When preschool teacher Duwuana Buice was out sick one day, her We Care mentor called to check in and see how she was doing. Her mentor was planning to visit her class and support her learning environment.
“It’s like you have someone who cares and is willing to show up for you,” Buice said of the We Care program. “And my mentor doesn’t lecture, she meets me where I’m at. She helps me be the best teacher I can be.”
In its third year, We Care seeks to mentor, support and ultimately retain educators — especially educators of color — helping them become the best teachers they can be.
The program provides first and second-year educators and clinicians with two experienced professionals to support them. A virtual instruction coach supports curriculum development, classroom management, pedagogy, IEP’s, and other issues specific to subject, grade, and area of expertise. And a building mentor helps new educators navigate the culture and climate of their school and the wider community.
The program also offers regular information seminars, dubbed We Care Conversations, on subjects such as money management, understanding your pension, school safety, REACH assessments and more.
A Chicago native, Buice had been working in early education for over a decade before she earned her bachelor’s degree from Roosevelt University and a position at Beethoven Elementary School.
“I actually received a call from CPS that I was being offered a teaching position while marching into my commencement ceremony,” she said. She began teaching preschool full time at Beethovan last year.
Buice met her We Care mentor, Tiffany Watkins, at the CPS New Teacher Virtual Conference. Watkins then introduced her to the We Care program, which Buice promptly signed up for.
She had been teaching in child care settings for 12 years, but knew she still had a lot to learn about her teaching practice, being a CPS employee and a CTU member. Watkins immediately stepped in.
“When you’re new to something, it can be very stressful,” she said. “With We Care, it’s like having a walking resource person, someone you can build a genuine, trusting relationship with who has more knowledge and experience than you so you don’t feel so alone and overwhelmed.”
At the beginning of the year, Watkins visited Bruice’s classroom, provided helpful suggestions on how to set it up and shared a lot of valuable resources. Plus, her building coach helped her “figure out her building” and understand her school’s culture and climate, which has made it easier for her to speak out and stand up for herself.
When Buice struggled last year — to the point of tears — to understand the REACH assessments, her mentor came to the rescue. They spoke by phone and she broke down all the components and then Buice felt ready to answer the questions.
Buice also finds the We Care Conversations particularly helpful. She said she always returns to her building with information to share with colleagues and even the veteran teachers appreciate it.
Buice understands how the workload, especially for new teachers, may seem so overwhelming that they cannot take on even one more obligation. But, she explains that We Care actually helps educators manage that stress. In fact, she’s become an unofficial We Care ambassador, extolling the program’s benefits to any one who wants to listen.
“Yes, this is one more meeting and one more obligation, extra work in your already busy life as a CPS teacher,” she said. “But it is well worth it. It helps you be the best version of a teacher you can be.”
Tara Stamps, CTU Administrator of New Teacher Development who runs the We Care program, applauds Buice’s commitment to her profession and her union.
“The aim of the We Care Virtual Instructional Coach and Building Mentor program is to care for and prepare the next generation of social justice-minded, anti-racist, equity and inclusion-focused educators, who are also strong unionists,” Stamps said. “Once she was invited to attend a union event outside of her school building, Duwuana became a student and advocate for all the work that our union produces.”
Buice marched in every parade that CTU participated in, volunteered at the first CTU Back to School Jam, and attended CTU’s LEAD dinner with 24 other We Care members. “Duwuana is a shining example of the mission of the We Care program,” Stamps said.
If you are an early career teacher or clinician in years one, two or three, there are still seats available in the We Care program. Learn more about We Care and encourage the new teachers and clinicians in your building to check it out.