host Alex Trebek. His logic class did its own version of Trebek's show, "Jeopardy!'' "I believe teachers' basic tasks are to motivate and to discipline,'' Stephen says. "If you motivate a student to learn, he won't be disruptive. If you get a disruptive student, you have to humor him.'' Stephen recalls one student who came to his class just to heckle him. "He'd say 'How do you know that's right? I can teach better than you.' So I said, 'Here's the book.'" The student declined the offer and stopped his heckling.
WHILE STEPHEN BOURNES AND HIS FRIENDS were tackling number theory on the bus, Chicago financier Martin Koldyke was pondering teaching in a vastly different setting: the well-appointed offices of the Frontenac Company, his $250 million venture-capital firm.
Two years earlier, in 1985, Koldyke had created the Foundation for Excellence in Teaching. Its goals were simple: to devise innovative programs for the recruitment, retention, and renewal of excellent teachers.
Koldyke was concerned that large numbers of good teachers were leaving the profession. "We don't pay our teachers very much,'' Koldyke told a reporter. "We treat them all the same, regardless of their ability or performance. We give them no esteem or recognition. If you were a venture capitalist like me and someone asked you, 'Would you invest in an enterprise like that?' you'd say, 'No way.' Who in their right mind would do such a thing?'' But, he added, when it comes to our schools, the institutions that control our future, that is exactly what our society is doing.
The foundation's first innovative program was the Academy of Educators--a kind of "brain trust'' through which teachers can shape education policies and programs, locally and nationally. Ten fellows are named to the Academy of Educators each year. They are chosen from the hundreds of Chicago-area teachers who are nominated by their principals and others familiar with their work. They receive the Golden Apple Award and a host of other professional benefits. But they also are expected to give the foundation some guidance on future projects.
"We had been given the charge to come up with ideas that would improve not only the status of teaching, but the quality of those going into teaching,'' says Dominic Belmonte, one of the 1987 fellows. "Usually people go into teaching through a series of fortuitous circumstances. Perhaps someone says, 'Gee, I think you'd be a good teacher.' But you're not recruited into the profession the way corporations or others go after new people. We wanted to develop a unique program to attract young people to teaching.''
So the fellows began to discuss what classroom teachers could do, and the idea for the Academy of Scholars was born.
As the fellows conceived it, the Academy would encourage talented students to enter teaching, thus providing a source of high-quality teachers to replenish their diminishing ranks in Chicago. They decided that the Academy should recruit students interested in teaching, nurture them in numerous ways through their college years, and then reward them with a hefty cash bonus if they teach for five years in the Chicago schools.
Getting the Academy up and running was not easy. In 1988, the foundation contacted public, private, and parochial high schools throughout Chicago urging teachers and counselors to nominate students for the first class of scholars.
"We encountered a lot of cynicism,'' recalls William Dren Geer Jr., the foundation's executive director. "We received letters that said, 'Why would any of these wonderful kids want to be teachers?'' That attitude rubs off on students, Geer says. "They're influenced by the general climate in the schools, which is, 'Anybody who teaches is crazy.'
But the foundation director and his staff persevered. They sent applications to the 165 students nominated and held meetings for the students and their parents. They also managed to persuade four area colleges and universities--Northwestern University, De Paul University, the National College of Education, and the University of Illinois at Chicago--to provide financial-aid packages for the students selected.
A total of 96 high school seniors completed applications. Last November, the foundation selected from that pool 15 students to be its first "scholars.'' Stephen Bournes was one of them.
The foundation assists the scholars with their college applications and picks up all college expenses not covered by financial aid and family contributions. It offers every scholar a paid internship each summer and arranges seminars in teaching skills at the University of Illinois. In addition, the fellows have arranged afternoon study sessions to hone the students' reading, writing, and study skills. Finally, each scholar is matched with one of the Golden Apple recipients, who serves as a mentor.
"We're not just throwing money at them and saying, 'Here, go be a teacher,'' says Belmonte. "We are 'velcroing' ourselves to them to ensure that they'll be successful.''
One of the Academy's top priorities is to help replenish the supply of minority teachers in the Chicago public schools. Of the first 15 scholars, 14 are black or Hispanic. "We're trying to find role models and help infuse them back into the community,'' Belmonte says. For every one of the scholars who teaches in a Chicago school, the foundation will put $2,000 a year in escrow. At the end of five years, the teacher will receive the $10,000, plus interest.
As for Stephen, he says that he probably would have become a teacher even if he had not been selected as a scholar. He's quick to note, however, that the honor has made a difference.
For one thing, it enabled him to enroll at Northwestern University. The youngest of seven children, Stephen had expected to attend a less expensive school. The appointment has also boosted his morale. "It has made me more positive about my decision to go into teaching,'' he says, adding that some people have discouraged him from entering the profession.
Stephen entered college this fall. He expects to major in English and French and plans to teach high school English. Already he is looking forward to his return to teaching, and the gratification it brings him. "I get a certain fulfillment when I come out of class,'' he says. "It's like I've accomplished something.''
Stephen has turned over his logic class at Whitney Young to a new teacher, one of his former students; at last count, 10 people were enrolled.
(The answer to the brain teaser: The numbers are arranged alphabetically.)
For more information about the Academy of Scholars, contact: Pat Koldyke, 6 North Michigan Ave., Suite 506, Chicago, IL 60602; (312) 407-0006.