And that is exactly where a small group of NIU College of Education Educate U.S. travelers will find themselves the week of May 14.
“Our past Educate U.S. experiences have been in urban settings, significantly larger than their traditional field placements,” says Jenny Johnson, director of teacher preparation for the college. “Our leadership team really wanted to give our teacher-licensure candidates is exposure to, and experience in, a truly rural setting. The Mandaree experience expands the range of opportunities for our candidates to take engaged learning to the next level.”
North Dakota-bound: Caleb Purcell, Haleigh Ellet, Andrew Finch and Delaney Nauman
Ninety-eight percent of Mandaree’s fewer than 200 students come from Native American tribes. Some of the two dozen teachers grew up in the Fort Berthold reservation or nearby; others grew up in other reservations.
One building serves the entire K-12 population, which is overseen by a superintendent, an elementary school principal and a high school principal. The district itself falls under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Education of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Zalesky made the initial contact with the Mandaree School District when she visited in the summer of 2017 as a certified consultant for WIDA (World-class Instructional Design and Assessment).
The WIDA consortium advances academic language development and academic achievement for children and youth who are culturally and linguistically diverse. Zalesky presented professional development on working with diverse learners and the English Language Development Standards.
While Zalesky could not personally observe student-teacher interaction during the summer, the time she spent living among and working with teachers spoke volumes.
“I was having a conversation with Superintendent Ann Longie, just talking about what a great experience I had meeting the teachers there,” Zalesky says, “and I told her about some of the opportunities that NIU College of Education students have, one being Educate U.S.”
Both believed that five days in Mandaree would provide a unique perspective to future teachers, one beyond the already diverse array of clinical experience the college offers. Dean Laurie Elish-Piper, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs David Walker and Johnson agreed.
“What I would like to think is that they will see some different methods, simply because it’s a different population – or maybe not. Maybe it’s not that different,” says Zalesky, who will return to Mandaree to supervise the Educate U.S. students. “I would hope they’ll see the cultural and community aspects that influence instruction. I would hope they would see that there aren’t too many fluent speakers of indigenous languages.”
She knows they observe “a strong sense of commitment” to students from teachers and, most of all, flexibility.
Much of that flexibility comes in response to the hiring and retention of teachers in a region of the country with brutal winters, she adds.
“I met teachers who the previous year taught fourth- or fifth-grade, and this year they’re teaching kindergarten or first. Last year, they were teaching social studies and science, and this year English or math,” Zalesky says. “They just say, ‘This is what I’m teaching. I might have four or five preps at multiple grade levels and multiple content areas from one year to the next.”
Administrators are part of that equation as well.
“If they need a bus driver, the superintendent will drive the bus. A building principal will drive the bus,” she says. “People just pitch in to do what they need to do, without question, without complaint and without a second thought.”
NIU’s select students will taste a bit of that flexibility, Johnson says.
“There is nothing like this in our service region, so participating in this experience is an added value. It’s a rich opportunity to see teaching and learning through a completely different lens,” she says. “The more they know and experience, the more highly qualified they will be upon graduation, and the more tools they will have to plan and design instruction for the students they’ll serve.”
Mandaree classrooms will bring to life what NIU College of Education students learn in their courses about diverse instruction, demonstrating how those theories and methods are implemented in different spaces to support student growth.
Licensure candidates also will learn about professional development in rural schools, Johnson adds, as well as “the culture of teachers and students living in the same small space during the education cycle.”
As with the semiannual trips to the Houston Independent School District, the NIU College of Education pays for all travel expenses. Housing accommodations are provided by the partner districts, allowing Educate U.S. participants the opportunity to experience community, culture and authentic home-school connections.
Educate U.S. travelers are eligible for the university’s Engage PLUS transcript notation.
The honor – one of the highest the literacy field can grant an individual – came during the annual convention of the International Literacy Association.
Established in 1973, the Reading Hall of Fame contributes, from the collective experiences of its members, to further improvement in reading instruction. Stahl’s colleague, Jerry Johns, was inducted in 2015.
Stahl received his Ph.D. from the Program in Language Communications at the University of Pittsburgh.
Previous to his doctoral work he earned degrees at San Francisco State University (M.A.-Interdisciplinary Studies in Education and B.A.-History), and the City College of San Francisco (A.A.-History).
