“I work closely with faculty to develop program ideas, write proposals, find funding for them and then oversee the management of those projects and troubleshoot,” she says. “I work with pretty much every department of the college, and I know a little about a lot of things. It’s interesting for me to see what they all do.”
Now the two-time NIU College of Education alumna is the thrilled recipient of a Fulbright grant.
Fulbright’s International Education Administrators (IEA) seminars help U.S. international education professionals and senior higher education officials create empowering connections with the societal, cultural and higher education systems of other countries.
Grantees can learn about the host country’s education system as well as establish networks of U.S. and international colleagues over the course of an intensive two week grant duration. They return with enhanced ability to serve and encourage international students and prospective study-abroad students.
“My understanding is that it’s basically an opportunity to share how we develop our programs, how we address issues such as student completion, how we help people with their career paths,” she says. “We will share what we do and learn from each other. The most interesting part of visiting other parts of the world is that people have such different perspectives.”
Other activities of the seminar, scheduled from March 31 through April 14, are field trips to Russian universities and technical colleges.
She wants to return with ideas that will benefit students and faculty at the College of DuPage.
“I’m very poised to take what I learn to the faculty – ‘Can we do this?’ What makes sense for us?’ Not everything is going to translate perfectly,” she says. “I’m hoping to make different connections and see what applies to us here.”
Those conversations will allow her to continue putting to good use her 1999 Ed.D. in Reading Education with a cognate in Educational Psychology and extensive coursework in Curriculum and Supervision.
“My doctoral program at NIU was wonderful. Even though I’m not working in the field of literacy right now, I feel like I use those skills all the time,” Abromitis says.
“I’m looking at statistics, working to analyze what’s happening in the situation, knowing theories about how people learn and the best way to teach,” she adds. “Even in just trying to build a case for why a funder should support a program, I’m using those things very often. One of our biggest grants is an Adult Education/Family Literacy Grant, and I enjoy working closely with those program people and looking for additional funding for literacy.”
“I feel like I’ve always had great teachers, and I want to be that great teacher,” says Lee, a senior from Country Club Hills.
“The best part of working at the Literacy Clinic is the individual time I get with the students. Normally as a teacher, I have to focus on what this student’s doing, what this student’s doing, and I’m never able to focus on that one child,” she adds. “I have to realize that not every student learns in the same way, so I have to individualize my instruction so that my students can learn in different ways.”
For Alexis Moaton, a senior from Tinley Park, the motivation to teach came much later.
She came to NIU to major in Biology, but a freshman year Sociology course changed her direction.
Her professor spoke passionately about the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues many low-income communities, Moaton says. “If a child cannot read in the third grade, the chances of them going to jail later in life are very high,” she says.
That stark reality inspired her to switch her major to Elementary Education, “just wanting to make a change there, to get children more involved in reading and writing and finding an interest in school.”
One-on-one tutoring work at the Literacy Clinic has provided her a glimpse of such possibilities.
“A lot of times, you’ll see that a child misspells words, and you automatically assume that they’re just a bad speller,” Moaton says.
“But it’s like, ‘What exactly are you misspelling?’ Or, ‘What are you struggling with reading?’ Many times, when you break it down and analyze it in small portions instead of as a whole, you’re able to work on those specific skills that the child needs to develop to become a stronger reader and writer.”
Lee and Moaton are only two of several NIU students – inside the College of Education and out – who are acquiring unparalleled hands-on experience and teaching while earning money through work-study at the clinic.
Susan Massey (left) and Malika Lee
Director Susan Massey knows that her tutors are not only gaining a leg up in the job market but also getting an amazing head start on becoming exemplary educators.
“Several of the tutors – our newest tutors – have actually started working here before they’ve had some of their methods courses,” Massey says. “So, when they get into their courses, I sometimes hear them say, ‘Oh, I learned about that at the clinic.’ They’re familiar with the assessment or the instructional strategy before they learn about it in the classroom.”
Beyond learning and practicing under the guidance of professional educators, the tutors also are simultaneously and organically preparing for their critical role as classroom-to-home liaisons.
“I do see them grow in their ability to work with students and also to talk with parents,” Massey says. “We do ask them to have a conversation with parents at the end of each session to discuss what happened during the tutoring session, what they might be able to work on at home.”
