Category: SEED

People with visual impairments might score romance on Tinder, SEED researchers discover

jvib-coverMen with visual disabilities are more likely to find dates on Tinder than are women with visual disabilities, according to a study by professors and their graduate research assistants in the NIU Department of Special and Early Education.

Published in the July-August issue of the Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness, NIU’s research explores questions of whether sighted individuals are opposed to dating persons who are blind, and whether Tinder is a good vehicle to facilitate such interactions.

Researchers at NIU created eight individual Tinder profiles featuring four NIU College of Education graduate students – two men and two women, all in their early- to mid-20s – and then posted two photos of each during four separate test periods.

Half of the photos depict the students as they appear normally. In the others pictures, however, they are wearing sunglasses and holding white canes. Their clothing is the same in both photos.

Only one photo of each student was posted at any one time; “blind” and “sighted” photos were not posted simultaneously.

No written descriptions that would include personal interests, favorite things or other information were provided. Because Tinder allows users to choose a distance within which they are willing to travel for dates, NIU researchers established a radius of 50 miles from DeKalb.

When the first group of profiles were “live” on the popular dating app in the spring of 2015, the profile of the man with visual disabilities received five more “likes” than did the same man without sunglasses or cane. However, the sighted woman in that same round of testing received 14 more “likes” when she wasn’t pictured with sunglasses and cane.

Stacy Kelly

Stacy Kelly

During the second round, in the fall of 2015, those numbers respectively rose to nine and 58.

The percentage of “likes” for the male profiles are quite low – from 2 to 4 percent of the total 700 swipes – while the same percentages for the women range from 39 to 68 percent. Researchers attribute this to “cultural norms which dictate that men are to approach women.”

Stacy Kelly, as associate professor in the Vision Program of the NIU Department of Special and Early Education, says the study shows how sighted people view people with visual impairments as potential romantic partners.

The research also demonstrates the power of the Internet to connect people and to open personal and professional doors, she says.

“It makes you a whole person. It makes your life full,” Kelly says. “We want people who are blind to have a level playing field with their counterparts who are sighted. So much of social networking is visual in nature.”

And despite Tinder’s emphasis on photos, she says, people with visual impairments do use the app to seek romantic partners.

“They’re human,” she says, “and we know that they can be socially isolated. We know that they can struggle later in life financially, or become unemployed. And Tinder is free to use.”

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

Co-authors on the study are Gaylen Kapperman, professor emeritus in the NIU Vision Program; Tom Smith, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment; and Kylie Kilmer, a graduate student in the Vision Program.

Kapperman, who is visually impaired, knows from a lifetime of conversations with others with visual impairments that they find the dating scene difficult – something that hasn’t changed following the advent of social media.

“Girls who are blind, when they have tried to initiate some kind of relationship with guys, and when they are honest in their profiles, get no takers,” Kapperman says.

One woman with visual impairments told Kapperman that she hid her blindness from a potential suitor, who discovered the truth when he came to her front door to pick her up for a date. He did not take the surprise well, the professor says, and left alone.

“I always advise people to be upfront about it,” Kapperman says.

The research project reinforces NIU’s standing as a global leader in promoting and leveraging assistive technology for people with visual impairments, she adds.

A five-year, $1.25 million U.S. Department of Education grant awarded last year to NIU will fund the preparation of students to receive the Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist designation – the new national standard – from the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals.

Stacy Kelly and studentsNIU is the first university to offer a course of study toward the CATIS designation, something that leads to greater empowerment of people with visual disabilities as they are taught how to use the latest innovations.

“For people who have access to assistive technology, their whole, entire world opens up,” Kelly says. “Assistive technology gets them through the workday. It gets them through the weekend. People really can be limited if they can’t connect to the technology.”

Kelly and her cohorts plan to repeat their research to create a larger sample from which to draw data. “We see this study and the findings as just the beginning,” she says. “We are now developing a line of research that no one else has considered.”



Vision Program alum rekindles love of ice skating with Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team

Kevin Allison

Kevin Allison

Kevin Allison had spent most of his young life on the ice in pursuit of one dream.

“I was always a figure skater. I was always training. I was getting my degree at the same time – my undergraduate degree – but I had no real direction,” says Allison, 28, a Wheaton native who was studying liberal arts at the College of DuPage.