Currently, he is a Professor Emeritus of Literacy Education at NIU, where he served for more than a decade as chair of the Department of Literacy Education. He also served as chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Department, director of the College Reading and Learning Program and director of the Learning Research Laboratory. He is an affiliate of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language and Literacy.
He has authored or co-authored more than 125 publications, has served on several editorial advisory boards and has been active in a number of professional organizations.
Along with his colleagues, Stahl was the recipient of the Distinguished Research Award from the College Reading and Learning Association. The team also was recognized for authoring the Outstanding Article for Volume 16 of the Journal of Developmental Education. In addition, this team was awarded the Outstanding Publication Award from the National Association of Developmental Education as well as the award for the outstanding article to appear in Research and Teaching in Developmental Education by the New York College Learning Skills Association.
Stahl’s current scholarly work includes an analysis of the role reading plays in the academic (general education) culture and CTE programs of community colleges, an academic life history of Francis P. Robinson, a content analysis of IRW texts and the historical study of the Golden Age of College Reading Instruction (1929-1946).
Even though technology has changed the game in college admissions, that doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned the time-honored method of communicating with future undergraduate students through the U.S. Postal Service.
The College of Education’s Student Services embarked on a marketing project this spring that featured postcards with photos and personal messages from students and faculty about the excellent programs at NIU.
Kristin Rinehart, coordinator of recruitment in Student Services, says the postcards help to “convince students that the NIU College of Education is definitely the place to be.”
“Our postcard project is a great way to create excitement about the College of Education among newly admitted students who are considering us as a possible college choice,” Rinehart says.
“Research shows that new students want to feel excited about the colleges that they are considering,” she adds. “In addition, research shows that they value the opinion of other students in the college selection process, want to feel connected to their program of study and desire personalized attention from faculty and staff.”
Each of the seven undergraduate programs was featured in both rounds.
January’s first batch of postcards focused on peer-to-peer communications: notes from current students who are recipients of various scholarships to freshman and transfer admits for this summer and fall.
Participants were Taylor Aasen (Elementary Education), Alfredo Cervantes (Athletic Training), Courtney Christin (Physical Education), Abbey Gorham (Special Education), Tabbi Grosch (Early Childhood Studies), Tyler Hayes (Kinesiology) and Hannah Schlecht (Middle Level Teaching and Learning).
June’s second round of mailings connected faculty – all of whom were nominated by their department chairs – with those freshman and transfer admits.
Peter J. Chomentowski III (Exercise Physiology), Myoung Jung (Early Childhood), Jessica Martinez (Athletic Training), James Cohen (Curriculum and Instruction), Toni Van Laarhoven (Special Education), Zachary Wahl-Alexander (Physical Education) and Donna Werderich (Literacy Education) represented their programs.
Students wrote about why they made the right choice in coming to NIU while faculty wrote of why they love teaching here. All included messages of what students learn in their courses and the hands-on learning opportunities available.
“I’m learning to have patience with children,” Christin wrote, “and about the power of ‘yet’ — just because one child doesn’t understand at first doesn’t mean they never will. It only means they do not understand yet.”
“Teaching middle school is an adventure, not a job,” Werderich wrote. “It requires teachers who understand and appreciate the diversity and unique complexity of young adolescents who are constantly changing mentally, physically, socially and emotionally.”
Dropping postcards in the mail reaches another important audience, Rinehart says.
“Being paper mail with eye-catching visibility, they also bring these messages to parents and other important adults in the students’ households,” she says. “We are thrilled with how the postcards turned out, and we will continue to build on them in a variety of ways for future recruitment ventures.”
Nearly 60 teachers and other school professionals will arrive June 11 at NIU for the inaugural Social Justice Summer Camp for Educators, a four-day, three-night, candid and nonjudgmental exploration of multiculturalism, privilege, identity, oppression and more.
“Practicing K-12 teachers and administrators typically have the best of intentions, but it is important for them to also have experiences that can help further their understanding of various forms of oppression and social justice in general,” says Flynn, who first proposed the summer camp.
“Regardless of what people might have to say, or whatever political stripe they may be, social justice issues are actually happening to people,” Flynn adds.
“And if we really believe in social justice and equity, it becomes imperative for students to actually engage in these issues. Offering students opportunities to explore problems helps them with critical thinking and helps them understand their world.”
