As a student at Oberlin College, I am given the opportunity to pursue my own area of interest every January, during what Oberlin calls “Winter Term.” For my sophomore Winter Term project, I have spent a wonderful snowy January here at Chicago Friends School.
As my month at the school comes to a close, I have begun to reflect on what I have gained from my time here. As a prospective teacher, I only have experience working or teaching in public schools. My high school of 2,500 students was bigger than my college, and I was eager to experience a smaller, more intimate atmosphere for young learners. I also was interested to see how Quaker values are woven into the culture of this school, in the hopes that I would be able to integrate these perspectives into my teaching, at Oberlin and beyond.
Chicago Friends School has the most kind, familiar, welcoming culture of any school I’ve experienced. Because of its small size, all of the students and teachers know one another. We bump elbows in the hallway, break bread together in the Flex room, and mix classrooms for certain subjects and activities. As Karen, the head of school, put it to me when I first started, it’s like all the cousins coming together at a family gathering. The warmth of the environment resonates in the walls of the old church building in which it is housed, giving the feeling of a one-room schoolhouse in the country.
The kids are wonderful, smart, and sweet, but of course at any school there are daily challenges. There are sharing conflicts in kindergarten, disagreements over what books to read, trouble with division, off-days, and late Friday afternoons in which no amount of encouragement can get a fourth-grader to do their work. The teachers handle it all in stride, and every action is guided with love and patience. I know that the kids feel it too.
A few times this month I have been asked if this experience has made me reconsider my career path, with the subtext of, “Have full days in an elementary school drained you yet?” Not in the slightest. The enthusiastic kids and compassionate teachers, all embarking on an ongoing quest for knowledge, have only affirmed my career goals. It is certainly not an easy job—my respect for CFS teachers (and all teachers I’ve had throughout my life) has increased every day that I’m here. But I do believe it to be a career that is immensely rewarding. I feel it when a student uses a trick I taught them to count by nines, or when they draw similarities between the book we read last week and the book we’re reading today. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding—especially at a school like CFS.
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank all of the wonderful students and staff of the Chicago Friends School being so kind, welcoming, and open to me this month! I will never forget this amazing experience.
Ella Franklin is a Sophomore at Oberlin College and a French and Elementary Education major. She spent January 2020 interning at Chicago Friends School