Meet Yoonshil Shapiro, a Catalyst Master Teacher

I am relatively new to Chicago, having moved here in 2008, but I have been teaching primary grades since 2001. I am originally from South Korea and taught English there to all ages of students but primarily adults (B.A., English Language and Literature). After moving to Los Angeles in 2001, I obtained a California Clear Credential via the LAUSD’s District Intern Program, which was highly competitive and high performing, and I was fortunate to have a permanent teaching position in one of California’s “highly distinguished” schools in the Venice neighborhood. The curriculum for my students was advanced, and the caliber of the numerous veteran instructors provided awesome models for novice instructors like myself. Yet, teachers were overly regulated in terms of how we could pace our students’ work, thus limiting teacher autonomy in the classroom.

After moving to Chicago, I wanted to continue teaching and was very excited to be be hired at Catalyst Circle Rock, which is part of the Catalyst School network. I was drawn to the principal’s vision for the school, which emphasized the importance of helping students from a largely disadvantaged community. In my experience, principals focus on academics above all and hardly highlight the importance of “teaching minds and touching hearts” (part of our school’s motto). I was convinced that working at Catalyst would elevate my instruction and allow me to provide a unique service to my students and their families. Accepting the offer to work at Catalyst has been a life-changing and professionally profound experience.

At Catalyst, we are respected as teachers, and we have the autonomy to select the programs that we implement with our students. After all, we – the instructors – know our students best! Because all school administrators are recognized as instructional leaders within the school, teachers are free to approach the principal and directors of instruction at any time to discuss teaching practices in detail. In this way, teachers and administrators actively share the common goal of providing crucial instruction for each and every student.

What particularly differentiates Catalyst from my previous teaching experiences is the utilization of teacher evaluations. These formal and informal opportunities to receive assessment by our mentors and administrators have revolutionized my instruction. I was initially apprehensive of these evaluations but have since discovered that they are an effective path for pedagogical growth. Teachers also support each other – a lot – and we are very close and constantly communicating through a Professional Learning Community, which is a weekly meeting where goals are established and strategies are created and evaluated. Mentor teachers for reading and math are also available for all teachers but especially novice teachers, and our peers within our respective grade levels provide much needed support and feedback.

While we are not formidable in size, Catalyst Schools are effective and have made a lasting impact. It gives me the greatest pleasure to see my former first graders and kindergarteners go to Chicago’s top-ranked high schools, followed likely by their admission to the nation’s top universities. It gives me even greater satisfaction to see the community surrounding Catalyst Circle Rock becoming more vibrant and thriving since beginning my tenure more than a decade ago.