James Cohen and Mike Manderino
Manderino and Cohen are excited to join in Flynn’s vision.
“Schools are a microcosm of society. They’re not this separate place where the world doesn’t exist anymore,” Manderino says. “And whether it’s racism, sexism, discrimination against one’s gender identity, sexual preference or religious background – these are systemic issues. Schools, and the school system itself, really have to confront the fact that these issues are present.”
“In an age of emboldened racism, and emboldened discrimination in our society, we have to be equally emboldened to fight back all of this racism, discrimination and injustice,” Cohen adds. “What better way to spread that message of social justice than to work with teachers?”
The camp, which will take place in New Residence Hall, will feature keynote speakers JQ Adams and Stacey Horn, panel discussions, film screenings and, most importantly, long and pointed conversations followed by opportunities for reflection.
Discussions will probe the historic development of multicultural and social justice education and key ideas; the nature of privilege across identities and how privilege impacts policy and practice in schools; and the ways in which school policies foster inequity and how to reform such policies.
“We have a whole range of issues that these schools can think about,” Manderino says. “Some schools might be struggling with equity gaps in suspension rates, or in who gets access to some classes. It could be writing more gender-inclusive policies, or providing safe spaces.”
Key to those talks is coming up with a definition of oppression, Flynn adds.
“Oppression happens when prejudice against a group is backed by historical, social and institutional power. It’s much more than feeling mistreated,” he says.
“Affirmative action is not a form of oppression against white males, for example, as compared to the ways the LGBT+ community has been marginalized for decades, let alone centuries, in American culture,” he says. “When you have a series of laws that are consistently passed that have a negative impact on your community – even if that’s not intentional – then those are markers of oppression.”
Films on the summer camp’s evening schedule include the powerful documentaries “Color of Fear,” “Cracking the Codes” and “Precious Knowledge.”
Campers will set goals for their schools and, before they leave June 14, explain how they will begin making a difference for students in the fall.
“One of the six goals of multicultural education is to act on your knowledge,” Cohen says. “They will create action plans for how to advocate for linguistically and culturally marginalized students in their respective schools.”
Teachers who attend will learn to reduce their reticence toward taking on this challenge.
“I’ve met a lot of teachers who feel like, ‘Yeah, what the Black Lives Matter movement is saying against police brutality is really important, but I don’t know enough to say anything about it,’ ” Flynn says.
“We can help them become more comfortable with, one, approaching the subjects in general; two, how to engage their students in discussions; and, three, and perhaps most importantly, in admitting that they don’t know everything, and that’s OK,” he adds. “It’s OK to say, ‘You know, I don’t know. Why don’t we figure that out together?’ ”
Flynn’s journey of turning social justice issues into teaching tools began in 2000, the year he began teaching in higher education.
His first course covered human diversity, power and opportunity in social institutions, a focus that prompted him to become more conscious and thoughtful of how various groups are positioned in society.
“I do believe that the United States, if it really believes what it professes in our founding documents, like the Declaration of Independence, that it’s incumbent on us when we can to help people understand how various forms of oppression work,” Flynn says.
“I believe that doing everything we can to make life better for all people is incumbent on us as citizens. We as a society cannot just keep saying that it’s terrible that these things happen if we’re not going to further educate ourselves and create spaces for kids to talk about these things.”
JQ Adams and Stacey Horn
The professors are eager to welcome the campers, lead and participate in their conversations and, ultimately, see positive results begin to blossom.
Campers should regard the event not as “come and learn everything in a few days” but as the catalysts for expanding their mindsets, they say.
“Public education, and education in general, has the promise and potential to provide opportunities for people to pursue their passions and their interests. It gives people choice and agency over their lives, and it has the potential to broaden the perspectives of students much earlier in their lives,” Manderino says.
“But as participants in a societal institution, we as educators must become mindful of these issues. Then I think we can start to grow people’s participation in our democracy because it becomes more inclusive.”
For Cohen, the answer lies in rising above the notion that “there’s no such thing as white rule.”
“When teachers understand how white privilege plays a role in their teaching, how misogyny plays a role in their teaching, how linguistic privilege plays a role in their teaching – if they can gain that awareness, they will be teaching students multiple historical perspectives,” he says.