Located in the heart of the DeKalb-Sycamore retail and medical district, the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic has offered reading support services for K-12 students for more than 60 years.
Clinic programs include America Reads, which provides free, one-on-one tutoring for K-5 students who struggle with reading.
Massey hopes to expand clinic-based, learning opportunities for Huskies by inviting the NIU Educators Club to volunteer and by making a practicum experience part of the Reading Teacher Endorsement program.
“Working here at the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic makes me feel good about myself when I leave every night because I know that I have made a difference in the lives of the tutors and in the lives of the students,” says Wilke, a former elementary school teacher in Sandwich, Ill.
“There are times when tutors may have questions and, not having the previous experience in a classroom, I can help them,” she adds. “I can help them work through problems, which also helps them with the students, and the student works through the problem, and, again, they’re both achieving that goal of moving forward and learning.”
First-hand clinic experiences exceed anything found in a book or classroom lecture, she says.
“Every child is not a textbook case. Each child is unique and an individual,” Wilke says.
NIU tutors “get to try different strategies. They also get to use different assessments and take the strategies from the data they collect to empower the students and embrace the skills that they do have so that they can actually become better and more proficient readers.”
“We pinpoint exactly where students need help, and that allows us to work on certain skills. We work a lot on reading, spelling and writing because they all need to develop together,” she says.
“A lot of times, when children are learning to read, they don’t necessarily develop the writing skills as well,” she adds. “We’ll pick up a book, and then after we read the book, there is a lot of comprehension that goes into it – like, ‘Were you able to understand what was in the story?’ and also developing those writing skills as well. Along with writing comes spelling.”
Lee appreciates the clinic’s tactic to match tutoring with the interests of the children, such as sports, to make the time “fun and very educational.”
It’s fun – in the “rewarding” sense – for Lee as well as she watches the progress of her flock.
“If one week they weren’t able to read a word, but the next week they come and they could read a word, I’m like, ‘Wow! You did it! You finally did it! Good job!’ That’s just like a pat on the back to me and to them. I just get so happy,” she says.
“A lot of kids get confused with the ‘d’ and the ‘b’ because they’re kind of similar,” she adds. “One day, a student finally was able to recognize that the ‘d’ was a ‘d’ and not a ‘b,’ and I was able to tell the parent that.”
Some tutors aren’t on the path to teaching, however.
Zach Trueblood, an English major who graduated from NIU in December, brought his expertise in writing and literature to the tutor’s table. He plans to become a writer, although he admits that his time at the clinic has him “possibly revisiting the option of getting into education.”
“Before I worked here, I hardly knew how to set up a lesson plan or how to assess a child and see exactly what literacy needs that they had. I don’t really see it as a deterrent at all. I see it as more of an opportunity to learn,” says Trueblood, from Monticello, Ill.
Tutoring also allowed Trueblood to improve his patience – “Working with children, you definitely need to have a patient type of personality,” he says – while helping him to put down roots in a community far from his central Illinois hometown as he spoke with parents.
But it’s the children he’ll remember the most.
“If a child is struggling with literacy skills and reading issues and writing issues, it’s really kind of crucial for them to get some more reinforcement that maybe the parents can’t offer at home or that they’re not getting at school,” he says.
“Having a strong, positive reinforcement in these children’s lives, I think, is probably the most rewarding thing and probably the biggest takeaway I’m going to have from coming to college here at NIU. It just makes me happy to come here and see the smile on a kid’s face when they finally get a word or a concept that they’ve been struggling with for so long.”
Like Lee, he appreciates the lighter side of the clinic’s approach.
“Every session, we try to incorporate a little fun activity at the very end that’s educational at the same time,” Trueblood says. “We do some crazy, fun stuff, like reader’s theater, which is essentially reading out of a book. Everybody does funny voices. We do like a little play. The kids make it.”
Massey believes the “wonderful” and “caring” tutors succeed because they are chosen well.
“The undergraduates we have here are really interested and really like the children. One of the questions we ask them in the interview is, ‘What are your experiences with children? Why do you like children?’ We want people that are excited and exuberant,” she says.
“They really love the children and want to help them. The children look up to them as role models, and I think it’s always good for them to have a role model that is not a parent or a teacher but someone that’s a college student,” she adds.
