Yet despite our natural inclination at this time to look back at where we’ve been, I choose to look ahead – to a new year brimming with opportunity, a blank slate ready for stories.
January will bring Yanghee Kim, our new LD and Ruth G. Morgridge Endowed Chair in Teacher Education and Preparation.
I’m excited for Yanghee’s arrival, and if you were fortunate enough to meet her in August, I know you are as well. She will bring her fascinating research into the incredible possibilities of instructional technology, and she is eager for your ideas and collaboration.
The New Year will also see an expansion of our Educate and Engage Program, the rollout of our new EdLEAD professional development initiative and, I’m sure, more innovation from all of you in teaching, learning, research and impactful connections with our school and community partners.
As you enjoy winter break, and the time with loved ones and new memories it provides, I’m guessing that you – like me – also will spend a few moments contemplating your personal resolutions for 2018.
This year, I’m also committed to reflecting on my professional goals, and I encourage you to join me.
How will you grow? What will you accomplish? Whose lives will you improve? How will you make a difference? Where will you transport yourself, your students and our college?
Please accept my wishes for a joyful, restful and rejuvenating break. I’ll see you in 2018!
Dean, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Presidential Engagement Professor
NIU College of Education
As Fadil Sulejmani greeted students and faculty of the new University of Tetova, he uttered words likely never spoken before – or since – to mark the inauguration of a school.
“We want pens and notebooks,” Sulejmani told the crowd, “not violence.”
Despite his pleas and his hopes, terrible unrest awaited the trailblazers of ethnic Albanian higher education in Macedonia, even on that day in 1995.
Local police decked out in riot gear tried to force their way into the classrooms. They did not succeed. Members of the local community courageously turned out en masse to form a human blockade.
Yet the government would continue to harass and intimidate Tetova for several years.
Sulejmani himself, a professor of Albanian at the University of Prishtina for 23 years before he helped to found Tetova with other Albanian intellectuals, eventually was arrested and sentenced to 30 months in prison, although he was released after one year.
His only crime? Daring to provide higher education to ethnic Albanians.
“Ethnic Albanians are a minority, more or less marginalized with limited access to higher education,” says Roberts, who also serves as faculty director of the College of Education’s Blackwell History of Education Museum. “Their story is a very powerful lesson of how higher education should never be taken for granted.”
Fortunately, cameras caught it all.
Nearly 70 reproductions of photographs that depict the university’s tumultuous existence are coming to the Blackwell for a five-month exhibition
All faculty and staff are encouraged to attend the opening of “The University of Tetova and the Struggle for Educational Equity in the Republic of Macedonia” if their schedules allow.
Museum visitors also can read first-person narratives written by four people who were involved in the founding or the early years of Tetova.
Roberts began thinking last December about bringing the images to DeKalb as he and others from NIU visited Tetova for an international conference at the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, a joint venture between the two universities.
“The NIU folks who were there were taken to the University of Tetova’s museum, in the small building where the first classes were held,” he says. “In this small museum were many, many photographs taken over the years that told the story of the university’s founding and its status, in many respects, as an illegal university. It was not recognized by the government.”
Steve Builta, director of Technology Innovation and Learning Services for the College of Education, quickly bought into Roberts’ vision. Builta compares Tetova’s battle for educational rights to the U.S. struggles to desegregate its K-12 schools decades ago.
“It’s very compelling. It’s a fantastic story to tell about a place in the world that not many of our students know much about, and people will be fascinated,” Builta says. “It will be interesting for people to think about the fact that we don’t have to fight for our university education in the way they did.”
Before beginning the curation process, she knew nothing about the University of Tetova and only a little about Macedonia.
“I remember the war, and the refugees, but I was too young to understand the nuances,” Wilson-Loring says. “This exhibition has really made me examine what was going on, and it’s a familiar story: the fight for education. I believe that education is a human right, and being able to tell this story for them – and to show their fight – is really empowering to me.”
An “anthropologist by nature,” she hopes that visitors to the exhibition adopt an international view of education, considering that what happens globally impact the United States, and then question themselves and others about finding the best paths to progress.
“Education shouldn’t be a stagnant thing, and we have been keeping it that way for too long,” she says. “I hope people understand why the ethnic Albanians were fighting for this – a university, teaching in the Albanian language, teaching Albanian history – and fighting for the survival of their culture.”
Students should take personal inspiration from the photographs, Roberts adds.
“This is a really relatable story, with lessons of how a group of committed students, with the help of their community and their professors, can really fight for this right to a quality life and education,” Roberts says.
“We hope to energize our own students to think of themselves as activists,” he adds, “and the roles they can play to be advocates or leaders in any social movement they feel impassioned about.”
Guided tours for faculty and students are planned for the spring semester, Wilson-Loring says. The exhibition closes May 11.
The Blackwell is located in the Learning Center on the lower level of Gabel Hall. For more information, call (815) 753-1236 or email email@example.com.