“Students will be much more aware of the realities of people who don’t think and look and act like them,” he adds, “and that’s what this really comes down to.”
Jennifer Johnson, the college’s director of teacher preparation and development, and Portia Downey, professional development coordinator, covered basics such as transportation times, liability forms, ground rules and more.
But the orientation session was mostly fun and festive.
The room was adorned with numerous Texas flags, many taped to the door and walls with others in the forms of paper plates and napkins at the buffet table, which dished up walking tacos, Downey’s homemade Texas Cowboy Cookies, Texas Sweet Tea and drinking glasses in the shape of cowboy boots.
Students also had their choice of Educate U.S. T-shirts and official College of Education red polo shirts.
David Walker, associate dean of the NIU College of Education, congratulated the group for pursuing the “phenomenal program” that sends outstanding pre-service teachers to Texas for donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experiences in a large, urban school district.
Elementary Education majors Marcus Lewis and Abby Spankroy listen during the Educate U.S. orientation.
“You made it. You’re the best of the best. We’re really excited for you to be a part of this,” said Walker, who also promoted this summer’s Educate Global program in Taiwan. “When I was a student many years ago, I wish I would have had these opportunities.”
Educate U.S. participants work side-by-side with mentor teachers, observing in classrooms, preparing lessons, and engaging in co-teaching strategies. They also participate with students, host families and community members in a variety of extracurricular and community events, further enriching their experience.
Marcus Lewis, a junior elementary education major, applied for Educate U.S. to glimpse how school is taught outside the borders of Illinois.
“I’d like to experience a different area of the United States, and see how they take on education and pedagogy,” said Lewis, who also is participating in Educate Global this summer. “I value education as a tool for change, and I believe it’s one of the most important aspects of society.”
Lewis, who’s heard “nothing but great things” about Educate U.S., hopes to teach fourth-grade. “It’s a great transition time,” he said. “They’re moving into adolescence. They’re not babies anymore. They’re starting to rationalize.”
Sarah Younglove, a special education major, expects that her week in Houston will provide a view completely unlike her “predominantly white” hometown of Oregon, Ill.
Sarah Younglove (right) and Emma Foelske
“I’m from a really small town with less than 4,000 people,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to go to a school district that’s got more than 215,000 students, and to experience different cultures.”
Younglove is equally excited for her future career. “I just feel very passionate about seeing students reach their full potential,” she said, “and I think the world needs as many passionate teachers as it can get.”
Lorena Flores, a transfer student in Middle Level Teaching and Learning, is eager to explore Houston’s bilingual classrooms.
“I’ve never seen that applied at the middle level,” she said. “I want to see how they do it.”
Flores, a veteran of the U.S. Navy who developed a love of teaching as a drill instructor, also looks forward to observing and living “the everyday life of a teacher” who must balance school and home.
Her goal as a science teacher is to emulate one of her former instructors. “In high school, I had a certain math teacher who ended up being my math teacher for three years in a row,” she said. “I hated math – but he made it fun and interesting, and he treated us as people, not just a name or a number.”
Early Childhood Studies majors traveling in May are Nycol Durham, Malika Lee, Ashley Kivikoski, Wendy Castillo-Guzman, Katelynn Horton, Ashley Hodges, Caroline Stephens and Catherina Rousonelos.
Elementary Education majors are Nicole VanGarsse, Abby Spankroy, Erin Kostos, Sarah Raila, Jennifer Lucchsi and Marcus Lewis.
Students in their second professional semester (diversity block) will have the opportunity to collaborate with 5th grade students and STEM teachers from Golfview Elementary School in CUSD 300, Carpentersville, Illinois, for two days. This collaboration will provide science literacy hands-on experiences in a diverse environment related to the school curriculum and NIU course assignments.
Golfview Elementary School located at 124 Golfview Lane, Carpentersville, IL, 60110, houses PK through grade 5 students. There are approximately 750 students: 95.5% Hispanic, 1.6% White, 1.3% African-American, and 94.1% of the students receive free or discounted lunch. All Golfview fifth grade classrooms (120 students) and NIU students (30) enrolled in Dianne Zalesky‘s ESL Methods and Materials course and Gary Swick’s Community as a Resource course will work in small groups throughout the project.
