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Xian (Sean) Barrett
2009 Alumni Classroom Fellow
Chicago, IL


Photo of Xian (Sean) Barrett, Classroom Fellow

Bio/Overview: Barrett currently teaches Global Studies at the Gage School in Chicago, IL. More than a dozen students have been lost to community violence in Barrett’s short tenure as a teacher in Chicago.  However, the harshness of the environment has taught Barrett to listen to his students—first for survival and now because it’s the best possible teaching practice. Barrett found his way into teaching as almost an afterthought, and part way into his first year realized it was the demanding, world-changing event that he needed to center my life around.  In the summer of 2000, Barrett started teaching five and a half days a week at a middle school and one day at an elementary school in Japan under the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) simply because he wanted to give something back after a life-altering study abroad experience.  He was placed in Namino, Japan—a tiny town with a single middle school and elementary school, tons of land and few people. At the schools, Barrett was fortunate to have several master teachers eager to critique and nurture him as a new teacher. They taught him many of the principles that guide Barrett’s teaching today. As a 2009 Fellow, Barrett taught Japanese language at Julian High School and supported student leadership. The following year he served full time with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Educational Values/Philosophy: Many of Barrett’s teaching philosophies were learned from his master teachers in Japan: “The second you think that you are smarter than a room full of kids, you are not going to be able to help them”; “Don’t judge yourself on the ‘best’ student in the class—how are you doing with the kids who in general don’t like school”; “If you want to be the best teacher in the world, pursue the toughest teaching environment and don’t make excuses”; and most importantly, “Before the students lose interest in your instruction, ask them what they are passionate about and work with that—their learning belongs to them.” 

Achievements: In 2008, Barrett received the Chicago Public Schools DRIVE award, and was also named Service Learning Teacher of the Year.  

Leadership Experience: Barrett’s students have led service learning trips to New Orleans each year, presented at national conferences in Houston, founded Chicago Youth Initiating Change (CYIC) a city-wide social justice organization that hosts a 500 participant student-led conference each year, taught the incoming freshman on how to center their education around community and school improvement through Summer Bridge and service learning programs, helped throw sister city events in conjunction with the Osaka City Office, built partnerships with another two dozen community organizations and countless schools and rebuilt the structures of our own school to empower students rather than merely house them.  With no resources to float these programs, the students have built partnerships and written their own grants to gather their own resources.

Affiliations: VIVA project; Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme

Education: Barrett received a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Illinois, and received official certification for the Japanese Language Training Program from the Japanese Central Government.  He went on to earn a Master’s in teaching from National Louis University.

Areas of Interest/Expertise:

  • Urban education reform
  • Low-income minority students
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Last Modified: 08/16/2012