Yet fate had a direction in mind for him, whether he wanted it or not. “I had a bad skate at Nationals, and skating sort of fell out,” he says. “I took time off to rethink my career, and my mom said, ‘Hey, you need to get a job since you’re not skating anymore.’ ”

So he went to work alongside his mother, Joan, at a suburban school for the visually impaired where she is employed. There – pun intended – his eyes opened.

“First week there, I fell in love in with it,” Allison says. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.”

Allison transferred from COD to NIU, where he completed his bachelor’s degree. He then enrolled in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Special and Early Education, where in 2015 he earned a master’s degree in the Vision Program and certification as an Orientation and Mobility specialist.

cps-logoWork is never hard to find for graduates of NIU’s program – most student have three job offers on the table as they complete their studies – and Allison promptly became an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and a certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist in the Chicago Public Schools.

He served in 25 different schools last year, teaching around 30 students how to use their white canes and how to navigate independently. This year, he is delivering that curriculum, as well as literacy in Braille, to four children at Mount Greenwood Elementary School.

Teaching is now his dream come true.

“I never thought I would be an educator,” Allison says. “I really do love working with kids. When I was growing up, I loved coaching them – I’ve coached figure skating for almost eight years now – and I just fell in love with it. It’s become a passion.”

But the ice retains its allure.

Allison is a coach of the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team, which boasts 20 players ages “4 to 30-something” with varying degrees of visual impairments.

blind-hockey-team

“When I first heard about this, I thought it was one of those things where they were just trying to get kids who were visually impaired to do something,” he says. “My life has always been on ice, so I brought my skates over to check it out. I saw that it was legit. I saw they had a goal and that they had a drive to make this work.”

The players were working on drills like a sighted hockey team, chasing and shooting a larger-than-normal puck made of steel with ball bearings inside that creates a hollow, tinny noise. At the end of their practice, they scrimmaged.

He knew he had to become involved. “I talked with the guy in charge; his name was Mike Svac. I told him, ‘I’m a TVI. I’ve been on skates my whole life. How can I help?’ ”

Part of the practice time is devoted to navigating the rink.

“We’re trying to get the skaters aware of the ice surface; its dimensions; its width; its length,” Allison says. “We do drills going up and down the ice, and they sort of build a visual map – for lack of a better term – inside of the brain. They figure out where things are. We do a lot of drills based around the net. We pass to the skaters, and then they circle back and shoot. We’re making them better skaters.”

NIU’s “phenomenal” preparation has served him well, he adds.

blackhawks-logo-2“The thing that made me notice how well I was prepared for this field was in seeing how other people who weren’t educated in this field try to instruct the visually impaired. They say, ‘Over here. Over there.’ It doesn’t work like that,” he says.

“I had great instructors at Northern who made certain that the content development was there, that we needed to teach these kids with concrete demonstrations that they’re able to understand,” he adds. “If a coach is explaining something, and they don’t quite get it, we use hand-over-hand technique to show how to move the puck, how to pass.”

That way, Allison says, the skater or the student learns those concepts that sighted persons develop incidentally.

Gaylen Kapperman, professor emeritus in the College of Education’s Vision Program, admires what Allison and his colleague are doing with the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey team.

“Most of us blind people, if not nearly all of us, have never been on ice skates,” Kapperman says. “Kevin and his fellow coaches have developed a pretty innovative way in adapting the sport of hockey so blind people can play it.”

Blind hockey is growing in momentum across the country and to the north, says Allison, who credits Svac as the linchpin getting the organization going and growing.

Allison saw the sport played recently at the Disabled Hockey Festival in San Jose, Calif., where he also watched hockey played by people who are deaf and by people without legs. Meanwhile, he says, a group in Canada is working to develop better pucks for those with visual disabilities.

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

“We’re just seeing that there’s a community beyond what’s in Chicago right now. We’re talking to people in Pittsburgh. We’re talking to people in Texas. We’re trying to make this bigger. We want to be a league,” he says. “Chicago is hosting the Disabled Hockey Festival in 2018, and we’re just trying to get the word out. That’s our big thing right now. Our goal by 2020 is to go over the globe.”