She enjoys watching the interactions of tutors, children and parents, especially the high-spirited energy that bookends each session.
“They go running back to their tutoring and then come out talking about what they read or what they did,” she says. “You hear the laughter as they are playing with one another and engaging in some sort of game that involves comprehension or words.”
Her tutors are happy as well. Just ask Lee.
“It doesn’t really feel like a job. It doesn’t feel like I’m coming to work because it’s something I like to do,” Lee says. “This experience is very beneficial to me because of the relationships that I gain with the students and even the workers. Everybody here is great. We teach each other, we teach the students and we help each other grow.”
Eller and Flores joined Cohen for “Undocumented Immigrants: Myths and Realities,” which also served as the basis for a featured article in the Illinois Association for Multilingual Multicultural Education winter bulletin with the two students as the lead authors.
Flores then presented for a second time with Cohen and Strid, addressing the question of “Can Paradigm Shifting Occur in a One-Semester Diversity Course?”
Poe and Cohen presented “English Learners’ Writing Needs in the Elementary Classroom” to a full house.
“The room was good for 60 people but well over 80 showed up, with people sitting on the floor and standing in the doorway,” Cohen says. “Christina dominated the room with her wealth of knowledge regarding the research and practical applications of writing strategies for English learners.”
Gathings, Stepter and Taylor came well-prepared for their Dec. 7 talk on “Roadblocks to Bilingualism: How Teachers Become Bilingual.”
Autumn Gathings, Raven Stepter and Amor Taylor present Dec. 7 with their professors in Oak Brook.
Reponses to questions Strid posed to his students in an Applied Linguistics course provided the raw data; Cohen and the three students pored through the 126 essays to identify themes and commonalities and to discern conclusions and recommendations.
“I’m a nerd when it comes to organizing, reading and writing, so this project was made for me,” says Gathings, a junior Elementary Education major from Oswego. “I feel important. I’m using my free time to do something that I know is going to pay off later. This will help me stand out.”
Cohen began working with the trio a few semesters ago.
“I was never able to work with a professor as an undergrad,” says Cohen, who always wanted to offer that chance to those he taught.
So he made his pitch, telling students he was willing to add them to his projects or to lend his expertise to their research. Either way, he told the students, the goal was to get published.
Gathings, Stepter and Taylor chose the former option, learning that research is a long and difficult but worthwhile process.
“Dr. Cohen is so passionate. He just influenced me in a way that I felt a natural connection to what he was saying,” adds Stepter, a senior Early Childhood Studies major. “Knowing there was someone who believed in me gave me a boost in my confidence. It taught me that I can do more, and how to contribute that into a school setting.”
“I said, ‘Oh, I can get something published? I can write something?’ That drew me in. That was intriguing for me,” Taylor says. “I love to write and to read, and this incorporates both of these things. I read the people’s stories, and I get to write a paper.”
Cohen feels like a proud father.
“They were tremendously helpful. They got so good at coding that I said, ‘OK, go on and do your thing.’ We’ve been expanding their role in the presentation every time,” he says. “They’re learning how to analyze qualitative data. How often does an undergrad get to analyze qualitative data? They’re learning how to present at professional conferences. We’ll be writing up the data soon.”
He sees benefits beyond the obvious.
Gathings, Stepter and Taylor have explored second-language acquisition theory and simultaneous vs. sequential bilingualism in a way deeper than any textbook can provide.
“They’ve internalized this information,” Cohen says. “When they go and become teachers, they’ll be able to articulate things most teachers aren’t able to articulate.”
John Evar Strid
“They’ve gotten an insight into the research process,” Strid says. “They did a phenomenal job – going through the data, finding the salient points, putting it together for the presentation, doing the actual presentation. It opens doors for them.”
Sure enough, Cohen and Strid say, the three students were a hit in Salt Lake City, where “the audience just fell in love with them. They’re so smart, articulate and passionate.”
In Naperville, they add, representatives from Elgin’s U46 and other school districts were handing over business cards and encouraging the students to call them after graduation.
“No matter which way they decide to take their careers, it’s a big win all around for them,” Strid says. “They really showed the initiative to follow through, and that really says a lot about them – all positive.”
