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The Teach First Program of North Central College targets first-generation students who are interested in pursuing careers in education. The college seeks to be the destination in Chicago for first-generation students who wish to become teachers, and so the focus is on recruiting, retaining, and launching these students into their education careers.
Nineteen students participated in the first year and 40 students in the second year. Those selected to participate met regularly with the program director to discuss their progress, address concerns related to their coursework, and share their views on major issues in the field of education.
In December of the first year, during a three-week elective period in December, Teach First students engaged in a hands-on teaching and learning internship in high-need elementary and secondary schools. The students led one-on-one tutoring sessions, met with small groups of students to focus on literacy, and assisted students with special projects. At the end of the internship, students partnered with each other to make presentations about their experiences and how those experiences related to their goal of becoming a teacher. Also, during winter break, these students collected food and toy donations for a special holiday program targeting primary students at area schools.
Some participants continued to work with students in these schools throughout the remainder of the year. Also, they were encouraged to attend a variety of on- and off-campus education conferences and workshops.
The director of the program also assisted students in planning summer activities that included work experience related to their future teaching careers. Serving as tutors and mentors for elementary and high school students participating in various camps, participants were in front of students on a daily basis.
A two-day Teach First Summit was held in the summer of 2009. Participants heard various presentations from faculty and staff members about the resources on campus that are available to help them reach their goals, and participants made presentations about their summer teaching internships and experiences in the classroom.
The program also sponsored a dinner where North Central alumni who were first-generation students and now are successful teachers talked about their career paths.
Teach First students received a $1,000 scholarship each year, had the opportunity to attend teaching workshops and national meetings, were exposed to the classroom immediately upon enrollment, and learned to work with high-risk children in grades K-12. Furthermore, those shared experiences promoted a “learning community” among Teach First students as they regularly interacted with fellow education majors.
Teach First students also were exposed to an extensive network of peer and professional mentors, as well as to mentors among upper-class students. And Teach First students became mentors as they moved through the program.
In the first year, Teach First Program staff members discovered that the significant time commitment required of participating students made it difficult for some of the students to remain in the program. Adjustments, such as a reduction in the number of Teach First group meetings from weekly to every other week and distribution of the schedule of activities for the entire academic year during the summer, were implemented to minimize conflicts. By helping first-generation students to succeed as teachers, a new generation of first-generation students will be provided with mentors and role models.

Program Outcomes

The spring-to-fall 2009 retention rate of Teach First students was 93.7 percent compared with the overall college annual retention rate of 79 percent, so increased retention was clearly achieved. Further, the students who persisted in the program had an average cumulative GPA of 3.08 compared with an average GPA for all first year-students of 2.8, thus improved academic performance also was achieved with this targeted campus population (first-generation future teachers).
The reputation of the teacher education program is spreading, and increased admission rates are anticipated. Further, the institution is strengthened by the improvement and innovation in its key academic program of teacher education.

Program Updates

The following improvements have been made to the program:
  • The Summer Summit has been replaced by a meeting for first-year students during orientation that includes some upper-class students.
  • On the first Thursday of each month, all Teach First students meet over lunch to discuss issues that are relevant to all student levels and to hear interactive presentations from invited speakers. On the third Thursday of each month two breakout sessions are held for first-year and upper-class students. Learning plans are developed. For first-year students the focus is on the obstacles in acclimating to college life. For sophomores, the focus is on applying to enter the teacher education program.
  • Beginning in October, Teach First students are paired with a local student from a junior or senior high school with whom they meet for lunch once a week for the duration of the school year. The idea is to develop a long-term mentoring relationship.
  • Teach First students are required to attend the Associated Colleges of Illinois Teacher Induction Academy workshops. The workshops feature facilitated discussions between professional and pre-service teachers on topics such as differentiated instruction, learning assessment, and culturally responsive teaching. Second-year Teach First students are required to attend at least one workshop, and juniors and seniors are required to attend two.
  • The Teach First program is working more closely with the college’s Premier Scholars, a four-week summer transition program designed to assist first-generation freshmen make a successful transition to college.
  • A Teach First Family Lunch is now scheduled during Family Weekend with the hopes of increasing parental involvement.