Mondays are for James R. Wood Elementary School. Wednesdays are for their own school, home to fifth- through eighth-grades, and the nearby high school. The prices are unbeatable: 50 cents for black coffee, $1 for coffee with mix-ins, 75 cents for a plain hot chocolate and $1 for hot chocolate with marshmallows.
On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the cart came to Gabel Hall 100 in the NIU College of Education.
“The coffee cart is a great way to teach the kids to be employable,” says Amanda Jungels, a Special Education major from Sugar Grove who spent her fall clinical placement at Somonauk Middle School. “It’s life skills with academics mixed in.”
Her analysis is spot-on, confirms Tim Ulrich, director of special education in Somonauk Community Unit School District 432, who calls the initiative “academics masked as a coffee cart.”
“We’re really focused on what our students are going to be able to do when they graduate, and we want to give them skills that will translate to the workplace,” Ulrich says. “We start them at an early age. The sooner we give these skills to kids, the more employable they’ll be.”
“Kara and Jessica made packets of information for our current Special Education majors that could assist them in developing a similar business in the future. They shared budgeting information and forms, gave a great presentation and shared a great video,” Van Laarhoven says.
“I love that Kara is an alum who was interested in giving back to NIU,” she adds, “and sharing wonderful strategies with our current and future special educators.”
Van Laarhoven also was impressed by the coffee cart initiative: “This is a great example of embedding all kinds of life skills in a functional activity.”
Job expectations are clearly defined. For example, the greeter will “smile and make eye contact with the customer, start with a form of greet statement, end with a departing statement and will keep a positive attitude.”
During their shifts, they develop independence while focusing on their math, language arts and social skills. Afterward, they discuss how each morning went.
“We started this at the beginning of the year,” Scott says. “We’re making a budget. We’re learning how to greet. We’re taking time to reflect on the different stages.”
Meanwhile, Ulrich says, the coffee crew has made many friends inside and outside the school walls. “Our students are members of the community,” he says. “Everyone knows our students.”
Laurie Elish-Piper, Toni Van Laarhoven and Kara Scott
“These guys know more of the people in the district than any other of the kids,” Plante adds. “They know their names. They know their coffee orders.”
Justin Snider, principal of Somonauk Middle School and a double-alum of the NIU College of Education, is proud of the Café 432 students.
“I like to see them out and interacting with new people and new spaces,” Snider says. “It’s a way to enhance their skills. They practice those skills every day, but usually with students and teachers they’re already comfortable with.”
Laura Hedin, an associate professor of Special Education at NIU, calls the coffee cart “a tremendous opportunity” for the Somonauk students.
“Students with disabilities need to understand appropriate social communications, whether it’s just with people they meet out at the mall or in a job setting,” Hedin says. “We need to provide a context in which students can learn what is appropriate. They really need opportunities to go out with new people and to practice those skills.”
Visiting NIU could prove aspirational for the middle-schoolers.
“Everybody has to kind of see themselves in that setting and decide, ‘Is this something I want to have in my future? How do I get there?’ ” Hedin says.
“Some of these student may come to community colleges if appropriate for their own goals and ideas about what they want their future to be,” she adds. “There are also an increasing number of opportunities at four-year colleges as well – specialized programs so persons with disabilities can have undergraduate experiences. Those are expanding all over the country.”
Future teachers like Jungels, who Hedin believes is more than “just a buddy” to the middle-schoolers, can help to make those dreams come true.
“Amanda is an outstanding student, and she’s going to be a wonderful teacher. She already is a wonderful teacher. Kara Scott told us that it hasn’t been like having a clinical student; it’s like having a co-teacher who’s already licensed,” Hedin says.
“Amanda is very creative and a wonderful problem-solver with a heart for working with students with significant disabilities,” she adds. “She has this ability to make these really strong connections with her students but at the same time working toward the academic or social goals they need to be working on. She’s not setting the bar low.”
NIU teacher-licensure candidate Amanda Jungels (right) joins the Somonauk Middle School coffee cart crew for a group photo.
Eller and Flores joined Cohen for “Undocumented Immigrants: Myths and Realities,” which also served as the basis for a featured article in the Illinois Association for Multilingual Multicultural Education winter bulletin with the two students as the lead authors.
Flores then presented for a second time with Cohen and Strid, addressing the question of “Can Paradigm Shifting Occur in a One-Semester Diversity Course?”
Poe and Cohen presented “English Learners’ Writing Needs in the Elementary Classroom” to a full house.
“The room was good for 60 people but well over 80 showed up, with people sitting on the floor and standing in the doorway,” Cohen says. “Christina dominated the room with her wealth of knowledge regarding the research and practical applications of writing strategies for English learners.”
Gathings, Stepter and Taylor came well-prepared for their Dec. 7 talk on “Roadblocks to Bilingualism: How Teachers Become Bilingual.”
Autumn Gathings, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor present Dec. 7 with their professors in Oak Brook.
