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.
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.
Wlodek teaches a math lesson to Huntley fifth-graders.
“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.”
Thirty-seven NIU College of Education students are traveling to teach in Asia this summer, a “business trip” guaranteed to enrich and shape their professional lives in amazing ways.
Part of the college’s experiential Educate and Engage Program, the inaugural Educate Global journey will place NIU students at China’s Beijing Royal School from early July through mid-August or Taiwan’s Miaoli County Government Education Bureau Schools in July.
Huskie travelers depart in late June to teach English as a Foreign Language in summer camp settings to Chinese and Taiwanese pupils in third- through 12th-grades.
And it’s impossible to beat the price: Educate Global covers an amazing package that includes round-trip airfare, room and board and cultural tours.
Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, is excited to visit both sites to see Educate Global travelers in action as they “interact with their students, and embrace all of the cultural opportunities available to them in Taiwan and China.”
“I have long believed that travel is one of the best teachers about diversity, culture and one’s place in the world,” Elish-Piper said.
“Many of our teacher-candidates have not had the opportunity to travel internationally and to see education enacted in other parts of the world,” she added. “The experiences in Taiwan and China will help them understand teaching, learning and themselves as they live and teach in another part of the world.”
NIU students who participate in Educate Global will give themselves a leg up in the job market, said David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs.
“Our program allows students to become more educated in their disciplines, and engaged outside of the classroom in areas such as experiential learning, hands-on learning, problem-based solving, research and other areas of teaching and learning,” Walker said.
“They’ll look back at this as one of the highlights of their undergraduate or graduate careers,” he added. “I know I did; I traveled to the Soviet Union in the late ’80s, and it really helped set my course later in life. We are helping our students to teach, learn and interact in a broad space.”
Beyond the experience of teaching in a foreign culture, the Educate Global travelers will receive classroom management and instructional coaching by onsite NIU faculty members. They will work with local teaching assistants who help manage students and the language barrier. They will assist with out-of-class activities that culminate in a closing ceremony.
Elementary school campers at the Beijing Royal School will learn conversational English through exploring fairy tales, emotions and the similarities and differences between the United States and China. Teenage campers will develop their English through examining aspects of American culture, including American movies and television shows.
School-age children in Miaoli, meanwhile, will learn American culture and customs, songs and music, science and social studies with a focus on the theme of comic books and superheroes. Each child will develop and write a comic book while learning to speak, read and write in English.
“Looking at this from the big, big world perspective, the more opportunities that we take part in, where we meet and learn from people from other countries, the more we begin to recognize that we are all the same,” Borg said.
“We have families that we love. We want to learn. We want to achieve. All of these things are the same,” he added. “In an era when we’re concerned about building walls, and you’re either for us or against us, I believe this gives people cause to think that, ‘Maybe I need to be a more critical thinker than my government wants me to be.’ This might create an opportunity for more world peace and understanding.”
NIU’s students already have impressed Borg with “their commitment to be not just good but great educators.”
“Our students are concerned about teaching, and really concerned and excited about the students they’re going to teach. They’re committed to putting together very sound lesson plans based on objectives and standards,” he said. “They’re going to make NIU proud.”
Amor Taylor, a Middle Level Teaching and Leaning major in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, wants to teach in China to “gain the knowledge necessary to view the world from different perspectives.”
“I think that I already view the world in different ways but teaching in China will add to these perspectives,” said Taylor, a native of Chicago.
Amor Taylor and Stephanie Eller
“I also want to teach in China so that I can become a better teacher for my students. The best teacher advocate for students deals with all types of situations,” she added. “Teaching in China will give me another perspective on my students and put me in an environment that allows me to learn how to deal with a variety of students. I think this opportunity as a whole is just a great way to make me a better person, student and teacher.”
Stephanie Eller, a fourth-grade ESL teacher at Emily G. Johns Intermediate School in Plano Community Unit School District 88, expects her Taiwanese campers will teach her something. She graduated in May with her M.S.Ed. in Literacy/ESL from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
“This will be a chance to step into a new dimension of language instruction for me, and allow me to grow my skills as a teacher working with students who do not have a common language background that we can both rely on,” Eller said. “I am excited to not only teach my language to my students in Taiwan, but also hopefully learn from them as well.”
Borg is confident that Taylor, Eller and the 35 others will return with broadened perspectives as they complete unparalleled opportunities to put theory into practice.
Some will find the courage and motivation to seek teaching jobs overseas at international school and U.S. Department of Defense schools, he said. Others will gain a greater realization of the need in Illinois for more English as a Second Language teachers as well as for teachers of English Language Learners.
All, however, will become superior teachers who “will never view their students or this career in the same way that they have before this experience,” Borg said.
