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As the CTU’s We Care program is extended and expanded for next year, our village is growing

Wow, as I sit down to write this article, it’s nearly May and I can hardly believe we are near the end of another unimaginably difficult school year. Although it’s been more than 25 years now since I first breathed the sweet end-of-the-school-year air, I remember very clearly the many obstacles I faced and overcame that first year. I also remember the stern face and soft hands of Mrs. Loneva Wolfolk, who took pity on my clueless 27-year old self and showed me the ropes. 

This is my truth. I couldn’t have made it that first year without guidance and support — not many of us can. No one does this work alone. It takes a village to raise a good teacher. With the We Care early educator mentoring program, CTU has created that village to provide the necessary support that can make the difference between retention and resignation for early career teachers and clinicians.

Feeling thankful

Kenna Whitley, a new teacher at John C. Haines School, assessed her experience with the CTU’s mentoring program, including her work with her VIC, or virtual instructional coach, this way: 

“I was out the door, but my mentor and VIC Jerrica Omoware would not let me give up. She continued to call me, send me articles and resources to improve my instruction and encouraged me to take care of myself,” she said. “I am thankful that someone was looking out for me when I couldn’t do it for myself.” 

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recognizes the pivotal role that coaching and mentoring plays in the career expectancy of an educator and, because of the success of the We Care program, our contract is being extended another year. Next year, our capacity to coach and mentor early career teachers and clinicians will grow from 300 to 500. We also will be able to service first, second and third year teachers and clinicians. This expansion of support is almost unheard of, as most CPS coaching programs cut the apron strings after the first year.

A vision and a memory

I had no idea of what to expect when I was plucked from the classroom and plunked into the role of Administrator of New Teacher Development at the Chicago Teachers Union. What I did have was a vision, the memory of what it felt like to be a first-year teacher and the opportunity to curate an authentic coaching and mentoring experience for hundreds of deserving teachers.

Since December of 2020, our program has trained almost 200 veteran teachers and clinicians as Virtual Instructional Coaches and Building Mentors who have provided resources, guidance, support and encouragement to our mentees. Much of the coaching is rooted in these three foundational practices, for which they receive paid professional development: 

  • Establishing safety and belonging.
  • Engaging family and community.
  • Cultural competency and anti-racism.

Grounded in this vision, I established monthly professional discussions, aptly called We Care Conversations, facilitated by veteran and National Board Certified teachers enrolled in the program. The conversations were meant to arm early career teachers and clinicians with information not provided in traditional coaching programs to help them craft their careers in education. Since September of 2021 our nearly 300 mentees have had access to information on topics that range from choosing health care plans and understanding and navigating REACH to building financial fortitude and fighting for the schools we deserve.

“The information I learned at the REACH conversation provided tips that helped me improve my rating,” said Shakira Jones, a new teacher at Farnsworth Elementary. 

Representation matters

Of the students that attend CPS schools, 90 percent are Black and Brown. However, those demographics are no longer reflected in the teaching staff across the city. While this program is open to all early career teachers and clinicians, we especially encourage teachers of color to apply because representation matters. It is important to provide a brave space for teachers of color to learn and grow in their craft and commitment.

The We Care program is dedicated to developing socially conscious, civically engaged, ant-racist, union-driven educators who are prepared to teach the next generation of students, while demanding a Just Chicago for them to grow up in.

If you want to be a part of this dynamic program, please send your contact information to mentoringprogram@ctulocal1.org because We Care!

Tara Stamps is Administrator of New Teacher Development at the Chicago Teachers Union and director of the We Care program.