Reponses to questions Strid posed to his students in an Applied Linguistics course provided the raw data; Cohen and the three students pored through the 126 essays to identify themes and commonalities and to discern conclusions and recommendations.
“I’m a nerd when it comes to organizing, reading and writing, so this project was made for me,” says Gathings, a junior Elementary Education major from Oswego. “I feel important. I’m using my free time to do something that I know is going to pay off later. This will help me stand out.”
Cohen began working with the trio a few semesters ago.
“I was never able to work with a professor as an undergrad,” says Cohen, who always wanted to offer that chance to those he taught.
So he made his pitch, telling students he was willing to add them to his projects or to lend his expertise to their research. Either way, he told the students, the goal was to get published.
Gathings, Stepter and Taylor chose the former option, learning that research is a long and difficult but worthwhile process.
“Dr. Cohen is so passionate. He just influenced me in a way that I felt a natural connection to what he was saying,” adds Stepter, a senior Early Childhood Studies major. “Knowing there was someone who believed in me gave me a boost in my confidence. It taught me that I can do more, and how to contribute that into a school setting.”
“I said, ‘Oh, I can get something published? I can write something?’ That drew me in. That was intriguing for me,” Taylor says. “I love to write and to read, and this incorporates both of these things. I read the people’s stories, and I get to write a paper.”
Cohen feels like a proud father.
“They were tremendously helpful. They got so good at coding that I said, ‘OK, go on and do your thing.’ We’ve been expanding their role in the presentation every time,” he says. “They’re learning how to analyze qualitative data. How often does an undergrad get to analyze qualitative data? They’re learning how to present at professional conferences. We’ll be writing up the data soon.”
He sees benefits beyond the obvious.
Gathings, Stepter and Taylor have explored second-language acquisition theory and simultaneous vs. sequential bilingualism in a way deeper than any textbook can provide.
“They’ve internalized this information,” Cohen says. “When they go and become teachers, they’ll be able to articulate things most teachers aren’t able to articulate.”
John Evar Strid
“They’ve gotten an insight into the research process,” Strid says. “They did a phenomenal job – going through the data, finding the salient points, putting it together for the presentation, doing the actual presentation. It opens doors for them.”
Sure enough, Cohen and Strid say, the three students were a hit in Salt Lake City, where “the audience just fell in love with them. They’re so smart, articulate and passionate.”
In Naperville, they add, representatives from Elgin’s U46 and other school districts were handing over business cards and encouraging the students to call them after graduation.
“No matter which way they decide to take their careers, it’s a big win all around for them,” Strid says. “They really showed the initiative to follow through, and that really says a lot about them – all positive.”
Meanwhile, at Cohen’s encouraging, all three student applied and were accepted for the maiden voyage of Educate Global and traveled to teach in China during the summer. Eller also participated at Cohen’s suggestion, teaching in Taiwan.
“We agreed to go do one thing with Dr. Cohen,” Gathings says, “and now we’ve gone to China and to three different conferences.”
“I thought we were just going to get published,” Taylor adds with a laugh.
The students say they’ve grown in their confidence in themselves as well as in their belief in the importance of bilingualism and multilingualism.
Networking: Professor Cohen (third from right) introduces Raven, Amor and Autumn to Wayne E. Wright (blue shirt), associate dean for Research, Graduate Programs and Faculty Development at the Purdue University College of Education.
“We definitely need to advocate for not only bilingualism but biliteracy as well,” Taylor says, “and to replace judgment with curiosity.”
“I learned to advocate for others,” Stepter says, “who can’t advocate for themselves.”
The words are music to Cohen’s ears. “I am sincerely impressed. They got it. They got it!” he says. “They’re hungry for knowledge.”
The one-day conference at Illinois State University, complete with 16 workshop sessions, enabled faculty and graduate students to present their work regarding Student Affairs in higher education.
Participants examined current trends in Student Affairs to discern the difference between various types of graduate programs, to discover a wide spectrum of offices within Student Affairs and to gain an introduction to the life of a Student Affairs graduate student.
Eight of NIU’s 10 students presented during the conference.
“For the students who were able to present, it’s really great professional development for them. It allowed them to work on their presentation and communication skills,” says Danae Miesbauer, academic counselor in CAHE. “Also, the opportunity to network with other professionals in the field was definitely a positive.”
Jaekel, who also serves as faculty adviser to NIU’s Prism group, which sent some undergraduate members to the conference, also enjoyed the chance to present with those students.
NIU presentations included:
“Student Affairs Graduate Search: Trust the Process” (Miesbauer, Wendall Lytle and Carly Tucker)
“Getting the Most out of Your Graduate School Experience” (Olson, Karen Castillo, Elbia Del Llano, Eric Gorman and George Paasewe)
“Engaging Social Justice: Using Arts-based Methods for Inclusion in Student Organizations” (Jaekel, Ronan Kaiser, Gabriel Sonntag, Maggie Hitchcock, Kylee Warner, Alex Forgue and Elliot Davis)
“Google Yourself: Examining Your Digital Footprint and its Effects on Graduate School Admissions and Applying for Jobs” (Paige McConkey)
“Oh Yes, It Can Be Done! Campus Involvement and Degree Attainment” (Konya Sledge)
CAHE’s students participated in a pre-conference workshop at NIU to prepare. CAHE partnered with the Division of Student Affairs in the Conferencing, Presenting and Professional Networking Lunch and Learn event.