Meanwhile, at Cohen’s encouraging, all three student applied and were accepted for the maiden voyage of Educate Global and traveled to teach in China during the summer. Eller also participated at Cohen’s suggestion, teaching in Taiwan.
“We agreed to go do one thing with Dr. Cohen,” Gathings says, “and now we’ve gone to China and to three different conferences.”
“I thought we were just going to get published,” Taylor adds with a laugh.
The students say they’ve grown in their confidence in themselves as well as in their belief in the importance of bilingualism and multilingualism.
Networking: Professor Cohen (third from right) introduces Raven, Amor and Autumn to Wayne E. Wright (blue shirt), associate dean for Research, Graduate Programs and Faculty Development at the Purdue University College of Education.
“We definitely need to advocate for not only bilingualism but biliteracy as well,” Taylor says, “and to replace judgment with curiosity.”
“I learned to advocate for others,” Stepter says, “who can’t advocate for themselves.”
The words are music to Cohen’s ears. “I am sincerely impressed. They got it. They got it!” he says. “They’re hungry for knowledge.”
After 14 hours in the air, there was obviously no need to tell Marcus Lewis that he wasn’t in DeKalb anymore.
Yet his first steps off the plane into a nearly empty airport in China, with none of the crowded hustle and bustle of O’Hare, did the job anyway.
His important realizations would come later, however, as the third-year Elementary Education major spent six weeks from early July through mid-August teaching English to teenagers at the Beijing Royal School.
Language barriers toppled – and learning took place – in Beijing and also in Taiwan at NIU’s other partner: the Miaoli County Government Education Bureau schools.
English lessons came through an exploration of fairy tales, movies, TV shows, comic books and superheroes. Through morning exercise. Through telling stories of life in America. Through touching U.S. currency. Through synonyms and antonyms. Through celebrating the Fourth of July. Through song and dance. Through imaginations sparked with “a bunch of glue and a bunch of sticks.” Through hugs and tears.
Marcus Lewis (center) and Alexis Moaton teach in China.
“Students and kids are kids wherever you go,” says Lewis, one of 37 NIU College of Education students who participated in the summer’s maiden voyage of Educate Global, which provided round-trip airfare, room and board and cultural tours at no cost to the students or the college.
“Things can be culturally different, but people – regardless of wherever you go – are people. If they want to acquire some knowledge, they’re going to do so, and they’re going to do so in a way that’s rewarding to you as their teacher.”
Part of the college’s experiential Educate and Engage Program, Educate Global was designed exactly for outcomes like that one in China and Taiwan.
Doing so, she adds, enhanced their preparation and resiliency for rapidly changing classrooms in the United States. “We are seeing an increasing diversity in the K-12 population,” Elish-Piper says.
“Our graduates are going to encounter students who speak different languages, who come from different cultures, who have different experiences,” she adds. “They are now more aware. They will approach teaching from a more global understanding. They appreciate the diversity and differences our students bring to the classroom.”
Madison Geraghty (left)
NIU’s globetrotters, who were urged to replace judgement with curiosity, also returned with greater confidence and flexibility.
“Each student who participated has been transformed in different ways. They’ve experienced the life of being a teacher in a very unfamiliar setting,” she says. “Educate Global was an eye-opening opportunity to be in a part of the world where the culture, the language and the educational setting are so different.”
David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, witnessed that with his own eyes.
“I saw our students really grow. I saw them be really self-reflective about how they need to change and develop,” Walker says, adding that “the life-altering set of experiences” enabled students to learn about themselves, what they do well and where they need to improve.
“Even now, I’ve had a number of them come up to me – in Gabel Hall, in Graham Hall, on the sidewalk – and tell me how Educate Global has changed their lives. It’s changed the trajectory of what they want to do with teaching,” he adds. “These are comments initiated by the students, which reveals to me what a powerful experience this was.”
Borg knows why the Huskie travelers feel that way.
“When we place them internationally, they become the minority. They, in many cases, find out for the first time what it’s like to actually be in a situation where they’re not in control or can’t navigate,” he says.
“For somebody to survive in that situation, and to excel and to thrive in that situation, means that that teacher-candidate is adaptable, is flexible, can make something out of nothing,” he adds. “It allows our students to become better citizens of the world. It requires our students to look at the world differently. It allows them to really reflect, and also to really reach out to students that perhaps don’t come from the same place that they come from.”