Yet he knows that the goals for the players aren’t nearly as lofty.

“These kids are blind, and they’re around other kids who are blind,” he says. “They get to hang out with others who are exactly like them, and they get to do something they love.”



College welcomes 2017 group of Dean’s Achievement Scholars

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper greets Alivia Hansen.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper greets Alivia Hansen.

Some have known forever.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” says Halley Fogerty, a pre-Elementary Education major from Wheaton. “I like the consistency of school. I like going to classes, taking notes, doing homework. It’s not just learning; it’s a lot of fun.”

As someone who vividly remembers rushing home from school as a young child to make PowerPoint presentations for her family, Fogerty holds dear the elementary years.

“You learn a lot about yourself. You learn to be resilient and to push through things that are hard,” she says. “I think this is the critical point in life. If you have a bad educator at an earlier age, you’re less likely to apply yourself when you’re older.”

Karli Tillema, a fellow pre-Elementary Education major, shares those sentiments.

“I’ve always wanted to teach since I was in kindergarten myself. I’ve never thought of anything else,” says the Belvidere native.

“Elementary school is a really big thing in how kids grow up and learn in the older levels – middle school and high school. It’s the start of their education,” she adds. “To know that I’m helping kids learn about things they will need to know in the future makes me happy.”

Alexis Safstrom

Alexis Safstrom

For some, the dream to teach is new.

Huntley native Samantha Panek, a percussionist, originally planned on a career in music. Thinking about her own years in middle school, however, convinced her of another path as an English teacher.

“Middle school is when kids are going through puberty and hard times. In middle school, I was still figuring myself out. I was kind of a quiet loner kid, but when I hit eighth-grade, I made friends. I had teachers who were supportive of me, and that I would talk to every day,” says Panek, a Middle Level Teaching and Learning major.

Now, Panek says, “I want to be that role model for students. I want to be one of the people they come to when they need to talk. I want to make sure they come to me when they need help.”

Others cite a personal connection.

Lauren Brooks, a Special Education-Learning Behavior Specialist I major, is a cousin to a young woman with special needs.

“I just want to give kids an opportunity to succeed and to take their learning seriously,” says Brooks, who is from Aurora.

“They have tons of opportunities and potential, and I want to open their eyes to that and give them those opportunities. I’ve seen how my cousin has been kind of limited because of that, and how people treat her because of that, and I want to change that.”

Margee Myles chats with (from left) Adina Buetow, Cameron Clark and Lauren Brooks.

Margee Myles chats with (from left) Adina Buetow, Cameron Clark and Lauren Brooks.


Emily Wines
, also a Special Education-Learning Behavior Specialist I major, discovered her calling thanks to an inclusive Physical Education program built on open minds and big hearts.

“When I was in high school, we had a combined P.E. class, and this one girl I was paired with came every day with a smile,” says Wines, from Ladd, Ill.

Her former classmate has Down syndrome and hearing issues, Wines says. “She inspired me,” says Wines, who plans to focus on severe disabilities as opposed to learning disabilities. “If she can do this every single day with a smile on her face, I want to do anything I can do to help.”

These five future teachers are among the 2017-18 class of Dean’s Achievement Scholarship recipients in the NIU College of Education.

Chosen for stellar academic performance in high school, each receives a $2,000 scholarship for the 2017-18 academic year with the possibility of renewal for the next year based on grade point average.

das-1

David Walker learns more about Adina Buetow (left).

Rounding out the group are, from the Department of Special and Early Education, Adina Buetow (Vision Impairments), Cameron Clark (Learning Behavior Specialist I), Lisbet Firman (pre-Early Childhood Studies) and Abby Howard (pre-Early Childhood Studies).

Other scholarship recipients, from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, are Alivia Hansen (Elementary Education-Reading), Tirza Lisle (Elementary Education), Hailey Pezdek (pre-Elementary Education), Alexis Safstrom (pre-Elementary Education) and Peytonn Weaver (pre-Elementary Education).

The scholars met Sept. 12 with Dean Laurie-Elish Piper, associate deans Bill Pitney and David Walker and leadership from three academic departments and College of Education Student Services.