Students would be involved in two visits set for April 7 and April 21. On their first visit, the NIU students will teach lessons related to biodiversity at the Golfview Elementary School site. On the second visit, students will meet at Schweitzer Environmental Center. The projects will be finalized and left on display for parents and community members to view.
CUSD 300 and Friends of the Fox River entered into a lease agreement with Kane County to operate an environmental center located in Schweitzer Woods Forest Preserve.Some features of the center are:
easily accessible by students to return with their families
has the capacity for hosting meetings, classes, and projects
features all 3 main habitat types for study on 160 acre property
has Kane County Forest Preserve District as a supporter and partner
has a variety of educational resources on-site
has a strong educational foundation through affiliation with Friends of the Fox
is supported through Project Learning Tree activities, curriculum, and professional development
The Golfview Elementary School principal, Lindsay Sharp, is enthusiastic about the possibilities this initial partnership with NIU students can provide. In addition, this collaboration between NIU students and Golfview Elementary students supports the COE mission as an added value experience by providing teacher candidates the opportunity to plan, teach, and facilitate researched-based lessons, engage in student-centered learning activities, and collaborate in a diverse community.
“Middle school was when I learned how to become a person. I learned how to work hard, and I learned how to fight for what I want,” says Grazutis, a senior from Palos Park. “I want to assist and inspire students to become the most competent and engaged students they can be.”
“I want to teach middle school because that was a struggle for me,” adds Amaya, a junior from Carpentersville.
“Middle school is such a transition, and not just education-wise. It’s more of a personal and awkward time for students. It was for me,” he adds, “and I feel like knowing that, I can relate to the students. I can do different methods and really just connect with students in a different way.”
Grazutis and Amaya were among 22 students from the College of Education who traveled to Texas in January to spend a transformative week observing and working in the Houston Independent School District.
NIU’s Educate U.S. program provides select students with donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experiences to view, practice and live in an out-of-state school district.
Beyond equipping NIU graduates with a great advantage in the job market, Educate U.S. reinforces several values and priorities of the student-centered College of Education. Those include diverse and innovative real-world learning opportunities through collaboration with schools, communities, agencies and businesses.
And Houston, which hires a significant number of new teachers every year, is an excellent partner.
More than 215,000 children are enrolled at Houston’s 284 campuses, home to innovative programs that include dual-language schools offering immersion in cultures and languages including Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and French.
Participating pre-service teachers live in the homes of HISD administrators, gaining a unique perspective of the business side of schools.
Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development in the NIU College of Education, calls the week “above and beyond” a typical clinical experience.
She’s accustomed to hearing Educate U.S. students say “once-in-a-lifetime” – and she agrees with their assessment.
“The reason we’ve reached out to partners from other parts of the country is to allow our candidates the opportunity to broaden their perspective in the areas of classroom environment, of professional development, of teaching methods, of instructional methods and management methods, and of culture and language,” Johnson says.
“They’ll be able to really enrich what they already know … and see other places and ways of doing things,” she adds. “They’re not just learning and hearing about other ways to do things, but (getting) to experience them.”
For Grazutis, that became true on Day One.
She was assigned to a seventh-grade class in Life Science – “I love science, just because science is all about asking why,” she says – but was surprised by an email she received from her cooperating teacher before the trip.
“I was looking at this, and I was like, ‘Am I really going to teach this on my first try at teaching?’ It was sexual reproduction – different types of birth, male vs. female reproduction, sexual vs. asexual,” Grazutis says. “I was just really proud that, after that first lesson, I was able to get through it in such a professional way with grace and poise.”
Amaya also appreciated the immersion into teaching math to sixth- and eighth-graders.
“By the end of the week, I was able to prepare myself for a full lesson. Prior to that, I had yet to teach a full lesson, and that was my first time. It was a great feeling,” he says. “Having all those students just look at you, and actually answer the questions you’re asking, and paying attention, all eyes on you – it’s a great experience. I know I passed on the knowledge that I have to them.”
* * *
Cal Moyer found confirmation in Houston.
A junior Special Education major from Elmhurst, Moyer hopes to teach Life Skills in high schools. His assignment in Houston offered preparation in just that and, he says, he’s stayed in touch in the hopes of returning for his student-teaching.
One of the students he taught there has autism – and is a member of the football team.