Case in point: Students in China and Taiwan “do not behave like American students,” Borg says.
“These students do not ask questions. That’s not how their educational system is set up,” he says. “Our students had to begin to ask more questions. Our students had to become far more observant in terms of the interactions that the Taiwanese or the Chinese students had.”
Quickly, however, “our students began to realize that the way they would behave around American students must be different in terms of how they would behave around Chinese and Taiwanese students, in particular in terms of how to build rapport.”
“Many times, an Educate Global student would have to break down that wall in order for that student to begin to share and to become more open,” Borg says.
“The effective educator really needs to be prepared to meet students where they’re at and move them to the next level,” he adds. “This is what NIU’s College of Education is all about. We want to be sure that our students have a whole toolkit to pull out at any moment.”
Amor Taylor, a junior Middle Level Teaching and Learning major, used fun activities to flatten language barriers.
Taylor and her co-teacher played games with students at the Beijing Royal School, who ranged in age from 11 to 15, asking them to demonstrate comprehension by completing unfinished sentences or drawing pictures of words spoken in English.
Nonetheless, “some of the students got frustrated. They were really hard on themselves. They are more disciplined, and when they do things wrong, they are really angry at themselves, and some of them would cry,” Taylor says.
“We would tell them, ‘It’s OK.’ We tried to show them that we’ve been here for five weeks, and we still don’t know as much Chinese as you know English,” she adds.
“I felt like that I was actually helping them, so it was very rewarding. I felt like we were making a difference. They were happy they were learning, and we were happy we were teaching them in a way they could learn.”
Nicole Morales (right) enjoys a meal with her Chinese students.
When Taylor returns eventually to her native Chicago to teach in “a school that’s impoverished,” she will bring the experiences of China with her.
“You have to slow down and take your time, because it’s not always that the students don’t understand. It’s that sometimes you’re going a little too fast for them to be able to let you know that they understand,” Taylor says.
“Sometimes we look only at the majority, and there a few stragglers behind. They’re still not grasping the material as quickly. We have to make sure that everybody knows it before we continue on because, when we go on to another subject, then they don’t know the first one – so they’re not going to be able to grasp that one either.”
Her confidence has risen to meet such challenges.
“There are people that we feel like might not ever ‘get it,’ and we have to strive to help those students, because it’s our job to make sure they get it. We have to figure out a way to help them so they can move on, so they can continue in life and continue in their education,” she says.
“I was able to just get a glimpse of what happens when you slow down you help them,” she adds, “helping their confidence to grow so they can feel comfortable learning the material even if they make mistakes. That made me feel good as a teacher.”
Lewis realized similar progression in his abilities.
Building affinity with Chinese students, despite “my zero knowledge of Mandarin, (their) limited knowledge of English,” he says, is good preparation for working to relate to students of different backgrounds.
“Just because something makes sense to me one way doesn’t mean it’s going to make sense to that student if I try and present that information to them that way,” Lewis says.
Meanwhile, he appreciated the challenge to plan, execute, reflect on and modify lessons. He enjoyed the teamwork with his co-teacher. He remains committed to flexibility while staying focused on his goals.
“If I can get different experiences, I’m open to those experiences. I’m open to doing things different ways if that is what’s going to foster this knowledge or inspire that student,” he adds. “I may not have as much experience now as more-seasoned teachers, but I want to collaborate. I want to work with them. I want their ideas – because I want to be a better teacher.”
Jodi Lampi, David Walker and Terry Borg
NIU is assisting him in that mission, he adds.
“People want you to succeed here,” Lewis says, “and they’re trying to provide you with as many experiences as possible so that you are successful, so that you are prepared.”
Educate Global travelers can differentiate themselves in the job market as well, partially through an incredible and affordable international opportunity that many could not manage on their own.
Students also can apply for the university’s EngagePLUS Academic Transcript Notation, which documents such skills as critical thinking, organization and teamwork to employers and graduate program.
“Our students who participated in Educate Global are highly motivated,” Elish-Piper says. “They are mature and serious. They are excited about taking a chance – of going out of their comfort zone, learning about others and, more importantly, learning about themselves.”