“You are the top new incoming freshmen,” Kristin Rinehart, coordinator of Recruitment for College of Education Student Services, told the group. “You’re at the top of the list.”

Margee Myles, director of College of Education Student Services, then raised the bar: “We truly are expecting great things from all of you.”

From Elish-Piper and the associate deans, the freshmen heard about the need to enhance their experience outside the classroom through the college’s Educate and Engage Program, the University Honors Program, undergraduate research and student organizations.

Peytonn Weaver (left) and Halley Fogerty

Peytonn Weaver (left) and Halley Fogerty

Beyond the networking and leadership development opportunities, Elish-Piper told the students, embracing all the college has to offer will enable them to grow as individuals as they gain more experience, more qualifications and more confidence.

“We know that you are all academic superstars,” Elish-Piper said, “and you have made a fabulous choice in NIU.”

Brooks, like the others, calls herself honored, surprised and grateful to receive a scholarship.

“I feel a lot of doors opened for me. I feel I have a better connection with the College of Education now,” she says. “I really want to try my hardest to get good grades all of my semesters here.”



CoE welcomes new faculty, staff

gargoyle

Olive Goyle says, “Hello!”

Twelve new faculty members are joining the College of Education this fall, including a few familiar faces.

The roster includes Melanie Walski, who has been a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Jenn Jacobs, who has taught and served as a Research Fellow in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education while earning her NIU doctorate in Educational Psychology.

Fatih Demir and Dongho Kim, new assistant professors in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, were on campus in May as keynote speakers for the LEARN-IT conference.

Dan Oest, who taught Ed.S. courses last year as an adjunct professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, now has joined the faculty.

“A college is defined by the strength of its faculty, so I am thrilled to welcome so many amazing new faculty to the College of Education this year,” Dean Laurie Elish-Piper said.

“We were able to hire a large group of incredibly accomplished, motivated and productive faculty who will help us enhance our programs, expand our research productivity, build engaged learning opportunities and teach and mentor our students.”

Other new employees this fall include Alicia Anderson, who is administrator of Finance and Operations Analysis; Tony Calderala, academic advisor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education; Claire Duvall, online program support specialist in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment; and Judy Schneider, director of Advancement.

Here is a closer look at this fall’s new members of the College of Education family.

Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education

Melissa Fickling

Melissa Fickling

Melissa Fickling comes to NIU by way of Memphis, Tenn. She completed her doctoral work in Counseling and Counselor Education in 2015 at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Her primary research interests are focused on the intersections of work, mental health and meaning.

She has practiced professional counseling in higher education, community and private practice settings, and is a licensed clinical professional counselor in Illinois. She is a member of the editorial review board for the Journal of College Counseling and active in leadership for the National Career Development Association.

“Melissa has a wealth of professional experience that she will bring to the classroom: seven years of work in the Chicagoland area before she became a professor. Her research interest in the intersection of work and mental health is really a great help to our university because the clients our graduates work with in this area often are dealing with issues of underemployment or employment.” — Suzanne Degges-White, chair

Dana Isawi

Dana Isawi

Dana Isawi holds a doctorate degree in counselor education and supervision from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a master’s degree in school counseling from Marymount University.

She has clinical experience in the school and community settings both in the United States and internationally. She has experience in intervention development, implementation and evaluation.

Her research and presentations focus on multicultural issues in counseling, play therapy and children, especially survivors of trauma and interventions to enhance career and college readiness of students. She has experience in teaching a variety of graduate courses in school counseling, mental health counseling and play therapy and filial therapy as well as supervising graduate students.

“Dana’s area of specialty is trauma, especially refugee traumatization. This is a growing area of interest and need because of what the current political climate is doing to people who are refugees or immigrants. She also has critical counseling experience mainly working with children as well as children from very diverse backgrounds, which is a very necessary piece for our students.” — Degges-White

Xiaodan Hu

Xiaodan Hu

Xiaodan Hu obtained her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration and Policy from the University of Florida in Gainesville, where she served as a research fellow at the Institute of Higher Education. She also holds a master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education from Texas A&M University.

She teaches courses related to community college leadership; finance and policy; and higher education administration.

