Veteran Bilingual CPS Educator Still Challenging Herself Through New Opportunities
11 May 2023
Ms. Chavez is starting a new opportunity as a teacher advisor at the Museum of Science and Industry Institute for Quality Science Teaching.
Ms. Olga Chavez believes that her own education has had countless benefits but, above anything else, she views it as a tool for understanding her own lived experiences. She studied sociology in college because she wanted to further understand the intersectional factors that shaped her own childhood growing up in Chicago.
While she enjoyed being in classrooms enough to pursue a master’s degree in education, she will be the first person to tell you that her educational journey wasn’t always as supportive as it could have been. When she compares her own time in school to the current educational landscape, the most striking difference is the increased emphasis on restorative practices.
She says that the teachers she remembers the most are the ones that work hard to build a relationship with her. But that didn’t always happen. That’s why Ms. Chavez makes meeting her students where they are one of her top priorities.
“When I acted out as a student, it wasn’t because I was a bad kid, but it was because I needed more structure and more attention,” she said. “I want to form relationships with my students so they don’t feel frustrated or defeated in school. Having an adult that they can trust works wonders.”
Ms. Chavez was an immigrant who didn’t speak English when she became a CPS student, so it’s not surprising that her first role at CPS was as a bilingual education teacher at an elementary school. She held this role for 15 years and found a particular passion for teaching science. She noted that her students enjoyed everything from learning about animals and habitats to building things when learning about engineering. Science instruction also often uncovered her students’ unique skills that she may not have realized otherwise.
While she found this role incredibly rewarding, she eventually felt that it was time for a change, so she obtained her license in special education and her Spanish endorsement. This school year, she joined the team at Al Raby High School to pursue both of these passions.
“I’m from the West Humboldt Park area, so I wanted to come back to this part of Chicago and give back to those students,” she said. “Students in high-need areas do not always have access to quality teachers who have many years of experience, so it’s great that I am able to serve a community that needs me the most.”
Working with older students was initially an adjustment for Ms. Chavez, but she soon realized that high school students can still be “sweeties.” She always smiles when she thinks about how some of her students who are more than six feet tall and act tough still come to her classroom because she gives out fruit snacks.
Her passion for science has also come with her to Al Raby, and she is starting a new opportunity as a teacher advisor at the Museum of Science and Industry Institute for Quality Science Teaching. In this role, she will work with other educators of color to make curricula more inclusive and accessible for all students, with a particular focus on supporting English learners and students from low-income backgrounds.
As she looks back at her career as a whole, Ms. Chavez would summarize it with one word: joyful.
“You could be having the worst day in the world, and your students will still bring you so much joy. There is joy as an educator every day,” she said. “It’s especially rewarding when you realize that our students need all the love and support that we can give and all the encouragement that we can give.”
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