The We Care program seeks to mentor, support and retain Black educators, helping them become the best teachers they can be.
Get a Mentor
Help connect a new teacher or clinician with their own “Ms. Wolfolk.” More information and the sign-up link can be found at ctulocal1.org/wecare.We Care
I remember Loneva Wolfolk. She was an old school teacher. Loneva spoke with a slow Arkansas drawl and her kitten heels sounded like she was tap dancing when she “click-clacked” down the hall. Always adorned in dresses or skirts, her gender-specific boy and girl lines followed her military style, silently to the bathroom, to the lunchroom, to the playground, to the dismissal door, daily.
She kept her room organized and put out all the next day’s work before she left the building and she always left before four. School ended at 2:45 p.m. She was never late and was rarely absent. Her students always outperformed other classes on standardized assessments — back when we only had one or two of them. More importantly she was fun, she cared, she celebrated everything Black all the time, not just during February. Her students had pride and boasted that they had the best teacher in the building.
To be a good teacher, you must…
Ms. Wolfolk wasn’t my mentor, but I studied her and did everything she did. One day she called me over to her room and said, “Girl I see you watching me. If you are going to be a good teacher, you must…” She then proceeded to lay everything out. She put me up on my game. She explained everything from lesson plans to pensions. She was the bomb!
In the early years of my career, it was common to have teachers like Ms. Wolfolk in our buildings. There were so many veteran Black, compassionate, committed teachers who took me under their wings and I was a better teacher for it.
The disappearing Black educator
That’s not the case today, as Black teachers continue to disappear from classrooms across this city. Today, in Black communities like Austin or Englewood, scores of Black and Brown children are not being taught by enough teachers that look like them. Given the traumas they face today, our students need all the great teachers we can give them — and they especially need teachers of color.
We know that school closings, the discriminatory way in which REACH is used, and school-based budgeting have all negatively impacted teachers. The damage done has made it difficult for new hires to see themselves as classroom teachers beyond five years, leading to plummeting retention year after year.
That is why the We Care New Teachers/Clinicians Coaching and Mentoring program is so important. Our program is the CTU version of the Illinois Coaching and Mentoring program. ISBE created the program, using funds from the federal Cares Act, and then partnered with IEA and IFT to develop and implement it. CTU is the largest IFT affiliate in Illinois.
The Union hired me last December to oversee this initiative, which at that time was a pilot program. The IFT renewed the grant for the 2021–22 school year and now — along with Carol Caref, an education policy analyst at CTU — I am tasked with enrolling 300 new career teachers and clinicians and 250 veteran teachers to coach and mentor those new hires.
Once first or second-year teachers and clinicians are enrolled in the program, they are matched with a Virtual Instructional Coach (VIC) who coaches them in all the particulars of curriculum and instruction: pedagogy, lesson plans, assessment, classroom management, and grades. Clinicians receive coaching in their area of expertise, for example social work, nursing, occupational therapy or physical therapy.
Teachers also are matched with a Building Mentor who is responsible for acclimating them to the school and wider community for the year. Mentors receive compensation based on their role and their time in the program. Instructional coaches and building mentors also are paid $300 to complete the mandatory professional development created by Charlotte Danielson. Although teachers are not paid for PD they can use it for license renewal.
In addition to the mandatory PD, we host monthly forums called We Care Conversations. These forums provide time to talk or vent, address challenges in the program, develop solutions, network and receive information critical for new hires crafting their career in education.
Recently, I called one of our new teacher mentees because I heard that she was leaving the program due to her workload.
“Nothing is farther from the truth,” she exclaimed. “Ms. Stamps, I think you have the wrong person. I love my mentor. She is warm and fun and has helped me so much since we started meeting. Thank you for this program.”
Need to know people “in the know”
Another special ed teacher mentee shared that she was getting the runaround from school administrators and the case manager regarding one of her special ed students whose IEP was incorrectly written. As a result, the student was not getting the proper services. Once the mentor explained how to discuss the issue, things instantly turned around. The IEP was re-written and now the student is getting the needed services. It helps to know people who know their way around the system.
I am so excited to be leading the We Care program. I am able to curate an authentic coaching and mentoring experience for new teachers and clinicians through the CTU lens — which is rooted in social justice, equity and creating safe spaces for teachers and clinicians to learn, grow and thrive in the CPS ecosystem. In essence, I get to ensure that all our mentees get their own Ms. Wolfolk to help them become the best teachers they can be.