Her research typically employs quantitative methods to examine the impact of state policies and institutional initiatives on colleges and universities, focusing on educational equity issues of historically underserved students and non-traditional students. She also recently has written on the impact of performance-based funding, the pathway of upward transfer, and gender differences in STEM degree attainment.

“Xiaodan brings a depth of experience in community college leadership. While she was at the University of Florida, she was the program director of the Community College Futures Assembly, an organization devoted to enhancing the professional skills of community college executives. Finding someone with community college experience, combined with her quantitative research expertise, is needle-in-a-haystack.” — Degges-White

Department of Curriculum and Instruction

Melanie Walski

Melanie Walski

Melanie Walski holds a Ph.D. Curriculum & Instruction: Language, Literacy & Culture from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an M.A.Ed. (Reading Specialist) from Dominican University.

She teaches courses in Elementary School Developmental Reading Programs, Emerging Literacy and Beginning Reading Instruction through Age 8 and Organizing for Effective Elementary Reading Instruction.

Her research interests focus on the intersection of literacy and policy at the elementary level. Her research centers on how literacy instructional practice is affected by policy, and what aspects of policy are most influential on teachers’ sense-making of literacy teaching and learning. She is also interested in emergent literacy curriculum development.

“The Department of Curriculum and Instruction is fortunate that Melanie Walski is joining us. As a former classroom teacher and certified reading specialist, Melanie brings both experience and valuable expertise to her role in many of our programs. Her research interests in policy and literacy will help to improve literacy education, policy and research at the local, state and national levels. Melanie also will help us offer our students superior content knowledge, methods development and theory-to-practice approach to prepare them to become outstanding educators.” — Donna Werderich, acting chair

Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment

Fatih Demir

Fatih Demir

Fatih Demir graduated in 2009 from the University of Baltimore, earning the degree of Doctor of Communications Design. In August 2015, he joined to the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri as postdoctoral fellow.

Demir teaches courses in Human-Computer Interaction and User Experience Research and Design.

He has spent years teaching and researching Human Computer Interaction; Usability; Interaction Design; Social Media Analysis; and E-government Design. He has conducted research at the Information Experience Lab using remote and mobile eye tracking systems. He also worked with Mizzou faculty, staff and graduate assistants on various projects in the realm of journalism, education, medicine and computer science.

“Fatih will enhance our curriculum and research in the area of user experience. Back in the old days, we talked about usability. Now we talk about user experience. For everything we design, we need to make sure that our users – our learners – accept it and are willing to enjoy it. It’s about understanding that designing is not just about designing something you like; it’s about designing something everyone likes while making sure that everyone can learn from it.” — Wei-Chen Hung, chair

Dongho Kim

Dongho Kim

Dongho Kim earned his Ph.D. in Learning, Design and Technology in May from the University of Georgia-Athens, where he worked with Robert Branch on research related to student engagement and online learning. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Education from Seoul National University.

Kim will continue to build his research at NIU while teaching courses in interaction design and “learning analytics.”

Published in a number of prestigious journals, he won first place for Outstanding Journal Article Award in the Distance Learning Division of the AECT 2016 conference for his most recent article in The Internet and Higher Education. He also received a two-year research fellowship grant (2016-18) from the Hewlett Foundation to continue his research.

“ ‘Learning analytics’ is one of the fields that is growing in instructional technology because it is important to make sense of data and to use that data to enhance learning and training. Technology and data are so widely available now that sometimes it is difficult to understand the data, and it is very challenging to interconnect all this data to find better solutions for learning and training. Dongho is the person who will help us address that need. He knows how to bring those different types of data together to design curriculum that improves learning.” —Hung

Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education

Clayton Camic

Clayton Camic

Clayton L. Camic earned a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2011. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Morehead State University (2001) and a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Wyoming (2003).

Camic will teach courses in Applied Physiology of Exercise (KNPE 452), Neuromuscular Aspects of Performance (KNPE 514) and Bioenergetics (KNPE 652).

His main research interests include the evaluation of neuromuscular function and fatigue using electromyography as well as nutritional supplements as ergogenic aids.