“Our students brainstormed what topics they might want to present, and we helped them with their proposals,” Miesbauer says. “I co-presented with two students and collaborated on writing and submitting a proposal. Even that is a learning process, and by going through proposal-writing in graduate school, you are more prepared when you enter the first step of your career.”
Students also received sound advice on peppering their presentations with strong examples and personal anecdotes as well as encouragement to practice and to time their talks.
“They really enjoyed the experience and learned a lot,” Miesbauer says. “They enjoyed meeting other students from around the state who also are graduate students in Student Affairs programs, making connections and finding internship opportunities. I definitely think it was positive in that regard.”
CAHE’s group came home with more than just hands-on experience, however.
“Not only did we provide a strong NIU presence,” says Suzanne Degges-White, chair of CAHE, “but our faculty staff also were successfully able to lobby to join the team of organizing schools and to get on the calendar to host the event in the fall of 2020.”
“It’s definitely an exciting and good thing for our Adult and Higher Education program,” Miesbauer adds. “This conference has been on a hosting rotation between Eastern, Western and Illinois State, and we are thrilled to be a part of that in 2020.”
Miesbauer appreciates the conference’s welcoming open door policy for students.
“Having students there just contributes to the larger Student Affairs field,” she says. “The conference is a collaboration on a state level to really support our undergraduates and graduate students who are moving in to the higher education profession, and this promotes our commitment to them and the field.”
The College of Education funded registration and travel costs for students and faculty, who also were able to promote NIU’s program at the event’s Graduate School Fair.
After 14 hours in the air, there was obviously no need to tell Marcus Lewis that he wasn’t in DeKalb anymore.
Yet his first steps off the plane into a nearly empty airport in China, with none of the crowded hustle and bustle of O’Hare, did the job anyway.
His important realizations would come later, however, as the third-year Elementary Education major spent six weeks from early July through mid-August teaching English to teenagers at the Beijing Royal School.
Language barriers toppled – and learning took place – in Beijing and also in Taiwan at NIU’s other partner: the Miaoli County Government Education Bureau schools.
English lessons came through an exploration of fairy tales, movies, TV shows, comic books and superheroes. Through morning exercise. Through telling stories of life in America. Through touching U.S. currency. Through synonyms and antonyms. Through celebrating the Fourth of July. Through song and dance. Through imaginations sparked with “a bunch of glue and a bunch of sticks.” Through hugs and tears.
Marcus Lewis (center) and Alexis Moaton teach in China.
“Students and kids are kids wherever you go,” says Lewis, one of 37 NIU College of Education students who participated in the summer’s maiden voyage of Educate Global, which provided round-trip airfare, room and board and cultural tours at no cost to the students or the college.
“Things can be culturally different, but people – regardless of wherever you go – are people. If they want to acquire some knowledge, they’re going to do so, and they’re going to do so in a way that’s rewarding to you as their teacher.”
Part of the college’s experiential Educate and Engage Program, Educate Global was designed exactly for outcomes like that one in China and Taiwan.
Doing so, she adds, enhanced their preparation and resiliency for rapidly changing classrooms in the United States. “We are seeing an increasing diversity in the K-12 population,” Elish-Piper says.
“Our graduates are going to encounter students who speak different languages, who come from different cultures, who have different experiences,” she adds. “They are now more aware. They will approach teaching from a more global understanding. They appreciate the diversity and differences our students bring to the classroom.”
Madison Geraghty (left)
NIU’s globetrotters, who were urged to replace judgement with curiosity, also returned with greater confidence and flexibility.
“Each student who participated has been transformed in different ways. They’ve experienced the life of being a teacher in a very unfamiliar setting,” she says. “Educate Global was an eye-opening opportunity to be in a part of the world where the culture, the language and the educational setting are so different.”
David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, witnessed that with his own eyes.
“I saw our students really grow. I saw them be really self-reflective about how they need to change and develop,” Walker says, adding that “the life-altering set of experiences” enabled students to learn about themselves, what they do well and where they need to improve.
“Even now, I’ve had a number of them come up to me – in Gabel Hall, in Graham Hall, on the sidewalk – and tell me how Educate Global has changed their lives. It’s changed the trajectory of what they want to do with teaching,” he adds. “These are comments initiated by the students, which reveals to me what a powerful experience this was.”
Borg knows why the Huskie travelers feel that way.
“When we place them internationally, they become the minority. They, in many cases, find out for the first time what it’s like to actually be in a situation where they’re not in control or can’t navigate,” he says.