“The experiences they explain to principals and school districts are phenomenal,” Walker adds.
“I don’t know of many schools in our area that offer this kind of program. It’s the chance of a lifetime, and will be a hallmark of their lives.”
James Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, just provided a professional reference for one of those students.
James Cohen (center)
Cohen was one of four NIU faculty who traveled to China and Taiwan to supervise and mentor the students; colleagues Jodi Lampi, John Evar Strid and Samina Hadi-Tabassum did the same.
“What I saw in our students was that they stepped up to the plate,” Cohen says.
“I saw games. I heard songs. I saw projects. I saw physical activities that got the students out of their chairs. I saw one teacher taking students outside, in the heat, to run while working on their English,” he adds. “I saw very little direct instruction. Most of it was student-centered, engaging activities.”
For someone like Cohen, who’s passionate about educational equity, those weeks in Taiwan proved that his philosophy – the College of Education’s philosophy – is getting through.
“I was very impressed with how hard they worked, and how serious they took their charge to be teachers to Taiwanese children,” he says. “They really, really, really wanted to make a difference. They wanted to be the best teachers they could be. They were open to constructive criticism. They were open to learning about the culture and the differences in lifestyles. They were open to experiencing a different world, and it was beautiful. It was very heartening.”
Educate Global, for its part, “opened their minds to the idea that not everybody is the same. It built empathy for the English Language Learners in their future classrooms,” he adds. “It will shape them for the rest of their lives, without question.”
Jamal Murphy is not a typical NIU College of Education teacher-licensure candidate.
Raised on the West Side of Chicago, Murphy encountered an eighth-grade teacher who told him he would drop out by his sophomore year. What? Not finish high school?
“Once you tell me I can’t do something,” he says, “I want to do that.”
When he arrived at NIU – a campus that his high counselor deemed “too big” for Murphy – his initial years proved “heartbreaking” when he realized how far behind he was academically.
Now set to graduate in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, he is ready and eager to provide to younger generations what he believes he was “cheated out of” – a positive school experience that just might save their lives.
Murphy is also making plans to become a principal someday as well as a fierce advocate for the educational rights of students of color.
Until then, however, he is happily and productively immersed in the professional training ground of Altus Academy, where he is student-teaching for a year.
Founded by a group of NIU alumni and opened in August of 2013, the school in Chicago’s rough North Lawndale neighborhood is “up the street from mother’s house.”
Private, independent and not-for-profit, Altus aims to provide an excellent college preparatory education to underrepresented populations, including students from historical minority groups, low-income households and first-generation college households.
It’s a perfect fit for Murphy, who fits all of those target audiences.
“He grew up in this area, and he recognized that had he had an opportunity to be in an academic space like this, it would have benefited him. He wanted to go back,” says Portia Downey, professional development coordinator in the NIU College of Education.
“He’s connected with the students and their parents in a way that’s so meaningful. They trust him because they see that he understands and identifies with them. He’s embraced this idea of serving the underserved,” adds Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the college. “He really has become a part of the climate and the culture there, and is considered a member of the staff.”
Downey enjoyed her opportunity in October to see Murphy in action.
She also was energized by confirmation of her prediction that Altus founder, president and principal John Heybach, who holds two NIU degrees, would mentor Murphy and provide him with enriched experiences.
As part of Educate Local, Downey escorted a group of TLEE 385 students to Altus to lead a “readers theater” activity with the Altus children. TLEE 385 – “Differentiation in Elementary School Instruction: Field Experience with Diverse Learners” – provides clinical experiences to teacher-licensure candidates in their second professional semester.
NIU’s students worked with the Altus children on fluency, voice and reading with expression. They also engaged in “character education,” encouraging the children to support each other.
By the end of the day, the children performed four works that Downey chose for their messages of social justice: “America Poem,” “Crab and the Stone,” “Henry’s Freedom Box” and “Sadko and the Thousand Paper Cranes.”
The experience offered the teacher-licensure candidates more than invaluable practice in instruction and classroom management.
“We talk about how poverty can have an impact on instruction and learning,” Johnson says. “They were able to see and experience the effect that engaged instruction and positive environment has on learning.”
For Murphy, those are the classmates and experiences of his own childhood. He is learning lessons of another kind.