“Clay has established a record over the last several years of becoming a leading scholar in the Exercise Physiology area, including more than 50 refereed publications in the last five years. He truly enhances the scholarship for students in our Kinesiology program.” — Chad McEvoy, chair

Jenn Jacobs

Jenn Jacobs

Jenn Jacobs, who earned her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from NIU, also holds a master’s degree in Sport Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

She has taught courses in psychological aspects of sport and exercise, measurement for evaluation, psychology of sport and exercise, psychology of coaching and the culture and society of sports.

Her research interests include sport-based youth development, transfer of life skills, sport for social change and social and emotional learning. In 2012, she received a fellowship from NIU’s Collaborative on Early Adolescence to support youth learning and development by working with Paul Wright on the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility model.

“Jenn is someone who has been here at NIU for some time, working on her Ph.D. and collaborating on research with Paul Wright and other KNPE colleagues. She’s has begun to establish a record as a strong teacher and scholar with great potential in both of those areas.” — McEvoy

Claire Schaeperkoetter

Claire Schaeperkoetter

Claire Schaeperkoetter, who hails from Columbia, Mo., double-majored in Psychology and Spanish at Washington University in St. Louis. She received both her Master’s and PhD in Sport Management from the University of Kansas.

Schaeperkoetter has worked in the ticket office for the Miami Heat and the athletics compliance offices at the University of Miami and the University of Kansas. While pursuing her Ph.D., she served an instructor of record for several different Sport Management undergraduate courses at the University of Kansas.

Her research typically relies on the intersection of organizational behavior, organizational theory and sport finance to analyze decisions of sport leaders, sport employees and sport participants.

“Claire has already become nationally known for her scholarship during her doctoral studies at the University of Kansas, and she will really help to grow our Sport Management offerings. She is an excellent teacher with great research potential.” — McEvoy

Emerson Sebastião

Emerson Sebastião

Emerson Sebastião, a visiting assistant professor, earned a Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015. He then received a fellowship from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to complete a post-doctoral training in Rehabilitation Sciences in the same institution.

He joined the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health of the University of Illinois as a visiting assistant professor in 2016, serving as the director of the Exercise Neuroscience Research Laboratory and teaching courses related to exercise psychology and physical activity research methods.

Sebastião studies elderly and clinical populations by exploring factors that influence physical activity as well as creative ways to promote physical activity among older adults and persons with multiple sclerosis.

“Emerson has outstanding training from the University of Illinois. His research is a great fit with our Kinesiology faculty, and he brings with him a lot of potential in terms of publication and grant activity.” — McEvoy

Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations

Dan Oest

Dan Oest

Dan Oest, whose July 1 retirement closed the book on a 33-year career in K-12 education, comes to NIU from Richmond-Burton Community High School District 157 and Nippersink School District 2.

Oest spent 29 years in school administration, the last 21 of those as a superintendent. For 10 of his 12 years in Richmond-Burton, he also served as a shared superintendent with Nippersink.

He holds two degrees from NIU – an M.S.Ed. and Ed.D. – as well as a bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and an Ed.D. from National Louis University.

This fall, Oest will supervise the superintendent interns and teach LEAA 710: The Superintendency.

“Dan brings a wealth of experience, having been an educator for many years and superintendent in the region for the last 12 years. He is poised to provide excellent mentorship for our students, current knowledge of school policies to the classrooms and relationships with a variety of school districts in the area. He is the perfect fit for the position of coordinator of the Ed.S. program because of his background as a practitioner and his experience teaching in higher education. Most of our students intend to follow the same job trajectory that he did, making him an excellent role model.” — Teresa A. Wasonga, Presidential Engagement Professor and Fulbright Scholar, Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations

Department of Special and Early Education

Natalie Andzik

Natalie Andzik

Natalie Andzik is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University, where she earned her degree in Special Education and Applied Behavior Analysis. She also obtained Board Certification in Behavior Analysis in 2012.

Andzik’s passion for helping students with severe disabilities started as a special education teacher in California, where she taught for eight years.

Her current research is focused on supporting the communication independence of students with disabilities by ensuring practitioners use the most effective evidence-based practices. She has published articles related to special education and applied behavior analysis in a variety of journals, including Exceptional Children, Teaching Exceptional Children and TASH.

She will teach several sections of Collaboration for Inclusive Teaching and Learning this fall.