“They’re going to understand now what it means when a students doesn’t understand something because they’re going to be in a place where English is not the main language, and they will translate that experience into their future students’ experience,” he said.
“Being away from their homes – flying 15 hours away, thousands of miles away – they are going to know what it means to be an environment that’s very alien to them,” he added. “And when they come back to classrooms in Illinois, they’re going to understand in a first-hand fashion about working with populations that are not indigenous here and how that feels for them.”
Elish-Piper shares Borg’s optimism – and is thrilled to see Educate Global become a reality as well as an incredible differentiator for NIU College of Education students.
“Whether our students plan to teach abroad, to teach in another part of the United States or to return to their hometown and teach,” the dean said, “Educate Global will provide them with a transformational learning experience that will forever change how they think about teaching, learning, language and culture.”
When there is no response – no “Here!” or “¡Aquí!”– a child stationed at the front of the classroom carefully removes that classmate’s photograph from the outside of the “We Wish You Well” heart and places it inside the heart.
“They say, ‘Let’s put them in our heart and wish them well,’ ” says Wendy Castillo-Guzman, an Early Childhood Education major in the NIU College of Education. “When I first saw that, I honestly teared up. I just thought it was beautiful because teaching kids at that age to care about their friends, and caring about one another, is so important.”
It’s not the only Texas inspiration she plans to pay forward in her teaching career.
“The teachers there, man – they’re just so loving,” says Castillo-Guzman, a senior from Rochelle.
“They told me that whenever you do something, do it with love, and always do it believing that every kid can excel. Never leave a child back. Show them that you believe in them, and that they can do it. Take the time to work with them. Take the time to show them that you care, and that you’re invested in them.”
Ashley Kivikoski, Early Childhood Education major
Educate U.S., a component of the college’s hands-on Educate and Engage Program, enables select participants to work side-by-side with mentor teachers, observing in classrooms, preparing lessons and engaging in co-teaching strategies.
And as much as the NIU students relish their transformational time in Houston – “This trip was amazing, and I miss my host family already!” one posted on Twitter – the HISD hosts call the feeling mutual, says Jennifer Johnson, the college’s director of teacher preparation and development.
“Houston teachers love our students,” Johnson said. “The teachers there are motivated by how excited our students are, and it’s fun to have someone come into your classroom who’s so excited. The teachers are so gracious and welcoming.”
Visiting the HISD classrooms during the last week of the school year allowed the 20 students from NIU to observe assessment and grading as well as “closings and transitions,” Johnson says.
“They got an idea of how teachers get the students ready for the next year, where they think the children should go from here and what would be the best fit for them,” she says.
Portia Downey, professional development coordinator in the College of Education, returned to DeKalb with a folder full of sticky-back visitor badges she acquired while observing NIU students throughout the 284-campus school district.
Bailey Fisch (left), Special Education major, and Nycol Durham (right), Early Childhood Education major
Downey saw the 20 Huskies engaged in decision-making over grades for HISD student report cards.
She saw them learning how HISD teachers work in teams. She saw them collecting strategies for differentiating curriculum for bilingual and ELL students.
“It was really eye-opening for them,” Downey says.
“Frank Black Middle School is 75 percent Hispanic, so I got to see a lot of dual-language teaching, which will be really valuable going forward in my future teaching endeavors,” says Foelske, a junior. “I’ve only been in middle school classrooms in DeKalb, so just seeing the different experiences there just taught me so much that education is not one-size-fits-all.”
She spent her week rotating through sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade social studies classes.
Katelyn Horton, Early Childhood Education major
“My favorite thing was with the sixth-grade class,” she says. “They were doing presentations on different countries around the world, and I got to grade those projects.”
Like Castillo-Guzman, she found “a lot of ideas” to borrow for her own career.
“I actually spent a lot of time with the department head. He showed me everything he had in his classroom, and where he bought everything. He had an interactive notebook, which was really cool,” Foelske says. “I took a lot of notes.”
Her motivation to teach math and social studies comes from working at a summer camp, she says. “I like how different they are in middle school,” she says. “Sixth-graders are still like elementary school students. They’re innocent. By the time they get to eighth-grade, they think they’re in charge of everything.”
Castillo-Guzman, meanwhile, is picking the pre-school route to make good on a goal formed at her church as she taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.
“At that young age, it’s important for them to have a teacher who cares about them. It needs to start when they’re little,” she says. “I love to see how they grow. You get to see that lightbulb go on in their head when they learn something.”
May 2017 Educate U.S. participants reporting for duty!
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.
“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.”
Students in the NIU College of Education’s Open Doors project help second-graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Bellwood to identify their visions and map the roads to realizing them.
