Nicollette Wlodek knew that the video camera was rolling, but she didn’t mind.
Wlodek, an Elementary Education major from NIU, stood confidently before a classroom of Huntley School District fifth-graders to teach a literacy lesson on comparing and contrasting characters in a fictional story.
She changed nothing in her delivery, even though she was keenly aware that this one demonstration of her teaching would become part of her mandatory edTPA submission. Passage of the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s abilities in planning, instruction and assessment, is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.
Despite the high stakes, Wlodek says, “the edTPA did not change my personality, or the way I was acting, when they were videotaping me.”
But the edTPA will make her “a better teacher,” she says.
“I am already a very reflective teacher, but the edTPA taught me to do that in a more formal setting where I am documenting my thoughts,” she says. “It really forces you to sit down and analyze what it is you taught your students and how well they understood it. What problems did they get right? How does that compare to the rest of the class? What can I do to make these skills more understandable? I will take the time to really analyze my teaching.”
One hundred percent of the 52 Elementary Education majors who submitted edTPA materials this spring passed. So did 100 percent of NIU College of Education graduate students in teacher licensure programs.
All but one student in each of the college’s other licensure programs (Early Childhood Education, Physical Education and Special Education) also passed the edTPA, maintaining the college’s 98 percent pass rate.
Jennifer Johnson, the College of Education’s director of teacher preparation and development, credits some of the success to assistance and preparation provided by professors and the university’s Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation.
Faculty in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, for example, integrate aspects of the edTPA throughout their coursework. Help is also available from Judy Boisen, the Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation’s full-time edTPA coordinator.
However, Johnson says, it’s the students who truly deserve the applause for meeting and exceeding the demanding standards of the edTPA.
“Because the edTPA is a performance-based assessment, our candidates are being asked to demonstrate more than what they have learned in their teacher-training programs,” Johnson says. “They are being asked to demonstrate an understanding of teaching and learning within their own context of the student-teaching experience.”
Thanks to the edTPA, she adds, prospective employers know that NIU graduates “are prepared to be contributing members of academic teams.”
Meanwhile, she says, passage boosts morale and confidence: “I believe the successful completion of the edTPA reinforces for our candidates that they are ready.”
Wlodek is ready.
Raised in Streamwood, she is breaking new ground in her family by becoming a teacher. She is also fulfilling a longtime ambition that matches her personality: Even at family gatherings, she says, she spends more time playing with children than socializing with other adults.
“I have such a caring heart, and I think kids are just amazing. They don’t get enough credit for what they can do, and they can do so much,” she says. “Ideally, I’d like to teach third- through fifth-grade. I really like those ages. They’re fun, and they come in at the beginning of the school year shy. I like seeing them grow as individuals, not just academically but personally.”
Juggling her edTPA submission with her student-teaching and her part-time job proved challenging and time-consuming, she says, but the May graduate believes that her hard work was worthwhile.
“Children will benefit from teachers who have gone through the edTPA,” Wlodek says. “Teachers are taking more time, really looking into the students’ strengths and weaknesses, and when teachers are doing that deeper analysis, children are getting that much more individualized attention.”
She also has advice for current College of Education students following her footsteps.
“Listen to the NIU professors when they say, ‘Try to get ahead,’ ” she says, “and form strong, genuine bonds with your students; it makes for a strong will to learn.”