“Natalie brings with her experience teaching children with disabilities; experience teaching undergraduate and graduate teacher candidates in higher education; successful internal grants; and numerous publications. Teacher education candidates will appreciate her real-world experience, her positive energy and enthusiasm, her sense of humor and her collaborative nature.” — Greg Conderman, chair



Visual Impairments grad student hopes to improve lives, system

Lizzy Koster

Lizzy Koster

When Lizzy Koster graduated from Hendrix College in Arkansas, she took a job as an assistant at a political consulting firm. It didn’t last long.

“Politics wasn’t what I imagined it would be,” says Koster, an NIU College of Education graduate student with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology.

Because she had always nurtured an interest in health care, she soon found herself working at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Her skillset quickly grew to include the processing of medical paperwork, knowledge she deemed valuable for future endeavors.

Yet another career – one woven into her DNA – beckoned.

“Education is a family business of ours,” says Koster, a native of Elmhurst, Ill. “My aunt went through the NIU Vision Program, and she went on to work in the Chicago Public Schools. She called me and said it would be a great fit for me. Kapperman actually called me, too.”

Kapperman is Gaylen Kapperman, who joined NIU’s program in visual impairments in 1974 and remains active in the Department of Special and Early Education as a Professor Emeritus. He and colleague Stacy Kelly are relentless recruiters for the graduate programs, which offer free tuition, fees and health insurance along with stipends to woo more professionals into a critically understaffed field.

Gaylen Kapperman

Gaylen Kapperman

Now Koster is on her way to a career as a teacher of the visually impaired and as a specialist in assistive technology as well as orientation and mobility. She also has joined Kapperman in conducting research and writing several manuscripts, one of which has been accepted for publication in a referred journal.

“Vision is a good fit for me,” says Koster, 27. “I love working with people and with different cultures, and when you work in special education, it’s kind of inevitable. You come in contact with kids from different backgrounds, and you have to come at them with an understanding approach.”

Gaining early experience through substitute-teaching at the School Association for Special Education in DuPage County has provided confirmation of her new direction.

“I feel like educators, in public schools specifically, are so pressed to get the right test scores,” she says.

“But with vision, although our students might participate in that statewide or national testing, their benchmarks are so different. Vision is not so much about grades but in giving them life skills and even social skills. Seeing them make a friend is such a big deal,” she adds. “Their goals might not translate to academic grades but to really improving their quality of life, and being able to watch them achieve their personal goals is so exciting.”

She also is eager to exercise her love of languages.

Her interest in learning Spanish began at age 3, when her grandfather gave her a book about Mexico. Her fluency blossomed as she studied Spanish from second-grade through high school.

koster-lizzy-3As an undergrad at Hendrix, she enrolled in a course on social justice and human rights in Argentina, traveled throughout the region and spent her junior year as a study abroad student in Brazil. Before embarking, of course, she taught herself Portuguese.

During the summer after her junior year of high school, she studied in Spain.

One summer later after her graduation, she volunteered in Paraguay, where she learned the indigenous language of Guarani.

True to form, she also learned Braille on her own before coming to NIU in August 2016.

Language, naturally, is the focus of research Koster has conducted and presented with Kapperman at the conference of the Illinois Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

“Kapperman is interested in a research project using a screen-reading technology for those who are completely blind or who need that vocal feedback,” she says. “We’re also working on figuring out Google Translate and other means of using screen-readers for those who are learning a foreign language or for whom English is not a first language.”

Following her graduation in August 2018, Koster won’t close the book on college just yet.

koster-lizzy-2She plans to earn a doctoral degree that will prepare her for administrative roles in special education – that’s where her experience in processing medical paperwork will come in handy – or to serve as an advocate for teachers.

“My biggest interest is in benefiting the system, helping all of the working parts – students, teachers, aides and assistants, families – to operate a bit more smoothly,” she says.

But the advocacy role might tackle an even greater concern, she says: teacher burnout.

“If there’s a way to make people stay in the field, that’s ultimately helping the students, too. They need that longevity and consistency,” Koster says. “If I could help people to achieve that, then that would be great.”



College of Ed continues to post nearly perfect edTPA pass rates

Nicollette Wlodek

Nicollette Wlodek

Nicollette Wlodek knew that the video camera was rolling, but she didn’t mind.