Nakeya wants to be a ballet dancer. Jamari wants to be a train conductor. Isabel wants to design fashions for famous people. Deandre wants to be an astronaut. Phillip wants to be an animator. Kenyatti wants to produce video games.
“I am extremely proud of my students during our visits to Bellwood. I think they represent NIU’s College of Education very well. They give 110 percent to the students they support while visiting Lincoln,” says Natalie Young, an instructor in the Early Childhood Studies program of the Department of Special and Early Education.
“My goal is for my students to not only teach the children, but to learn from the students as well,” Young adds, “which is what all good teachers do.”
Three NIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last weekend during the fall commencement ceremonies.
President Doug Baker told the audience at Sunday’s 2 p.m. ceremony about Luis Hernandez, a graduate from Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
During Saturday’s Graduate School ceremony, the president spoke about Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, who earned master’s degrees in Early Childhood Studies.
Here are President Baker’s comments.
Luis Hernandez sees the world differently than most – and in more ways than one.
Talk to him and you’ll hear about the infinite complexities of everything around us. Of questions for which there are currently no answers. Of the lack of enough lifetimes to understand, or even solve, just a fraction of the puzzles of the universe.
Or the endless possibilities to unlock some of these solutions through simply improving mathematical literacy.
“It’s mindboggling,” Luis says, “how complicated reality is.”
He graduates today with a degree in kinesiology, a fascinating field that drew him in through its beautiful combination of sciences and disciplines.
To many, it’s all about exercise. To Luis, though, it’s math. It’s physics. It’s biology, chemistry and even philosophy.
Raised in Chicago Heights since fourth-grade, Luis has spent his time at NIU nurturing a deep passion for research.
Working with dollars provided by our undergraduate research programs, he’s completed two projects, he has another in progress – and he has appreciated the autonomy provided by faculty mentors.
One study explored lower-body strength. The other examined how video game-based exercise can improve balance and reduce falls in the elderly. Now he’s looking into possible benefits of working out more often than generally recommended.
Next month, Luis begins courses in the College of Education’s graduate program in Exercise Physiology and Fitness Leadership on his path toward a doctorate and work in research or higher education.
That decision keeps him among faculty who know and respect him – and on familiar ground, something important for Luis, who is visually impaired.
Born with no sight in his right eye and an underdeveloped optic nerve in his left eye, he is legally blind though he can still “see” to a limited degree. He’s never considered it a deficit, though, because he’s never experienced “normal” visual acuity.
Luis relies on other senses, including hearing and touch, to maneuver his surroundings and expand his mind. You also might spot him using the camera on his phone to zoom in on the chalkboard.
Congratulations, Luis! I’m excited to glimpse our vivid tomorrows through your eyes.
Sadia Qamar and Kaneez Fatima
and Sadia Qamar
For Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, the walk across this stage today is paved with self-awareness, passion, commitment and courage.
As trainers of teachers in their native Pakistan – and as talented and devoted teachers themselves – Kaneez and Sadia realized that to make a greater impact on elementary education in their homeland, they needed to enhance their knowledge.
They dedicated themselves to securing that opportunity, and beat out thousands of applicants to secure two of only 27 scholarship offered by the United States Agency for International Development.
They applied themselves relentlessly. They completed six months of English training in half that time; they attended every day of their College of Education classes; they not only joined student organizations, they became leaders.
And they bravely rose above their country’s male-dominated culture to make independent decisions – decisions to not only travel but to live abroad … by themselves – for the purpose of advancing their own higher education. Such choices are not made lightly.
Now, as they earn master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education, they soon will return to Pakistan to reunite with loved ones and to resume their work.
Beyond the lessons they impart about American ways of learning – of teachers who empower students to facilitate their own discovery, who function as partners in that journey – they will quietly demonstrate the magnitude of what they have undertaken.
Kaneez knows from encounters with teachers in Pakistan that they want to deliver innovative and impactful instruction – but that they need professional support to do so. She will provide that, taking home with her influence and ideas not only from classmates in the United States but from many other countries, including China and Nigeria.
Sadia, who has found within herself a confidence, is eager to evangelize for the profound value of early childhood education – of the foundation it sets for future academic achievement. It’s not generally acknowledged in Pakistan, but she will change that.
Both women want teachers to know that a lack of resources cannot overpower passion for the job and solid educational strategies. That students with special needs are capable and deserving. That parents should encourage and accompany their children in learning, literally going hand-in-hand on educational adventures in and out of the classroom.
Their message to teachers back home – and to the children they teach – is forceful: Believe you can do something.
And, in their lives, they already have – not only for themselves but for generations to come. Congratulations!