“He gets a jersey, and he goes to football practice every day. I got to go and coach football with him for a while,” Moyer says.
“It was amazing how all the football players completely embraced him as one of their own. We’re cheering for him when he was doing his drills, and just completely backing him up in everything he did,” he adds. “It’s just so amazing to see how they made him feel like he was one of the players rather than just someone tagging along like a little brother.”
Moyer understands why: Students with special needs bring joy to everyone around them.
“Their happiness just glows,” he says, “and they just project it so much that it’s impossible working with them not to feel their happiness and (to) go home feeling amazing. The amount of energy and excitement and happiness they bring every single day just makes you feel like there’s so much more out there than what you see every day.”
During his time in Houston, Moyer worked with students on employment skills such as shredding paper, sharpening pencils and mopping floors.
He also realized what else occupies a special education teacher’s day, including meetings on Individualized Education Programs and communication between teachers, students, administrators and parents.
Sarah Paver, a second-year graduate student pursuing licensure to teach physical education, spent her Houston adventure at Pin Oak Middle School.
Her days began at 6:30 a.m., when she and her home-stay teacher left the house to arrive at school by 7 a.m., and the long hours continued until 8 or 9 p.m. each evening after assisting extracurricular sports coaches and athletes.
“It wasn’t like a clinical class at NIU, where you go from 1 to 3 or however long the class period is. It was truly living the life of a teacher for one week,” says Paver, who grew up in Big Rock.
“I would be there during the lunch hour. I’d have time to prep assignments. After school, I would have to manage all the students in the locker room or in the hallways. It really opened my eyes to what teachers to, and how much work it is,” she adds.
“However, it was also very rewarding. By the end of the week, students were coming up to me and saying, ‘You taught my class yesterday.’ It was very rewarding to have the students remember you.”
Paver found in Houston a perfect place to implement her NIU preparation.
“The things I have been learning at NIU have been reinforced,” she says. “How to manage a classroom. Make sure you provide positive reinforcement. Keep students on task. Walk around to observe all students. Never turn your back. In Houston, I applied all of those skills.”
Like many, she remains in contact with her host family. “They still text me every week just to see how I’m doing,” she says. “That’s the kind of relationship you build down there.”
* * *
Zahidelys Tapia felt right at home in Houston, where she spent her week at Farias Early Childhood Center: Teaching preschool is in her DNA.
“My mom has been an early childhood educator for 20 years,” says Tapia, a junior Early Childhood Education major from Belvidere.
“After years of going with her, and when she finally allowed me to start story times, or just helping the kids out, you start growing a passion for it,” she adds. “And then seeing some of the differences you start making, and then seeing them happy … it’s amazing.”
In the Houston Independent School District, where the poverty rate is 76 percent, Tapia found children and teachers who buck the conventional wisdom.
“We hear that students who live in poverty are already 18 months behind if they’re 4 years old. If they’re a minority, they’re behind. You just have these kids that have so many statistics that are holding them back,” she says.
But “when you look at a school district like HISD, you see that they’re breaking the boundaries. ‘They haven’t even started yet and they’re already behind?’ That’s not how we should view them as teachers. We have to help them continue and grow. I love that. That’s something I want to do as a teacher.”
She left empowered.
“From the first day, my teacher said, ‘What can you do? What do you want to do?’ She right away allowed me to be a part of her classroom. She said, ‘Play with the kids. Talk with the kids. When they’re doing their center times, do everything,’ ” Tapia says.
“She showed me, and she sat me down and told me, what she was doing and why she was doing it,” she adds. “It was an amazing experience. I learned how to be a teacher.”
Billy Shea, who plans to teach middle school math, used his time in Houston to calm his nerves and polish his delivery.
After three days of watching his cooperating teacher in action, Shea took over.
“I was able to teach the lesson that my teacher taught. I was able to see what he did, kind of change it to how I wanted to teach it, and then do it in the classroom,” he says. “I’d never taught a lesson prior going to Houston, and being able to do that for two straight days – the full day – was amazing.”
First-time jitters caused him to talk too quickly, he says. “I wanted everybody to like me. I wanted everybody to learn everything they can.”
His second round showed great improvement, he adds, and by the third time, his cooperating teacher praised his work. Lessons learned? “Relax. Truly trust yourself as a teacher. If you don’t necessarily reach Point B, it’s OK as long as the kids are learning.”
