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Taking the Time to Develop as an Educator

19 May 2023

By Ms. Nancy V. Ibarra, Teacher at Seward Communication Arts Academy

Ms. Ibarra

Education runs in my family. My grandmother was a teacher in Mexico in her early years and three of my four sisters work for CPS just like I do. My major in college was sociology, with a background in STEM (aviation). I was actually planning to become a pilot or an airplane mechanic and even got to fly solo and take an engine apart. However, I did not enjoy it like I thought I would. Something was missing. 

I then decided to get my master’s in urban education, and felt this was the right path for me. I’ve been part of the Seward Academy community since 2001. 

While I mostly teach science, my biggest joy comes from teaching algebra. Within my math class, I prepare a small group of students for the Algebra Initiative exam. This will allow them to test out of algebra before they start high school. I hope that my enthusiasm for solving math problems transfers to the students I teach. 

When it comes to my science instruction, I love working with the students on labs. I especially enjoy biology and teaching about the body; starting with cells, organs, organ systems, and so on. When discussing biology, I like to teach through a social justice lens and remind students that not everyone has equal opportunities in health care. 

One of my units covers Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cells were used for medical research without her consent. My students read excerpts from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and tie them to labs they are working on. Thus, not only are my students learning about biology, but they are also learning about the world around them. 

I take my responsibility seriously to challenge our students and provide them with instruction that will engage and inspire them. Many of the professional developments I take advantage of are useful, but I wish that I had even more time to delve into my subject areas and determine how I will present the information to my students. 

That’s why I’ve loved being part of the Yale National Fellows program. This school year is my third time participating in the program, and I spent one week on Yale’s campus earlier this month and will spend two weeks there this summer. 

This time around, I am focusing on a unit on environmental injustice, specifically on the Southwest Side of Chicago. I will give my students the opportunity to review primary sources related to recent events that have occurred and allow them to develop their own opinions on how environmental issues affect our communities and how they should be approached. 

I’m able to take a seminar with a Yale professor who teaches environmental engineering. He provides his expertise on the subject through lectures, discussions, and book recommendations, while understanding that teachers are the experts on pedagogy and creating activities that engage our students. I am also able to use resources like the university’s library to conduct my own research to strengthen my unit. 

Working on this unit made me think back to one of my favorite memories at Seward that occurred several years ago. After learning about climate change in several of their classes, our students organized a climate change march. They created signs and walked down 47th Street to highlight their passion for the subject. 

I’m hoping that this unit inspires a similar movement. Our students are very concerned about our environment, and they get a sense of empowerment when presented with information in the classroom. My goal is for them to understand that they can make social change.

Even though I’ve been an educator for so many years, I still enjoy learning from new teachers. I appreciate the fresh insights they bring with them. On the other hand, veteran educators bring a sense of calmness. I like to think that we’re less nervous about teaching exactly the right lesson each day and are more interested in making sure our students feel safe, loved, and enjoying learning. 

We’re extremely prepared to positively impact our students, and taking advantage of professional development helps with that preparedness. Even though working with CPS has been somewhat of a roller coaster, I know that I will retire as a part of the Chicago Public Schools.

Ms. Ibarra is also a proud product of CPS. She grew up in Little Village and attended both CPS elementary and high schools. She has coached track, cross country, and volleyball and is a GSA advisor for the LGBTQ+ club at school. You can learn more about Seward Academy here. 

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