“For somebody to survive in that situation, and to excel and to thrive in that situation, means that that teacher-candidate is adaptable, is flexible, can make something out of nothing,” he adds. “It allows our students to become better citizens of the world. It requires our students to look at the world differently. It allows them to really reflect, and also to really reach out to students that perhaps don’t come from the same place that they come from.”
Case in point: Students in China and Taiwan “do not behave like American students,” Borg says.
“These students do not ask questions. That’s not how their educational system is set up,” he says. “Our students had to begin to ask more questions. Our students had to become far more observant in terms of the interactions that the Taiwanese or the Chinese students had.”
Quickly, however, “our students began to realize that the way they would behave around American students must be different in terms of how they would behave around Chinese and Taiwanese students, in particular in terms of how to build rapport.”
“Many times, an Educate Global student would have to break down that wall in order for that student to begin to share and to become more open,” Borg says.
“The effective educator really needs to be prepared to meet students where they’re at and move them to the next level,” he adds. “This is what NIU’s College of Education is all about. We want to be sure that our students have a whole toolkit to pull out at any moment.”
Amor Taylor, a junior Middle Level Teaching and Learning major, used fun activities to flatten language barriers.
Taylor and her co-teacher played games with students at the Beijing Royal School, who ranged in age from 11 to 15, asking them to demonstrate comprehension by completing unfinished sentences or drawing pictures of words spoken in English.
Nonetheless, “some of the students got frustrated. They were really hard on themselves. They are more disciplined, and when they do things wrong, they are really angry at themselves, and some of them would cry,” Taylor says.
“We would tell them, ‘It’s OK.’ We tried to show them that we’ve been here for five weeks, and we still don’t know as much Chinese as you know English,” she adds.
“I felt like that I was actually helping them, so it was very rewarding. I felt like we were making a difference. They were happy they were learning, and we were happy we were teaching them in a way they could learn.”
Nicole Morales (right) enjoys a meal with her Chinese students.
When Taylor returns eventually to her native Chicago to teach in “a school that’s impoverished,” she will bring the experiences of China with her.
“You have to slow down and take your time, because it’s not always that the students don’t understand. It’s that sometimes you’re going a little too fast for them to be able to let you know that they understand,” Taylor says.
“Sometimes we look only at the majority, and there a few stragglers behind. They’re still not grasping the material as quickly. We have to make sure that everybody knows it before we continue on because, when we go on to another subject, then they don’t know the first one – so they’re not going to be able to grasp that one either.”
Her confidence has risen to meet such challenges.
“There are people that we feel like might not ever ‘get it,’ and we have to strive to help those students, because it’s our job to make sure they get it. We have to figure out a way to help them so they can move on, so they can continue in life and continue in their education,” she says.
“I was able to just get a glimpse of what happens when you slow down you help them,” she adds, “helping their confidence to grow so they can feel comfortable learning the material even if they make mistakes. That made me feel good as a teacher.”
Lewis realized similar progression in his abilities.
Building affinity with Chinese students, despite “my zero knowledge of Mandarin, (their) limited knowledge of English,” he says, is good preparation for working to relate to students of different backgrounds.
“Just because something makes sense to me one way doesn’t mean it’s going to make sense to that student if I try and present that information to them that way,” Lewis says.
Meanwhile, he appreciated the challenge to plan, execute, reflect on and modify lessons. He enjoyed the teamwork with his co-teacher. He remains committed to flexibility while staying focused on his goals.
“If I can get different experiences, I’m open to those experiences. I’m open to doing things different ways if that is what’s going to foster this knowledge or inspire that student,” he adds. “I may not have as much experience now as more-seasoned teachers, but I want to collaborate. I want to work with them. I want their ideas – because I want to be a better teacher.”
Jodi Lampi, David Walker and Terry Borg
NIU is assisting him in that mission, he adds.
“People want you to succeed here,” Lewis says, “and they’re trying to provide you with as many experiences as possible so that you are successful, so that you are prepared.”
Educate Global travelers can differentiate themselves in the job market as well, partially through an incredible and affordable international opportunity that many could not manage on their own.
Students also can apply for the university’s EngagePLUS Academic Transcript Notation, which documents such skills as critical thinking, organization and teamwork to employers and graduate program.
“Our students who participated in Educate Global are highly motivated,” Elish-Piper says. “They are mature and serious. They are excited about taking a chance – of going out of their comfort zone, learning about others and, more importantly, learning about themselves.”
“The experiences they explain to principals and school districts are phenomenal,” Walker adds.
“I don’t know of many schools in our area that offer this kind of program. It’s the chance of a lifetime, and will be a hallmark of their lives.”
James Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, just provided a professional reference for one of those students.
James Cohen (center)
Cohen was one of four NIU faculty who traveled to China and Taiwan to supervise and mentor the students; colleagues Jodi Lampi, John Evar Strid and Samina Hadi-Tabassum did the same.
“What I saw in our students was that they stepped up to the plate,” Cohen says.