“Altus is teaching me how to plan. It’s teaching me how to be organized. I’m the most organized I’ve ever been in college and in my own life,” he says. “You start to understand yourself better. You understand who you are as a teacher.”
The Altus configuration – classes are grouped into three levels: second-, third- and fourth-grades; fifth- and sixth-grades; and seventh- and eighth-grades – has challenged him to find innovative ways to make the curriculum fresh and interesting for sixth-graders who learned it the year before.
Meanwhile, he is pushing himself to develop lessons and activities about history that resonate with children.
“Of course you should teach World War II, but one thing I’m realizing is that kids are not engaged by those things,” Murphy says. “They were born in 2007. Who cares about 1940?”
Spanish is also on his menu – something his fifth- and sixth-graders are teaching him.
“Never in a million years would I have thought I’d have a student teaching me Spanish,” he says. “I’ve learned that this is just about being open to new ideas, and not being scared or timid, but just hearing the students out, hearing the staff out, never taking anything personally but just taking the lessons they’re trying to teach me.”
Altus staff, for their part, are encouraging not to fear failure.
“I get a great vibe from them. They’re open to my ideas. They don’t shove me off, and they let me make mistakes,” Murphy says. “You try to have your one way – ‘this is the way’ – but they literally are letting me make mistakes, and I feel that’s how I’m learning. Those mistakes make me better. They’ve already made me better.”
Murphy’s immediate plans are to pass the edTPA, which measures a teacher-candidate’s abilities in planning, instruction and assessment, and is required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states.
He also is excited to bring his mother, Margaret Murphy, to DeKalb for commencement in May.
“I want my mother to have that experience of coming to a college campus and seeing someone graduate,” he says, “to show her that it really does happen, that it’s not just on TV. It’s not just on ‘The Cosby Show.’ It’s not just on ‘A Different World.’ ”
Following his return to the Chicago Public Schools, and his eventual master’s degree that will qualify him for a principal’s position, he hopes to make a similar mark in Arizona.
The Grand Canyon State’s Senate Bill 1070, which requires immigration status checks during law enforcement stops, motivates him to become a champion for students from families that fall under such suspicion.
It exemplifies his recognition that “kids come from different backgrounds,” and that all deserve an effective education.
His eyes were opened during a clinical experience in a suburban, predominantly white school. While those children were not enduring the poverty and food deserts of the West Side of Chicago, many did live in single-parent homes racked by divorce and the emotional stress it causes.
Ultimately, his goal is to create positive change wherever he is employed.
“I want people to speak of me highly. I never want to have a negative connotation. I want to be a great advocate for learners and for other teachers. I want to challenge myself to become a better leader and a better person. I want to make my school district a better place,” Murphy says.
“I just want to do the job to the best of my ability. If you’re not trying to be the best, then what are you doing it for?” he adds. “I really thrive on being challenged, and I’ll never get tired of having challenges.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
David Walker learns more about Adina Buetow (left).
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).
“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
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.”
Kelsi Spain began her college career studying business, but she soon realized that her heart longed instead to major in Elementary Education.
“I don’t want just to teach academic subjects,” says Spain, an NIU College of Education senior from Pingree Grove, Ill. “I want to change my students’ lives.”
Spain is already doing exactly that.
During her professional teaching placement semester this spring, she spent half of her time in an elementary school classroom and the rest of her hours as an AVID tutor in U-46’s Streamwood High School.
The AVID program encourages teachers not to simply feed facts but to empower students to learn on their own, a method she followed while tutoring high school students in whatever topics or homework they brought with them.
“We kind of guide our students through collaborating together so they can figure it out for themselves,” Spain says. “I’m just there to facilitate, and if they’re really stuck, I’ll step in.”
Although she plans to teach in the elementary grades, she is confident that her immersion in AVID has prepared her to provide “a unique, challenging and engaging education” to her future students: “The two worlds are not so different.”
Her exemplary work, which she continued daily even after NIU’s semester ended May 12, has resulted in an “Intern of the Month” award for Spring 2017 from NIU Career Services. Seven recipients are chosen throughout the calendar year; three of those will receive Intern of the Year scholarships.
She is excited for the distinction but more grateful for the opportunities to practice her teaching.