“My biggest takeaway from Houston is that I know I can teach,” he says. “I know I can touch lives, and I know I can create educated people.”
Unlike some of his classmates in the Middle-Level Teaching and Learning major, Shea’s motivation to teach took root outside the classroom.
The junior from Schaumburg spends his summers as a camp counselor for children in fifth- through seventh-grades.
“They just make my day go by so fast. I love being with them. I thought it would be the perfect job for me,” he says. “I like that they’re still learning about who they are as an individual – but then they’re also at that point where they want to move on to abstract thinking and thinking for themselves.”
* * *
NIU Athletic Training students
Not everyone who visited Houston in January is necessarily bound for the classroom: Ariel Russell is an Athletic Training major.
But with “Educate” in the program name, and the Houston Independent School District as the destination, classrooms served as the learning ground.
Russell was assigned to a high school, where she observed an athletic trainer who spends two class periods each day rehabilitating student-athletes.
“During the rest of the day, I helped teach in her sports medicine classes, so it was a little bit different for me,” Russell says. “Instead of attending practices and games, I was actually in the classroom, helping teach coursework which I had previously learned here at NIU.”
She is grateful for the opportunity to see a different part of the country and observe how another state’s rules and regulations impact how her profession is practiced. She also enjoyed making connections with other athletic trainers while gaining exposure to working in a high school.
“Having a clinical experience in a high school setting is really important,” says Russell, who plans to work in a clinical or a school, and is considering pursuit of a master’s degree. “I was able to work one-on-one with a student athlete with ACL rehab.”
* * *
Asking Jennifer Johnson what she observed in Houston yields many memories.
Children who become attached to their NIU students and don’t want them to leave.
Tears on the last day, not just from children but from college students and cooperating teachers.
Proof that NIU’s programs are sound.
“We are perceived, not just in Illinois but in other states, as a place where you want to recruit teachers from, a place that has graduates who are able to step into a classroom and make an impact – a positive impact – immediately, who come prepared to teach and learn,” Johnson says.
NIU College of Education students “are so, so authentically devoted to their profession, and passionate about what they want to do, that I know they’re going to be outstanding when they graduate,” she says.
“So many times during the (Educate U.S.) interview process, they would walk out of the room, and I would think, ‘Oh, I have goosebumps. That is who I would love to have teach my children.’ That’s the kind of bar I set,” Johnson says.
“They consider the students first – the children they’re going to be in the classrooms with,” she adds. “They were all very open to learning about new people, new places. They really had the idea that they would be going to learn how others learn, and that to me was huge. These students are doing this for a great reason.”
It confirms the college’s mission “to prepare students to be leaders in their chosen professions” as well as the value placed on a student-centered education built on providing resources and support.
Behind this achievement are excellent students, nurturing guidance from faculty, an on-campus office committed to helping students through the process and collaboration with school districts.
“We have a lot of institutional pride in our student success and in our faculty and coordinator contributions,” says Jenny Parker, associate vice provost for the Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation at NIU. “Our programs have committed to integrating – early and often – the skills needed for teaching with both internal and external support.”
Judy Boisen, associate director for edTPA at NIU, is fully devoted to helping teacher-candidates succeed on three-part assessment.
Boisen, who previously taught high school science for 35 years, conducts edTPA workshops for students, university supervisors and NIU faculty. Supervisors and faculty also are provided edTPA data to determine what is going right, where improvement is needed and how to incorporate those realizations into their curricula.
She also offers a PowerPoint series for cooperating teachers in the K-12 schools that stresses the importance of the edTPA and their role in that process; her website provides tips for success to teacher-candidates.
edTPA: “The skills and knowledge that all teachers need from Day 1 in the classroom”
Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the NIU College of Education, believes in the additional preparation NIU makes available to students.
“The edTPA is a high-stakes assessment that could impact your ability to get a teacher’s license. It mandates that all teachers will be highly qualified,” Johnson says. “Our College of Education students were so successful on the edTPA because our faculty took a vested interest in supporting them. The students practice these skills during multiple semesters, and we will continue to do that. We will keep working.”