Wlodek, an Elementary Education major from NIU, stood confidently before a classroom of Huntley School District fifth-graders to teach a literacy lesson on comparing and contrasting characters in a fictional story.

She changed nothing in her delivery, even though she was keenly aware that this one demonstration of her teaching would become part of her mandatory edTPA submission. Passage of the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s abilities in planning, instruction and assessment, is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.

Despite the high stakes, Wlodek says, “the edTPA did not change my personality, or the way I was acting, when they were videotaping me.”

But the edTPA will make her “a better teacher,” she says.

“I am already a very reflective teacher, but the edTPA taught me to do that in a more formal setting where I am documenting my thoughts,” she says. “It really forces you to sit down and analyze what it is you taught your students and how well they understood it. What problems did they get right? How does that compare to the rest of the class? What can I do to make these skills more understandable? I will take the time to really analyze my teaching.”

One hundred percent of the 52 Elementary Education majors who submitted edTPA materials this spring passed. So did 100 percent of NIU College of Education graduate students in teacher licensure programs.

All but one student in each of the college’s other licensure programs (Early Childhood Education, Physical Education and Special Education) also passed the edTPA, maintaining the college’s 98 percent pass rate.

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

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-1

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.”



Educate Global provides ‘world of opportunity’ for NIU students flying to teach in China, Taiwan

Educate Global logoThirty-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.

Undergraduates on the trip already have completed their first professional semester in Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, Middle Level Teaching and Learning or Special Education. Some graduate students in the same licensure programs, or currently holding teaching licenses, also are making the flight to Asia.

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.”

globeNIU students who participate in Educate Global will give themselves a leg up in the job market, said David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs.

Students can apply for the university’s Engage PLUS Academic Transcript Notation, which demonstrates such skills as critical thinking, organization and teamwork to employers and graduate program.

“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.

Terry Borg

Terry Borg

Terry Borg, director of the college’s Office of External and Global Programs, said the engaged-learning initiative opens “a world of opportunity” to students while also benefitting the college, the university and humanity itself.

“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

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.

passportAll, 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.”



Educate U.S. travelers celebrate another successful trip to Texas

Abby Spankroy, Elementary Education major

Abby Spankroy, Elementary Education major

One by one, the names of Farias Early Childhood Center students are called as the morning attendance is taken.

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.”

Castillo-Guzman, who spent the week of May 15 in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) as part of the College of Education’s Educate U.S. initiative, plans to adopt the heart-shaped ritual for her eventual classroom.

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

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.

NIU students chosen for the donor-funded, all-expenses-paid journey further enrich their experience by joining with Houston students, host families and community members in a variety of extracurricular and community events.

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.

Nycol Durham (right), Early Childhood Education major, and Bailey Fisch (left), Special Education major

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.

Emma Foelske, a Middle Level Teaching and Learning major from Batavia, confirms that she returned to Illinois with a new view.

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

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!

May 2017 Educate U.S. participants reporting for duty!



Lone Star stars: Educate U.S. ‘teas’ up for May trip to Texas

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development, talks about Educate U.S.

Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development, talks about Educate U.S.

NIU College of Education students selected for the May 2017 edition of Educate U.S. gathered last week in a Graham Hall classroom to learn more about their pending trip to the Houston Independent School District.

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.

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

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.”

texas-tacosEarly 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 Level Teaching and Learning majors are Emma Foelske, Samantha Oakley and Lorena Flores. Special Education majors are Bailey Fisch, Rachel Streight and Sarah Younglove.

texas-group



A week in the life: NIU College of Education students gain career experience in Houston

Ashley Grazutis realized in middle school that she wanted to become a teacher when she grew up.

So did Saul Amaya – and for the same reason.

Both now are students in the NIU College of Education, pursuing licensure in Middle-level Teaching and Learning.

“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.”

Ashley Grazutis

Ashley Grazutis

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.

This winter’s trip also included – for the first time – two students in the Athletic Training program of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.

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.

Saul Amaya

Saul Amaya

“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.”

* * *

educate-us-logoCal 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.

educate-us-2Sarah 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.”

* * *

educate-us-1Zahidelys 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.”

houstonBilly 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

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.”

* * *

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

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.”