“You get to see those students every day, and it’s amazing to see how they change. They’re about to embark on this next chapter of their lives – and, with me being a college student, I can give them that first-hand experience,” she says.
“Being in the classroom with students so close to me in age gave me a confidence boost to recognize that I can be viewed as a young professional,” she adds, “and that I have what it takes to relate to students of all ages.”
Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development for the College of Education, supported Spain’s application. Johnson has observed Spain’s “professionalism and leadership in multiple contexts and settings.”
“Ms. Spain has been characterized by her integrity, dependability and strong interpersonal skills,” Johnson wrote. “I am confident that she will continue to excel at meeting the academic expectations of her coursework while making meaningful contributions to the campus community and in our partner school districts.”
Patricia Maynard, AVID coordinator at Streamwood High School, also endorsed Spain’s work.
“Kelsi did a great job in providing the structure and facilitating the questioning that goes with this type of tutorial process. It helps to have a strong base knowledge in difficult subject areas – i.e., calculus, trigonometry and physics – and Kelsi had that,” Maynard wrote.
“There is also an expectation that our college students act as role models for our students. Again, Kelsi’s ability to connect to her students was an asset,” she continued. “I think she will do a great job as an educator- she has the right combination of intelligence, confidence and attitude.”
Administrators of the NIU College of Education and Elgin Community College are preparing a “2+2” agreement that aligns ECC coursework with 100- and 200-level general education courses at NIU.
Upon completion of their associate degrees, students then are welcome to transfer to NIU’s main campus in DeKalb – or, if it’s more convenient, to take upper-level NIU courses taught by NIU professors on the ECC campus.
Clinical and student-teaching experiences also will take place in Elgin or in nearby communities, further enhancing the benefits of staying local. Meanwhile, either option promotes four-year graduation by connecting the degree requirements between NIU and ECC.
“What the 2+2 will do is allow us, with Elgin, to create seamless transitions,” Gregory added. “We’re also going to provide degree completion on their campus, bringing our program and our coursework to a place where people need to stay. It’s a win-win.”
Gregory identifies another “win-win” for NIU and the Kane County school districts in and around Elgin.
“This will create a greater impact in the local communities of learning by growing teachers to work in those communities,” she said. “ECC’s proximity to the U-46 and Huntley school districts really solidifies the relationships we already have with those two districts.”
Sean Jensen, director of Transfer Services for Elgin Community College, worked with Gregory and Margaret Myles, director of College of Education Student Services, to draft the agreement. Conversations began on news that NIU’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction will shift its Elementary Education program from “select” entry to “direct” entry.
“NIU is the top transfer destination for our students, and this update was of particular interest to us as it will allow students to complete the NIU bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education on the ECC campus,” Jensen said.
“It’s really beneficial for our students because we do have many who are place-bound. Many work in this area, or have other responsibilities,” he added. “For those students who want to follow the more traditional path to NIU in DeKalb, that still exists.”
Although the first group of students will officially begin NIU’s program in Fall 2018, Gregory said the College of Education will offer some “transitional” courses next spring in Elgin. Enrolling in these courses, such as children’s literature and foundations of education, will enable candidates to test the waters and determine if they are good fits for the NIU program.
Meanwhile, next spring will bring the first round of interviews for students who want to major in Elementary Education.
“During the second semester of their sophomore year, our native NIU students interview for entrance into the program. What we’re looking for in these interviews is what supports we can provide so they can be successful in reaching their goals,” Gregory said.
“Just as our native students do with our faculty members, the ECC students will apply and go through the interview process in the semester prior to coming to our main campus or in completing their degree at ECC,” she added.
ECC students interested in the NIU program will meet with their academic advisers to discuss their interest in the NIU degree and to register for the appropriate general education credits and prerequisite courses, Jensen said.
Graduates of NIU’s B.S.Ed. in Elementary Education program are prepared to work with children in first- through sixth-grades, typically offering instruction in all subject areas. Thanks to lessons grounded in theory, research and best practices, they are ready to teach in a wide variety of linguistic, socio-economic and cultural contexts.
Passage of the edTPA, required to obtain teacher licensure in Illinois and several other states, is almost a given. One hundred percent of NIU Elementary Education undergrads who submitted edTPA materials this spring passed.
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.
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.
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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