Nathan Otto '18

01/10/18

Otto explores urban education and lifestyle during semester in Chicago

Nathan Otto ’18, a middle childhood education major from Orrville, Ohio, spent the fall semester in Chicago for his student teaching experience. While many students choose to teach close to home, Otto decided to take the chance to experience not only what it’s like teaching in an urban environment but also living in one.

“I was pretty open about completing my field experience within any school district,” said Otto. “But I knew this was an opportunity I might not have again, and I wanted to get out of the area and experience something totally new. Chicago seemed like the best way to accomplish that.”

Otto explored the urban educational setting while completing his student teaching with the Chicago Center for Urban Life and Culture (CCULC). “My focus is middle childhood and my content areas are math and social studies. I was fortunate enough to get to do both of those subjects at the same school,” he said. “For the first half of the semester I was in the 7th grade social studies room, and for the second half I was in the 7th grade math classroom. I saw the same kids, about 160, everyday all semester long which was a huge benefit.”

Through the program, education majors work in a Chicago Public School classroom for a semester with supervision provided by the CCULC. Participants attend weekly seminars and have the chance to process their experience with peers and supervisors to learn more about the challenges and promises of urban education.

During his time in Chicago, Otto realized that some of the children he was working with had to deal with extremely challenging circumstances. “The biggest thing I took away is that life isn’t fair. Some people are not afforded the luxuries that I and many of my classmates at Bluffton grew up with. Some of these kids here have to fight against so many things that are unrelated to education in order to get to the learning part of their lives.”

Realizing the struggles his students were facing, Otto grasped the importance and impact he could have on the students. “The thing that really stood out to me was how important it is to have a role model,” said Otto. “For some of these kids, teachers are one of the few consistent role models they may have. That is a lot of pressure, but an incredible opportunity to mentor and be a good role model for the kids.”

Classes taught at Bluffton University help prepare students for a career in education upon graduating, but Otto believes that there is nothing that can fully prepare students for the experiences they’ll face teaching in an urban setting.

“There is no class anywhere that can truly prepare you for an urban teaching experience,” said Otto. “It is one of those things where yes, you do need to have the fundamental knowledge and skills, but the real learning happens as you go situation by situation. Every day is a new adventure and a new challenge.”

Otto has faced many of the challenges that come with teaching in a larger city but has come out of this experience with a positive outlook.

“It has been an awesome experience. I have come to appreciate the city life more than I thought I ever could. It is something I would recommend to any aspiring teacher looking to learn what it’s like in a big city district and urban school system.”

Learn more about Bluffton's education department.

Learn more about student teaching in Chicago.

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-Jena O’Brien, public relations student assistant