College of Education teacher-education students hear “a constant message throughout their course of study” on the importance of edTPA preparation, adds Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Faculty, meanwhile, clearly identify aspects of coursework activities and assignments “that mirror or, with a few tweaks, could better mirror the edTPA.”
Preparing for the edTPA enables them to identify instructional needs, to study those in their NIU classrooms, to model them in student-teaching and then, Gregory says, “look to see if their students grow as well. It’s what good teachers do naturally as they gain some experience, and it’s a preview of what they will do consistently.”
Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education alumna Laura Tuma agrees.
“My professors took the bull by the horns and were able to break it down, step by step,” says Tuma, now a physical education teacher in suburban Yorkville. “They integrated chunks of the edTPA into all of our classes.”
She sees its value at work. During every-Wednesday staff meetings with her colleagues from all disciplines, collaborative discussions often focus on assessment.
“That’s what the edTPA was all about – assessments, and what you are going to do with those,” Tuma says. “That’s huge at my school. They want to see data. They want to know numbers. They want to see the success in our students, and that they’re learning.”
“What we found is that there were very few people who thought that our name actually represented us and our expertise. We’ve also had questions from potential students saying, ‘I can’t find you,’ ” Gregory added. “With that said, we considered other alternatives.”
Written by Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, “March: Book Three” also won the Coretta Scott King Book Award, the National Book Award for young people’s literature and the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature (Young Adult category).
But for Koss, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction with expertise in children’s literature, young adult literature and multicultural children’s literature, it’s the Printz that means the most. She chairs the nine-member Printz committee this year.
“The book starts with the bombing in Birmingham and ends with the march on Selma, with intermittent jumps to Past-President Obama’s inauguration and Lewis’ interactions with Obama as a congressman in present day,” Koss says.
“Not only is this graphic novel telling the story of a very important time in American history, it’s the way it’s telling it. It’s from Congressman Lewis’ point of view, and the artwork perfectly enhances the text,” she adds.
“It’s all black and white, and it’s almost cinematic, like a movie. There are close-ups, and you can almost feel what it’s like to be John Lewis, to have his head cracked open, to be wounded by the police. It’s just a powerful story.”
Following a weekend of closed-door deliberations in Atlanta from Friday, Jan. 20, through Sunday, Jan. 22, Koss and her Printz committee colleagues enjoyed the opportunity to inform Lewis about the award and to congratulate him in person.
Her phone call to Leigh Walton, the congressman’s publicist, made it happen.
While en route to a conference book signing, and a day after leading Saturday’s Women’s March in Atlanta, Lewis stopped at the hotel where the various ALA awards committees were encamped.
“We were all standing there and, as chair, I was able to tell him that he had won, and just how thrilled and honored we were that he had written such a powerful book,” Koss says.
“We judged the book on its literary quality; however, it just happens to be completely relevant, especially in light of what is happening in our country today,” she adds. “At the end, there’s a simple photo of a cell phone ringing, which we interpret as a call to action for our country moving forward.”
Lewis was “surprised, honored and gracious,” Koss says.
“He told us how much he appreciates the support his book is getting from the library and education communities, and how important – especially now – learning from history, and moving forward, is for your nation’s youth,” she says.
“It was overwhelming to be in the presence of this man who is larger than life, and to see how passionate he still is,” she adds. “Yet he’s also very humble. It’s almost like he doesn’t realize how important he is, but he’s appreciative of the attention the ‘March’ series is getting to bring his story to a younger generation.”
Until that time, Koss expects that momentum will continue to grow for all three installments in the “March” trilogy.
“Graphic novels are often not considered literary enough for the classroom, but graphic novels – as a medium – are something young adults really like. We live in a visual society, and text with images resonate with our nation’s youth,” Koss says.
“Another reason this book is so powerful is the topic. It’s so authentic and honest. It doesn’t sugarcoat,” she adds.
“We often hear about civil rights from the white perspective. We hear it from a distance. We learn about Rosa Parks. But ‘March’ is in the middle of the action, from the African-American lens. John Lewis is a civil rights icon. He was there, marching with Martin Luther King. He was on the front lines. This is his story.”
Four Printz Honor Books also were named: “Asking for It,” by Louise O’Neill; “The Passion of Dolssa,” by Julie Berry; “Scythe,” by Neal Shusterman; and “The Sun Is Also a Star,” by Nicola Yoon.