“I saw games. I heard songs. I saw projects. I saw physical activities that got the students out of their chairs. I saw one teacher taking students outside, in the heat, to run while working on their English,” he adds. “I saw very little direct instruction. Most of it was student-centered, engaging activities.”
For someone like Cohen, who’s passionate about educational equity, those weeks in Taiwan proved that his philosophy – the College of Education’s philosophy – is getting through.
“I was very impressed with how hard they worked, and how serious they took their charge to be teachers to Taiwanese children,” he says. “They really, really, really wanted to make a difference. They wanted to be the best teachers they could be. They were open to constructive criticism. They were open to learning about the culture and the differences in lifestyles. They were open to experiencing a different world, and it was beautiful. It was very heartening.”
Educate Global, for its part, “opened their minds to the idea that not everybody is the same. It built empathy for the English Language Learners in their future classrooms,” he adds. “It will shape them for the rest of their lives, without question.”
Jamal Murphy is not a typical NIU College of Education teacher-licensure candidate.
Raised on the West Side of Chicago, Murphy encountered an eighth-grade teacher who told him he would drop out by his sophomore year. What? Not finish high school?
“Once you tell me I can’t do something,” he says, “I want to do that.”
When he arrived at NIU – a campus that his high counselor deemed “too big” for Murphy – his initial years proved “heartbreaking” when he realized how far behind he was academically.
Now set to graduate in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, he is ready and eager to provide to younger generations what he believes he was “cheated out of” – a positive school experience that just might save their lives.
Murphy is also making plans to become a principal someday as well as a fierce advocate for the educational rights of students of color.
Until then, however, he is happily and productively immersed in the professional training ground of Altus Academy, where he is student-teaching for a year.
Founded by a group of NIU alumni and opened in August of 2013, the school in Chicago’s rough North Lawndale neighborhood is “up the street from mother’s house.”
Private, independent and not-for-profit, Altus aims to provide an excellent college preparatory education to underrepresented populations, including students from historical minority groups, low-income households and first-generation college households.
It’s a perfect fit for Murphy, who fits all of those target audiences.
“He grew up in this area, and he recognized that had he had an opportunity to be in an academic space like this, it would have benefited him. He wanted to go back,” says Portia Downey, professional development coordinator in the NIU College of Education.
“He’s connected with the students and their parents in a way that’s so meaningful. They trust him because they see that he understands and identifies with them. He’s embraced this idea of serving the underserved,” adds Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the college. “He really has become a part of the climate and the culture there, and is considered a member of the staff.”
Downey enjoyed her opportunity in October to see Murphy in action.
She also was energized by confirmation of her prediction that Altus founder, president and principal John Heybach, who holds two NIU degrees, would mentor Murphy and provide him with enriched experiences.
As part of Educate Local, Downey escorted a group of TLEE 385 students to Altus to lead a “readers theater” activity with the Altus children. TLEE 385 – “Differentiation in Elementary School Instruction: Field Experience with Diverse Learners” – provides clinical experiences to teacher-licensure candidates in their second professional semester.
NIU’s students worked with the Altus children on fluency, voice and reading with expression. They also engaged in “character education,” encouraging the children to support each other.
By the end of the day, the children performed four works that Downey chose for their messages of social justice: “America Poem,” “Crab and the Stone,” “Henry’s Freedom Box” and “Sadko and the Thousand Paper Cranes.”
The experience offered the teacher-licensure candidates more than invaluable practice in instruction and classroom management.
“We talk about how poverty can have an impact on instruction and learning,” Johnson says. “They were able to see and experience the effect that engaged instruction and positive environment has on learning.”
For Murphy, those are the classmates and experiences of his own childhood. He is learning lessons of another kind.
“Altus is teaching me how to plan. It’s teaching me how to be organized. I’m the most organized I’ve ever been in college and in my own life,” he says. “You start to understand yourself better. You understand who you are as a teacher.”
The Altus configuration – classes are grouped into three levels: second-, third- and fourth-grades; fifth- and sixth-grades; and seventh- and eighth-grades – has challenged him to find innovative ways to make the curriculum fresh and interesting for sixth-graders who learned it the year before.
Meanwhile, he is pushing himself to develop lessons and activities about history that resonate with children.
“Of course you should teach World War II, but one thing I’m realizing is that kids are not engaged by those things,” Murphy says. “They were born in 2007. Who cares about 1940?”
Spanish is also on his menu – something his fifth- and sixth-graders are teaching him.
“Never in a million years would I have thought I’d have a student teaching me Spanish,” he says. “I’ve learned that this is just about being open to new ideas, and not being scared or timid, but just hearing the students out, hearing the staff out, never taking anything personally but just taking the lessons they’re trying to teach me.”
Altus staff, for their part, are encouraging not to fear failure.
“I get a great vibe from them. They’re open to my ideas. They don’t shove me off, and they let me make mistakes,” Murphy says. “You try to have your one way – ‘this is the way’ – but they literally are letting me make mistakes, and I feel that’s how I’m learning. Those mistakes make me better. They’ve already made me better.”
