First-year teacher starts career at alma mater on Chicago's South Side

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thousands of kids and teachers made their way back to school as Chicago Public Schools opened its doors for the 2019-2020 school year.

But the first day was extra special for Rae Weatherspoon, a new teacher who's going back to where her passion began.

"I don't know how to explain the feeling. I just feel very grateful and thankful to be here. It's just a really good feeling, I don't know how to describe it," Weatherspoon said.

Tuesday was Weatherspoon's first day teaching, and she's starting at the school she grew up in, National Teachers Academy.

"I grew up over here. This is my neighborhood," added Weatherspoon. "I need to be in my school giving back to my community because I know for a fact that I can relate to the kids in this school because I was once one of those kids."

She graduated from Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville in May 2019 with a degree in early childhood education.

The road to her degree wasn't easy, but thankfully Weatherspoon had a helping hand from her former middle school teacher, Courtney Langston.

"I get really emotional when I'm asked 'Why do I want to become a teacher?' because Courtney is more than just a teacher to me. She's like my mom," Weatherspoon said.

It was Langston who kept Weatherspoon encouraged throughout school and even pointed her toward the teaching program Weatherspoon applied to, The Academy for Urban School Leadership.

It's a teacher residency program that helps train and develop new teachers in Chicago and its surrounding areas.

"Rae's connection to NTA, her connection to Courtney. Then you look at Courtney's connection, she was a former mentor," said Michael Whitmore, managing director of AUSL. "You start to see these beautiful synergies happen where teachers feel connected to their students, their community, their colleagues and to the work."

Weatherspoon was in Langston's first graduating eighth-grade class, back in 2009, and the two have been inseparable ever since.

Langston helped Weatherspoon move into college. They spend holidays together, and of course, Langston saw Weatherspoon graduate college in May.

"She feels like NTA really helped her a lot and helped to set a foundation for her and so for her to be able to come back and give back to this school is amazing," Langston said.

For Langston, seeing Weatherspoon follow in her footsteps is the extra cherry on top.

"Teaching is still exciting for me. After 17 years, I still love everything about being a classroom teacher so to see her have that same kind of spark coming in is just overwhelming," Langston said.
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