Tag: Teacher preparation

CoE’s Altus partnership blooms with El-Ed major Jamal Murphy

Jamal Murphy

Jamal Murphy

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.

altus-logoIt’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.

altus-3As 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-7“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.

altus-6“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.

altus-5It 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.”



A look behind the College of Education’s edTPA numbers

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma felt uneasy when she first heard about the edTPA, the new assessment she would need to pass before receiving teacher licensure in Illinois.

“It was very intimidating at first. It was very scary not knowing what to expect,” says the recent graduate of the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “It was new to our professors, too, so that almost made us more intimidated. If they didn’t know a whole lot about it, how were we going to be prepared?”

She needn’t have worried.

With nurturing guidance from her professors, Tuma passed her edTPA – as did 100 percent of undergraduates in the NIU College of Education who submitted their materials in the spring of 2016.

The College of Education’s most recent numbers are well ahead of the state and national results. The college’s teacher-candidates scored higher than the national average in all but one rubric, where they tied, and higher than or equal to the state average in all rubrics.

“My professors took the bull by the horns and were able to break it down, step by step,” Tuma says. “They integrated chunks of the edTPA into all of our classes.”

Most students are “nervous at first” about the edTPA, confirms Jennifer Johnson, director of teacher preparation and development in the NIU College of Education.

“The edTPA is a high-stakes assessment that could impact your ability to get a teacher’s license. It mandates that all teachers will be highly qualified,” she says. “Attorneys, doctors and accountants have mandated licensure exams, and the addition of the edTPA adds that level of professional accountability to our field.”

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson

For NIU, of course, the production of highly qualified teachers is a tradition.

“Our students were so successful on the edTPA because our faculty took a vested interest in supporting them,” she says. “The students practice these skills during multiple semesters, and we will continue to do that. We will keep working.”

Johnson is confident NIU’s success will endure even while the score required for passage continues to rise over the next few years. “The students in our program will receive edTPA preparation all the way through.”

Anne Gregory, chair of the Department of Literacy and Elementary Education, says College of Education teacher-education students hear “a constant message throughout their course of study” on the importance of edTPA preparation.

Meanwhile, Gregory adds, COE faculty clearly identify aspects of coursework activities and assignments “that mirror or, with a few tweaks, could better mirror the edTPA.”

Students are encouraged to set realistic goals in their preparation, to “break the tasks into manageable chunks” and to attend workshops coordinated through NIU’s Office of Educator Licensure and Preparation.

Preparing for the edTPA enables them to identify instructional needs, to study those in their NIU classrooms, to model them in student-teaching and then, Gregory says, “look to see if their students grow as well. It’s what good teachers do naturally as they gain some experience, and it’s a preview of what they will do consistently.”

Feeling edTPA stress is normal – “With any kind of licensure demand, or anything high-stakes, there’s a lot of pressure,” she says – but that anxiety soon evaporates.

“Just by getting their feet into a classroom space on ‘the other side,’ then there’s no longer that fear of the unknown,” Gregory says. “It becomes, ‘Oh, I can do this!’ ”

edtpa-words

Tuma, the newly minted alumna who now teaches physical education in suburban Yorkville at an elementary school and an intermediate school, is witnessing the value of the edTPA in her daily work.

During every-Wednesday staff meetings with her colleagues from all disciplines, collaborative discussions often focus on assessment.

“That’s what the edTPA was all about – assessments, and what you are going to do with those,” Tuma says. “That’s huge at my school. They want to see data. They want to know numbers. They want to see the success in our students, and that they’re learning.”

For teachers, she says, it means looking beyond the levels of comprehension or mastery shown through testing.

She cites as an example her own edTPA submission from her student-teaching time in nearby Rochelle, where she filmed a unit on basketball skills.

Her submission included her instruction on how to make a layup, video of the students attempting layups, peer observation and paperwork where students reported their numbers of successful layups.

That exercise – something simply required for licensure – now lives and breathes every day inside her gym in Yorkville.

If a student completes five of 10 layups in a basketball unit, what does that tell the P.E. teacher? Is five good enough? If not, why aren’t they making more shots? If no one is making more than five, what does that say about the instruction?

“I always flash back to the edTPA,” Tuma says. “It’s easy to give students a worksheet, or to tell them to do something, but it’s important what teachers take away from that assessment they gave. A teacher needs to reflect on that.”

Her alma mater Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education began piloting some of the edTPA templates in spring 2015 in advance of the fall 2015 implementation, says Jim Ressler, associate professor of physical education teacher education.

“As a program, we made the decision modify our lesson plan template to reflect language used by the edTPA, and we’ve found ways to integrate its components into our methods classes and most of our practicums,” he says.

Laura Tuma

Laura Tuma

Physical education teachers historically have organized their content around themes – skills, for example – and then plan related instructional units that might span several weeks.

Regardless of the specific daily tasks is “the domain” – psychomotor, cognitive and affective – into which physical education teachers buoy each lesson.

“All three domains are commonly in play,” Ressler says. “Our students have been trained to do this quite well planning for, and assessing, all three simultaneously.”

But “the edTPA is concerned with your ability to put together three to five lessons in succession that are coherent and that align toward a single, central focus. That central focus is the aim from the first or second minute of the first lesson to the final five minutes of the last lesson,” he says. “That’s been quite a shift for our students.”

However, he and his colleagues in KNPE see benefits to the edTPA’s philosophy and have made it “just one part of the overall process of becoming highly effective teachers after leaving our program.”

“The minds of teacher-candidates are always on the big idea, the real role of planning and how important it is to have adequate preparation to deliver lessons,” he says. “They also need ways to back up their actions of putting lesson plans together in advance, trying to teach them well and having clear systems in place to make sure the lessons went as well as they thought they did. If the lesson didn’t go well, can you reflect on why – and suggest changes?”