Murphy’s immediate plans are to pass the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s abilities in planning, instruction and assessment, and is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.
He also is excited to bring his mother, Margaret Murphy, to DeKalb for commencement in May.
“I want my mother to have that experience of coming to a college campus and seeing someone graduate,” he says, “to show her that it really does happen, that it’s not just on TV. It’s not just on ‘The Cosby Show.’ It’s not just on ‘A Different World.’ ”
Following his return to the Chicago Public Schools, and his eventual master’s degree that will qualify him for a principal’s position, he hopes to make a similar mark in Arizona.
The Grand Canyon State’s Senate Bill 1070, which requires immigration status checks during law enforcement stops, motivates him to become a champion for students from families that fall under such suspicion.
It exemplifies his recognition that “kids come from different backgrounds,” and that all deserve an effective education.
His eyes were opened during a clinical experience in a suburban, predominantly white school. While those children were not enduring the poverty and food deserts of the West Side of Chicago, many did live in single-parent homes racked by divorce and the emotional stress it causes.
Ultimately, his goal is to create positive change wherever he is employed.
“I want people to speak of me highly. I never want to have a negative connotation. I want to be a great advocate for learners and for other teachers. I want to challenge myself to become a better leader and a better person. I want to make my school district a better place,” Murphy says.
“I just want to do the job to the best of my ability. If you’re not trying to be the best, then what are you doing it for?” he adds. “I really thrive on being challenged, and I’ll never get tired of having challenges.”
NIU will confer an honorary doctorate degree this fall to Vullnet Ameti, a man who demonstrated his belief in education as a human right by helping to establish the only Albanian university in Macedonia.
“Dr. Vullnet Ameti is one of the most charitable and courageous men I have ever met,” Preston said. “He is truly a man that cares about the people of his nation.”
He has proven his commitment many time over, Preston added.
“In the early ’90s, the government did not recognize Albanians living in Macedonia as equal citizens,” he said. “They were not allowed to vote, or use the same facilities, and were not granted the right to education.”
Change began in 1994.
“Rector Ameti, along with other Albanian intellectuals in Macedonia, led the protests in front of the rifle barrels of the Macedonian gendarmerie,” Preston said. “Until then, Albanians only dreamt about the possibility of earning a secondary degree in their home country.”
For Ameti, those dreams took him from his homeland to Yugoslavia, where he earned his bachelor’s (1985) and master’s (1989) degrees at the University of Pristina, and later to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Tuzla in 2008.
But it was in Macedonia where Ameti would build his legacy.
Working with his fellow ethnic Albanians, Ameti began to recruit teachers to open and staff a university. Students and teachers held classes in churches, mosques, restaurants and even private homes.
“On June 4, 1994, Rector Ameti and his family donated a small piece of farmland for the purpose of starting a university. This was the first, and as of today the only, Albanian university in Macedonia,” Preston said.
Ten years later, the national government finally recognized the University of Tetovo as a state university of higher education.
More than 27,000 students now are enrolled in pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees, including the Ph.D. level.
“He has taught thousands of students and continues to be a rector of the people,” Preston said. “He is never afraid to get his hands dirty. I have witnessed him on many occasions lay bricks for new buildings on campus, cut bushes and trees and feed the homeless.”
Freeman returned to Macedonia in May of this year to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Tetovo.
Vullnet Ameti and NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman
“Rector Ameti always has impressed me with his bravery in the face of resistance and his determination to provide higher education to ethnic Albanians living in Macedonia. What he has done – what he continues to do – is remarkable, inspirational and humbling,” Freeman said. “I always look forward to our visits, as well as our conversations about access to education, and it will be my great privilege to present him with this honorary degree.”
“Under Professor Dr. Ameti’s leadership, UT has become a world-class institution that continues to be committed to educational access and equity, its founding vision. The story of UT is really a story of community and courage, and we’re excited to tell that story here at the College of Education’s Blackwell Museum,” Roberts said.
“Dr. Ameti has been wonderfully supportive of our efforts to pull the exhibition together, and that’s just one example of the many things he’s done to nurture the partnership between NIU and UT,” he added. “What’s so admirable is that he has established a forward-looking vision for UT’s future that remains firmly committed to the social justice issues that have animated its past. That’s inspiring.”
Cold winds blew across the Brooks Elementary School playground Halloween morning, but those chills couldn’t stop the fun of bowling soccer balls and poofy balls toward a 10-pin pumpkin or running relays around hay bales.
Within the warmth of the building, an orange-and-white parachute fluttered up and down, balls bouncing atop its bright stripes. On the other side of the wall, children quickly paced the length of the gym, trying not to spill spoons full of candy corns.
Elsewhere, they tossed beanbags through the mouth of a jack-o-lantern painted on a wooden board, ringed pumpkins with hula-hoops and played tic-tac-toe on the floor with gourds in place of X’s and O’s.
