Meet Berwyn’s Entrepreneurs: Gloria Mitchell of The Children’s School

Hometown: Chicago, IL
Current residence: Berwyn, IL
All About Gloria: My name is Gloria and I’m an 8th grade teacher and the high school transition coordinator for The Children’s School, a private K-8 school in Berwyn.

I grew up in Hyde Park, studied English at the University of Iowa, then spent the next couple of decades working as a writer and editor. When one of my children attended The Children’s School, it inspired me to get my teaching degree. I now have my dream job. This is because the progressive education environment at The Children’s School allows both teachers and students to be imaginative and flexible!

What’s one way your classroom is different from others?
At the Children’s School, the students choose the topics we focus on for class projects based on what interests them. This year, my class chose to study workplace discrimination. This topic works well with our school’s curricular focus on social justice. They decided to create their own podcast, interviewing people who had experienced workplace discrimination first hand. The podcast, called “Hire Understanding,” is now live on iTunes and on a website the students created.

We also wove a social justice focus into a recent math project. The students graphed how government fines disproportionately impact those with low-incomes versus higher incomes. Middle school students are naturally curious and concerned about social problems, so we give them an opportunity to understand these problems more deeply and explore possible solutions.

Describe Yourself in three words:
Patient. People think middle school teachers must either be crazy or some kind of saint. Young adolescents are actually a lot of fun to be around, but they can be impulsive. It takes patience to help them evaluate the consequences of their decisions.
Principled. I try to act in accordance with my values and help students live by theirs. As members of a community, we may have different beliefs, but we have to agree on the basic values that will govern our relationships: courtesy and kindness, for example.
Curious. I always enjoy learning something new. At The Children’s School, the teachers are the “chief learners!”

Tell us something that people might not know about you.
I spend both in and out of school studying the history of American education. American education has gone through both periods of innovation and periods of conservatism where we try to change things to the way we think they used to be. Progressive education, like what we offer at The Children’s School, has some very unique features. For example, most parents are amazed by the fact that we don’t use standardized tests or letter grades, and instead of traditional classes, our students mainly learn through hands-on projects.

What is your fondest memory?
When I was an adolescent, there were a lot of places my friends and I could go for free, or for the price of a bus ticket. The Museum of Science and Industry used to have free admission. Although the exhibits were not as fancy or well-curated as they are now, they were certainly memorable: the coal mine, the petroleum ride, the baby chicks, the circus, and (if you happened to take the right staircase) the sliced human bodies. My fondness is not so much for the museum itself as for a time when no one was surprised to see 11-year-olds visiting a public place without adults.

What is something that you are NOT good at?
I am not mechanically inclined. I don’t enjoy trying to fix things and usually try to pawn off home repair tasks on my husband. Last year, my students voted to study “how to design machines.” That meant I had to learn right along with them as they studied physics, simple machines, and engineering in order to solve problems around the school. My favorite of the students’ projects was a pulley-based automatic door closer, with a half-filled water bottle as a weight.

If we were to hang out, what would we do?
We would brew up a pot of coffee and watch one of the Australian mathematician James Tanton’s lectures on visual math. (You can find him on YouTube if you’d like to sneak a peek!)

Are you interested in learning more about The Children’s School? You’re in luck! Attend one of their upcoming First Friday Open House events—more information here.

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