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Teacher in the Library: On Teaching Teens

For Teacher in the Library, Diana Mills, homework help extends far beyond the textbooks—it’s college applications, test preparation, building confidence, and so much more!

A photo of a teacher, smiling
Photo courtesy of Diana Mills.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Teacher in the Library

There’s never a shortage of inspiring and successful stories with Diana Mills.

A Teacher in the Library since 2012, she’s developed relationships with the students of the West Belmont branch that last even after their time with the program.  

“I have developed such strong bonds with students and their families. This builds their confidence and level of comfort, making it easier to ask and receive homework help,” she explains.

Her passion for helping students succeed jumps off the screen as we talk over Zoom, as she fondly recounts tales of students getting into college or acing a math test. It’s clear that education is her calling—and that to her, homework help extends far beyond the textbooks.

The Kids Are All Grown Up

Students continuing to attend afterschool tutorial sessions at the library as they graduate from grade school to high school is a testament to Diana’s dedication and the power of the program.

Meet Alex. Diana worked with him every day and helped him apply to high schools, which led to him attending Rickover Naval Academy.

“Even after he started going there, he’d still come to West Belmont for homework help! That’s quite a trek,” Diana tells me.

One female student reading a review guide and another student solving a math homework.

Alex’s commitment and Diana’s dedication paid off. “There was a noticeable improvement in his grades throughout our time together.” Diana also helped the eighteen-year-old prepare and practice for his ACT. “Now, he’s in college,” Diana beams.

Another student, Monica, is now a 12th grader. “She’s been coming to the program since the 3rd grade!” Diana shares. From practicing multiplication, now Diana helps Monica with math and biology. And as the 17-year-old prepares to graduate high school, Diana is here to help map out her career goals!

“We’re researching early childhood education so Monica can plan and focus what she wants to do within the field.”

Meeting Students Where They Are

Understanding that each student learns differently, Diana finds creative ways to make the lessons resonate—like cutting up a Hershey’s bar to learn equivalent fractions. (Yummy!)

But what is the secret to effectively working with teens? Consistency and building community. “I help students develop study habits so they remember material better. I also just try to help them feel connected.”

Teens from the neighborhood high schools (like Taft and Steinmetz High Schools) come to West Belmont weekly to work with Diana on algebra and English homework. Some drop in to feel a sense of community with other teens. “Students are inviting their friends to come study, and it truly feels like they feel comfortable learning and growing here.”  

A young boy solving his math homework

And because West Belmont is a diverse community, Diana ensures that language barriers don’t get in the way of a student’s success. “If a student is more comfortable learning in Spanish, I will teach concepts and communicate in Spanish.” Diana is also learning key phrases in Arabic from parents and students to facilitate working with families in the neighborhood. Now, that’s dedication!

No Wins Too Small

As an educator for more than 17 years, what does success look like for Diana? “It’s important that students get the support, and succeed not just in school, but in life.”  For some students, this means finding the right book or resource. For others, it’s mastering quadratic equations or applying to colleges. For some teens, it’s guiding them through the transition to young adulthood. “Success can be big or small, but it’s all about what the student needs.”  

In celebration of Library Giving Day, help us reach our match goal of $25,000 so we can bring more equitable educational resources and opportunities to children and families of Chicago.