Fall Field Day 2017 offered more than fun, games, laughter and cheers, however.
It also provided a hands-on learning experience for two dozen NIU Physical Education majors in their first or second semester and still awaiting official admittance.
Paired with kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders in the morning, and third- through fifth-graders in the afternoon, NIU’s students demonstrated, facilitated, cheered and, in some cases, even participated in the games and activities.
At day’s end, after also eating lunch with the children and attending their recess periods, they walked away with the kind of first-hand understanding of their future careers that no textbook can describe.
“We want them to see the diversity at the school,” Zittel adds. “We want them to be able to witness positive things. We want them to witness challenging things relative to behavior. We want them, as young professionals, learning how to work with a group of students and how to manage a group of students.”
Brooke Condon, principal of Brooks Elementary, tallied benefits on both sides.
“It’s great to get the NIU students out in the school and really experience what the school day looks like,” Condon says, “and it’s really cool just to watch how our kids respond. We have a lot of students who’ve never had experiences like these before, and they’ve made connections with the NIU students.”
Home to 320 students, Brooks hosts monthly, all-school PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) celebrations that build community and acknowledge successes. The school also collaborates frequently with KNPE, which underscores the teaching of social skills through physical education.
“For NIU students to come in and work with our students is valuable for both sides of the partnership. It’s very positive,” Newport says. “This is giving the NIU students an opportunity for hands-on, practical experience as teachers, and it’s giving our kids the opportunity to identify with another adult in the building.”
Newport was eager to share what she saw Halloween morning with her colleagues on the school board, something that reinforces the strong collaboration between District 428 and the NIU College of Education.
“It’s important for me, as school board president, to get out and see what’s happening in our buildings,” she says, “and to support our staff in whatever they want to accomplish.”
Jamie Craven, superintendent of District 428, calls the day a “win-win.”
“I saw a lot of kids laughing. I saw a lot of kids clearly enjoying the experience – and when I say kids, the NIU kids are kids to me because I have kids that age, so it’s wasn’t just the Brooks kids, it was the NIU kids, too,” Craven says.
“From the NIU student side, I think it’s a great opportunity for them to see what goes on at schools, well beyond the classroom, that these kinds of celebrations are just different learning opportunities,” he adds. “Our kids got to interact with different young adults who were bringing a different level of enthusiasm and a different level of engagement with the activities.”
Zittel is pleased that her students earned the respect of the District 428 leadership: She had prepared them in “understanding the importance of professionalism.”
“I told them, ‘You’re now a representative of NIU. You’re in a public school with teachers, principals, secretaries, custodians, administrative people from the school district, parents, teaching assistants,” she says.
The professor was pleased with their performance as well.
“Watching my students just collapse on the floor in exhaustion was hilarious,” she says. “It was a full day of activity, but they were all very happy that we did it. They got a lot out of it.”
Terry Borg accepts a plaque Nov. 14 from NIU Graduate School Dean Brad Bond (back) while Office of External and Global Programs colleagues Gail Hayenga (left) and Ted Moen (right) share in the honor from International Affairs.
Each brings “the perspective of the world to Northern Illinois University and the expertise of Northern Illinois University to the world, through international mobility of faculty, students and ideas.”
“We’re extremely pleased and energized to receive this recognition,” says Terry Borg, director of the office which also includes External Programs Coordinator Ted Moen and Conference and Event Coordinator Gail Hayenga.
“The university has recognized that we were able to tie our global programming into efforts that, one, yielded greater NIU student international awareness and understanding, and, two, that we were able to do it in a revenue-positive fashion for the university.”
College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper’s nomination incorporated “everything we’ve done over the last five years,” Borg says, “from housing youth on campus from Taiwan and Korea, to certainly Educate Global, to supporting multiple faculty in their global pursuits.”
“I believe that this award really recognizes the college’s efforts and our faculty who supported those efforts,” Borg adds. “We’re here to serve faculty, students and their interests.”
Other evidence of the office’s impact included:
representation and support on various trips to China, South Korea and Taiwan to identify potential demand for NIU programs;
support and technical assistance for Memorandums of Understanding, including Ethiopia’s Jigdan College, and international guest visits, including delegations from Istanbul University in Turkey and National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan;
hiring international graduate students as graduate assistants; and
the securing of external dollars to support international initiatives, such as the American Education Summer Camp in 2014, funded by the National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School.
Borg is excited to see where the International Education Week acknowledgement will lead. He’s already received an invitation to explore collaboration with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
“It’s really raised our profile to the point where other university offices are interested in partnering with the College of Education,” he says. “Our colleagues from different colleges and departments on campus are very interested in how we were able to put together a program like Educate Global, which is basically self-sustaining with student airfare, housing, food and select cultural tours being provided by our hosts at no cost.”
Previous winners of the Award for Outstanding Department Contribution to International Education at NIU include the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education (2005) and the then-named Department of Literacy Education (2012).