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Learning and working together, first as students, now as educators

by the College of Education at Illinois / Apr 3, 2018

Natalie Fisher, Emma Forsberg, Amber Bell, and Meghan Gleason from the tight-knit College of Education cohort from 2012

Natalie Fisher, Emma Forsberg, Amber Bell, and Meghan Gleason
from the tight-knit College of Education cohort from 2012

Close friendships developed in College continue in Chicago-area school district 

At the beginning of their college career, students are organized into groups of approximately 20 students. These groups, or “cohorts” as they are called, give students a built-in social network and a peer group to share their educational experience with at Illinois.

As students in a designated group, cohort members attend the same classes, support each other in various ways, and hang out together socially. But according to Jay Mann, the director of the School and Community Experiences office in the College, it’s rare to see several members of the same cohort graduate and then work in the same school district afterward.

But that’s exactly what happened to Amber Bell, Natalie Fisher, Emma Forsberg, and Meghan Gleason, all of whom were secondary education minors in the same cohort who focused on social studies and now all work in Plainfield School District 202.

It's a really neat story if you think about it."Jay Mann

“It’s really a neat story if you think about it,” Mann said. “These 2012 LAS graduates were phenomenal teacher candidates while in the College of Education, and they’ve gone on to have very successful teaching careers in social studies.”

Amazingly, a fifth member of the cohort, Sean Anderson, also worked in the Plainfield district before moving on.

“It’s definitely wild that we all ended up in Plainfield together,” said Forsberg, who lovingly considers the school she teaches at her home away from home. “In general, the district has a lot of young teachers, which has made it the perfect place to begin my teaching career.”

The four cohort members may not be as close as they once were in college, but they do continue to communicate professionally and socially. Bell and Gleason, for instance, work in the same department at the same school. Members of the College of Education cohort have seen some in their group get married at weddings they attended together. Less dramatically, the Illinois graduates now working in the Plainfield district sometimes simply send emails to connect or meet to discuss the different practices and cultures of the schools they teach at.

“I think it’s fun we all found the same area to work in,” said Gleason, who has loved the subject of history since middle school. “I do curriculum development for the district, and so does Emma and Natalie, so even though we’re at different schools, we still see each other and work on curriculum together, which is really nice.”

The most notable, lasting friendship of the College of Education cohort turned Plainfield crew is the one Bell and Fisher have maintained. They were best friends at Illinois and were members of the self-run Illini-N-Motion dance team. These days, they are roommates who continue to support each other inside and outside of the classroom, according to Fisher.

“Being part of a cohort while at the U of I was helpful and fun,” said Fisher, who has taught economics in the past but currently teaches AP European history and U.S. history. “The people in our cohort were extremely close and worked well with each other. We would support each other by sharing ideas, experiences, and philosophies, and we socialized with one another out of the classroom. They were a great support system to lean on throughout our U of I years and even through today.”  

Mann teaches secondary social studies methods courses in the College and taught Anderson, Bell, Fisher, Forsberg, and Gleason before they went on to teach in the Plainfield district. He made coffee for the group every morning, a much-appreciated gesture, and was so well liked by his students that they plastered his face on a T-shirt and wore it to class to surprise him at the end of the semester.

“When Jay was in charge of the cohort, I learned so much from his experiences and collaborative activities he organized during class,” said Bell, who joined the Plainfield district two years after graduating from Illinois. “This was when I felt most connected to my cohort. He created an environment of learning and collaboration.”

Jay Mann-inspired T-shirt 
The Jay Mann-inspired T-shirts made by the members of the 2012 social studies cohort are remembered fondly today.

Regarding the Jay Mann-inspired T-shirts, Forsberg said, “It was such a positive, friendly environment, and I think we all wanted to celebrate the camaraderie that Jay created.”  

For his part, Mann is glad to observe that members of the 2012 cohort who now work in the Plainfield district took his advice and went on to build teaching careers in which relationships with students have come first and have consequently shaped classroom instruction.

“I also stressed the importance of making connections between the content and skills taught and the students’ lived experiences,” Mann said. “They need to see the relevance in what they’re learning and how it will impact their lives, now and in the future.”