Education

Interview: Making the Switch

November 01, 2003 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In 1999, Chicago Sun-Times writer Leslie Baldacci left her 25-year career to join Teachers for Chicago, an alternative certification program, and eventually, to teach in one of Chicago’s neediest public schools. Baldacci, who is still teaching, recounts those first few years in Inside Mrs. B’s Classroom: Courage, Hope, and Learning on Chicago’s South Side (McGraw-Hill). Career Coach recently interviewed the former journalist (by e-mail) about the lessons she’s learned as a teacher.

CAREER COACH: Can you talk a little about your experience in the Teachers for Chicago program: How prepared to teach did you feel coming out of the program?

LESLIE BALDACCI: Teachers for Chicago was an alternative certification program that took people from all walks of life who had undergraduate degrees, and put us right away into our own classrooms while we earned our master’s degrees in education at one of eight participating universities. We were assigned a mentor, an experienced teacher who was relieved of classroom duties in order to assist, support and model teaching for four TFC interns at the school throughout the year.

I was woefully unprepared for the administrative duties of a classroom: attendance records, report cards, lesson plans, curriculum planning. (Not to mention the other recordkeeping task that comes with the job: innocuous things like lunch tickets and receipt books.) I would have been far better prepared if I had been a student teacher in the traditional sense. I would have learned better classroom management skills if I had been able to observe an experienced teacher for an extended period of time. It would have been valuable to sit down with an experienced hand to better understand planning and curriculum, and organize activities. Instead, I learned everything from my own mistakes.

CC: When you got into the classroom, where did your greatest source (s) of support come from?

LB: My greatest sources of support were veteran teachers. They were generous and kind. They kept me going. The hero of my book is one of these extraordinary women. Surprisingly, the children also kept me going, including some of the very ones who tried to run the train off the rails every single day. Mark Twain once said he could go a month on one good compliment. One sparkle of connection with a student would sustain me in the hardest times.

CC: What mistakes did you make those first few years?

LB: My greatest mistake, the thing that took me longest to learn, was how to prevent a simple dust-up from escalating into a full-blown situation. My administrators stressed control. Control is very subjective, at times completely overrated. Connections, respect, caring--these things count for more than control by itself.

CC: In your book, you say you “understand why a third of teachers quit after three years.” Can you explain what you mean by that? Also, how have you managed to stay in the profession for longer than three years?

LB: I understand why a third of teachers quit after three years because three years are just baby steps in teaching. It is a complex, delicate craft. At the three-year point, teachers may feel discouraged because they are just starting to feel competent. I am just now feeling capable and I’m starting my fifth year in the classroom, my third year of teaching the same grade and same subject. I now know what comes next, and I understand the nuances of my pre-teen age group. The other discouraging part for new teachers is the paperwork. I cannot bear to think of recertification. Why do we hammer the most educated segment of our society with so much paperwork and regulation that has nothing to do with teaching or learning?

CC: What are some things new or prospective teachers should know about working in urban schools? What can they do to prepare themselves?

LB: Preparing teachers to work in urban schools is a two-sided challenge. The challenge on the outside is to understand youth culture and urban culture and get to know--and respect--the people who live in your school neighborhood, to look to them for insight and support and partnership. Whether it’s the shopkeeper, the pastor, the grandmother or the block club chairman, these people are our lifelines. Turn to them for counsel. They are wise. They can help you solve problems. The internal challenge, especially for white, middle-class teachers, is to challenge lifelong assumptions about the way things are or should be. It is a challenge that requires us to open our minds and question our minds and hearts as we negotiate new realities.

The other morning I saw a disheveled woman hurrying two small children across a busy traffic street. There was a time I would have been critical because she seemed careless about safety. Instead, I saw a mother trying against odds to get her children to school on time, which I respected immensely.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP