Longtime Smyser Elementary School Teacher Excelling in New Role as an Interventionist
20 September 2023
Mrs. Cho has developed a number of effective strategies to help students build literacy skills.
If you were to follow Mrs. Cheryl Cho’s path growing up, you probably wouldn’t be too surprised to learn that she ended up pursuing a career in education. In elementary school, she got her first taste of helping others academically by tutoring her brother. Then, in high school, she gained experience working in a classroom by volunteering with pre-k students. And, now, she is a veteran educator with more than 20 years of teaching third and fourth grade behind her—all of those years spent at Smyser Elementary School on Chicago’s Northwest Side.
“We have a very supportive staff at Smyser, and, being here for a long time, I’ve built really close relationships and strong connections,” she said. “With the students, once you’ve been here for so long, everyone knows you.”
This year, Mrs. Cho is settling into a new role as an interventionist at Smyser, where she provides additional academic support with a focus on literacy skills for students in the primary grades. This opportunity aligns perfectly with the strong friendships with students and staff that she has formed, as she now gets to work with different classrooms and grade levels rather than just focusing on the same group of students over the course of the year.
This means that you’ll now find Mrs. Cho all over Smyser’s campus. She explains that while she had gotten to know her colleagues well, she never had too many opportunities to work closely with them unless they were teaching the same grade level that she was. Now, as an interventionist, she spends some of her time observing classrooms to determine how to best support the students she works with.
And, even though her focus is currently on primary students, being in more areas of the school has also allowed her to reconnect with her former students who are now in middle school.
“I’ve had some students say to me that even though we are both still at Smyser, we haven’t seen each other in so long because our paths just never cross,” she said. “It’s been great to see how much my former students have grown, both academically and physically—some of them are towering over me now.”
Even as a veteran educator, Mrs. Cho will be the first person to tell you that she is still learning just as her students are. Her new position has brought new challenges in terms of scheduling and fitting many priorities into a set number of hours. She is also gaining new skills from collaborating more closely with the school’s MTSS lead. And she’s always learning something new when it comes to technology, often leaning on her students for support.
While she’s still in the early stages of her work as an interventionist, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the progress she has made so far. Even though the school year has just begun, success stories are already flowing in.
Mrs. Cho smiles as she recalls a student who was having trouble reading. One of her key strategies is to encourage students to break down a word into smaller pieces—phonemes—and then use those pieces to determine how to sound out and read new words. This student was given an unfamiliar sentence to read, and Mrs. Cho saw his eyes light up because he knew exactly how to apply the decoding strategies he had learned.
Her students are always engaged because of the creative ways she helps them learn. For her younger students who are learning how to write letters, you probably won’t see them practicing on pieces of paper too often. Instead, Mrs. Cho hands out plastic baggies filled with a gel that moves as students write out their letters using their fingers. She says that students are always asking when they’ll get to use the gel bags again.
From letter recognition to blending phonemes, Mrs. Cho knows that the skills she is building will equip her students with the tools they need to become confident readers. While she is excited about the future, she is more focused on the rest of the year in front of her.
“One of my top goals for this year is that I want my students to have fun learning, and, at the same time, I want them to remember that it is okay to make mistakes,” she said. “With those in mind, I know that we will enjoy the whole year together.”