James Fruchterman (center), pictured with (from left) the NIU College of Education’s Stacy Kelly, Gaylen Kapperman, Laurie Elish-Piper and NIU President Doug Baker, received an honorary doctorate during Saturday’s Graduate School commencement ceremony. Click the photo to read more about Fruchterman’s CEDU-rooted recognition.
During her well-received conference presentations at Scotland’s Royal National Institute for the Blind and her opportunities to observe her United Kingdom colleagues at work, Kelly glimpsed something she can’t see back home.
“In the United States, we have a totally different system to protect our privacy – it’s very much individual, little blocks of information, but you can’t break into the blocks. We have HIPPA, FERPA and all these layers of privacy protection,” says Kelly, an associate professor in the Department of Special and Early Education.
“So much research in our profession is single-subject research design because of the infrastructure of privacy protection,” she adds. “National data sets are hard to come by, and that’s a real struggle for us in the United States.”
Researchers aren’t alone in the dearth of information: Even parents of people with visual impairments lose access to the health records of their children when those children reach adulthood.
Laws is Scotland, however, are far more open – and the colleagues Kelly met there “were just fascinated by the fact that we’re so obsessed with privacy, because they’re not.”
The country’s national registry of blind and partially sighted persons, while not compulsory, provides a wealth of statistics for researchers and practitioners.
“We’re so jealous,” Kelly says. “With the registry, people are identifiable. You can do research on intervention. You can look and see the impact. They have a much more direct route to information than we do here. We told them, ‘That’s a huge strength. Don’t forget that.’ And they said, ‘Wow, we can’t imagine it not being that way.’ ”
Kelly visited Scotland during the last week of October.
Her conference presentation focused on how preservice professionals in the visual impairment field are trained in the United States as well as U.S. innovations in delivering services to people with visual impairments.
“U.S. teachers cover braille, adapted living skills, social skills, assistive technology – teachers of the visually impaired provide that support and knowledge to their students,” Kelly says.
“Their model is that the teacher just does the braille instruction. The rest falls under a ‘habilitation’ specialist, who does a lot of what our teachers of the visually impaired do in the schools,” she adds. “We have very different caseloads.”
Moving forward, Kelly expects to stay in touch and assist her new colleagues in assessing the outcomes of their work.
“This was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she says. “You can read about it; you can have good Skype conversations with people overseas; you can have an exchange of ideas; but the opportunity to actually be there and to learn from them face-to-face was just awesome.”
A former rocket engineer who also founded two successful for-profit, high-tech companies, Fruchterman grew up in Arlington Heights, Ill.
He is also a MacArthur Fellow, recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and winner of the 2013 Migel Medal from the American Foundation for the Blind, the highest honor in the United States for service to the field of blindness.
“We are privileged to recognize Jim Fruchterman,” NIU President Doug Baker says. “He applies his skills in engineering and physics to discover, develop and deliver technology that helps people around the world to lead better and more-productive lives, and he has accomplished this in a selfless way.”
“Mr. Fruchterman is truly a model of innovation, social justice and interdisciplinary problem-solving,” adds Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, which houses the Visual Disabilities Program. “What a wonderful model for our NIU students, faculty, staff and alumni to see that such a gifted individual has used his immense talents for the greater good.”
Called Arkenstone from 1989 to 2000, Benetech “combines the power of the human mind with a deep passion for social improvement, creating new technology applications that address unmet human needs.”
Global Literacy. People with visual and other disabilities have access to technology-based literacy solutions. Benetech also promotes systemic change to make its tools unnecessary in the future.
Human Rights. Benetech software, services and training keep human rights defenders safe. Its software also has become critically important in larger efforts to pursue reform, seek justice and begin the process of reconciliation.
Environment. Ecologists and conservationists are given tools to plan and manage their global efforts to protect natural resources.
Gaylen Kapperman, who led NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program for decades and nominated Fruchterman, is a grateful beneficiary of Fruchterman’s legacy.
“Jim established Benetech, a groundbreaking, nonprofit company, to provide the software which people who are blind could use to convert printed material into a form that they could read without the help of sighted individuals,” says Kapperman, now a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Special and Early Education.
Kapperman subscribes to Benetech’s Bookshare, which serves 425,000 members with an online library of more than 490,000 accessible books and periodicals – available free of charge for all U.S. students with qualified disabilities including blindness, vision impairment or another disability that interferes with reading, such as dyslexia.
“As a blind person,” Kapperman says, “I use that source of information on nearly a daily basis.”
Stacy Kelly, associate professor in NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program, calls Fruchterman’s honor “richly deserved.”
“Jim is a person whose efforts have resulted in the provision of social good on a large scale,” Kelly says. “This is an opportunity for NIU embrace the remarkable work of one of ‘our own’ Illinois natives.”