Mark Scheithauer welcomes students with his mantra of “comfort, confidence, and a can-do attitude.”
The Budlong Woods is a diverse neighborhood in Chicago’s Northwest side. The Budlong Woods branch of Chicago Public Library is the neighborhood’s anchor, providing educational support to everyone who walks through its doors. The Teacher in the Library program is but one facet of how the library nurtures learning.
I visited Budlong Woods on a sunny winter afternoon at just past three o’clock. I wasn’t there but five minutes when a young boy ran to a tall man wearing a bright yellow Spongebob Squarepants tie, and proudly exclaimed, “I got an A, Mr. S!” Upon hearing the good news, Mr. S gives the boy a strong high-five. Mark Scheithauer (simplified as Mr. S for his students), has been a Teacher in the Library at the Budlong Woods branch for seven years. One could say he is quite the celebrity here.
“These are the most fulfilling years of my professional life. Every day is different. The kids are so much fun to work with!” Just then, two more students joined the long table. “They’re siblings. They were born in Nigeria and migrated to the U.S. three years ago,” he explained. “And I’m Hindu!” One student chimes in.
As students trickle in, I see how Mr. S’s classroom reflects the diversity in this neighborhood. Kids of different ages and from different backgrounds take their seats, open their bags, and get their pencils ready. One thing they all have in common? They are excited to begin their homework.
What’s for lunch?
90% of the students Ms. S teaches are immigrant children. “How do you help kids with the language barrier?” I ask. He answers with, “The 3Cs: comfort, confidence, and a can-do attitude!” For Mr. S it also begins with a simple question aimed at encouraging his students to practice their new language: What did you eat for lunch?
“What did you eat for lunch?”
“I ate macaroni and cheese.”
“Did you like it?”
“Because I don’t like the color yellow.”
“For a child growing up with a different mother tongue, speaking a new language can be overwhelming, intimidating even. So here at the library, I try to make English friendly and relatable”, Mr. S tells me. And what can be more relatable than a school lunch!
Yes, you can!
“Mr. S, I can’t do this,” a young voice from the other end of the table complained. Mr. S walked to the little girl, and calmly said, “Yes, you can!” Sitting on a chair way too small for his 6’11” stature, Mr. S drew a pizza. “What is this?”, he asked. “A pizza!” The young student answered. Together, they divide the pizza into four slices with the girl counting and Mr. S “cutting” the pieces. After a few laughs, Mr. S, asks, “Can you do the next one?” “Yes, I can!” she responds confidently.
Children are my inspiration
“Do you ever see some of your former students,” I ask Mr. S. “Someone just visited me last week!” he responds. “I used to work with her when she was in eighth grade. Back then, she had just emigrated from Afghanistan. She’s smart, and I remember she struggled with decimals and fractions. She’s a freshman in college now. And she’s majoring in math. We had a good laugh about the irony,” Mr. S recalled with a smile. It’s no doubt working with Mr. S to overcome challenging math problems helped this young student learn to love arithmetic.
Mr. S regaled me with more stories about his students, past and present. It amazed me how he knew the academic progress of each one (along with what they had for lunch!) almost by heart. “I love teaching here. Seeing how these kids come in every day, working hard, and overcoming barriers – it inspires me.
After spending an afternoon with Mr. S and his students, there was no mistaking that he is having an impact on their young lives as a teacher concerned about their academic success and as a mentor taking an interest in their personal accomplishments. Which is really what we all need in life…our very own cheerleader, rooting for us and encouraging us to be the best version of ourselves.
Teacher in the Library is part of Chicago Public Library’s Homework Help program designed to help students receive the academic support they need to be successful in school and in life. In the 2017-18 school year, kids logged over 100,000 homework sessions with a Teacher in the Library.
With your support, we can do more.