Elementary Education majors at NIU will enter the teaching field a step ahead of their peers.
Three new emphases – Bilingual/ESL, Reading Teacher and Special Education – will provide automatic endorsements in areas that previously required additional coursework.
For example, the Reading Teacher endorsement, designed for teachers who teach reading in a setting other than a self-contained classroom, currently entails 24 semester hours of credit in stand-alone courses.
Now, says Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education, faculty will “purposefully incorporate” those lessons into existing courses.
With the innovation, students can complete their degrees and endorsements within four years, saving time and money while becoming more marketable: They’ll graduate with a “broad view” of what teachers can provide to young learners.
“It will make them look very different than anyone else in the state,” Gregory says. “There aren’t any other programs in Illinois that look like this. There are five-year programs elsewhere, but none that include this many options for candidates. And, no one else has done a four-year program. We will be a leader.”
Students also can pursue multiple endorsements, although that would extend their time in school.
Approved Dec. 15 by the NIU Board of Trustees, and slated to begin in the fall of 2017, the new emphases meet the demands of preservice teacher-candidates as well as Illinois public school districts.
“Our school districts are telling us, ‘These are the kinds of teachers we need,’ and we’re trying to respond to that need,” Gregory says. “And, when I talk to potential students and their parents, they say, ‘You can do that?’ They’re very excited.”
State of Illinois codes also are evolving, Gregory says, which further prompted faculty to reconsider how they structure and deliver courses.
Elementary Education majors who currently are juniors can take advantage of the new emphases beginning this semester.
Freshmen and sophomores currently working on general education credits will enter the program as Elementary Education majors (a change from the previous “pre-Elementary Education” designation).
They also will experience greater and earlier engagement with opportunities to enroll in a Themed Learning Community, live in the T.E.A.C.H. House, attend workshops and interview for participation in the department’s professional series.
Gregory and her colleagues also will welcome freshmen each fall at a special reception. “We want to provide students with these additional supports they need to become successful,” she says.
Changing the emphasis configuration requires no new resources, she adds. The courses and the “responsive and reflexive” faculty needed to implement the program are in place.
“These courses were on the books already. The Reading Teacher courses hadn’t been offered forever, but we had the impetus, and the ground was laid. Curriculum is supposed to be a living, breathing thing,” she says.
“We started re-examining what was happening in our courses, and asking ourselves, ‘Do we really need to do it this way?’ And, with my being new, it was easy for me to say, ‘Why?’ – and to start asking questions.”
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