“It’s always about the kids and it’s always been about the kids.”
That philosophy is the inspiration for Nick Guido ’09, who spent fall term student-teaching social science and history at Oswego High School. “That was the philosophy of my speech teacher in high school and it inspires me now,” says Guido. “I want to make every effort to make my passion for history come alive for my students, so they can experience what I feel. Since high school I could picture myself in front of my students.”
Every school day, thousands of North Central College students and alumni are “about the kids,” channeling their passion for history, math, science, reading, foreign languages and the arts in settings that range from urban to suburban to rural, public, private and charter. What they share is their preparation at North Central, which has cultivated a reputation for grooming future teachers with a strong liberal arts foundation and the best education coursework. Their careers are launched with extensive classroom experiences in both suburban and urban schools; access to some of the top schools in the nation; expertise in educational leadership; and a faculty that ensures that teacher-candidates and school administrators are ready for the challenges ahead.
“Some of our very best students across academic disciplines—like Nick— take up the challenge of teaching because they are committed to improving the lives of young people and society at large,” says Ann Durkin Keating, Dr. C. Frederick Toenniges Professor of History. “And it’s also rewarding when their love of learning inspires them go on to further degrees and higher education.”
Education faculty agree that many of the College’s top scholars find their calling in the classroom. “We have some of the brightest students in our programs, and students with backgrounds in Spanish, math, science and reading are the first to get hired,” says Maureen Kincaid, associate professor of education and chair of the department. “And we’ve raised the bar in our standards over the years—making sure that we as faculty intervene with students who may not be working up to our standards and provide the necessary support they need to be successful.”
For North Central educators, the phrase “it’s about the kids” refers to their own students, as the faculty prides itself on close monitoring and support of teacher-candidates.
An important component of the department’s formula for success is the stringent requirement for classroom field experiences, with access to both high-need schools and the nationally recognized school districts surrounding the College.
Cultivating close partnerships with Naperville-area schools allows North Central students to witness first-hand the best practices they learn about in class and modeled by their professors.
“One of North Central’s top advantages is the fact that we’re sitting in one of the finest school districts in Illinois,” says Kincaid. “They see these best practices in the field. And we have partnerships with schools like Beebe Elementary School that are crucial to our program.”
Beebe Elementary School every winter and spring term welcomes more than 20 North Central students who are studying reading and language arts methods. Over 20 weeks, those education students spend about five hours per week learning how to teach reading and language skills, working with small groups of pupils and presenting their lesson plans. A new component for 2009 involves the placement of a North Central Spanish minor in a new dual-language kindergarten class composed of pupils who speak either English or Spanish.
This partnership pays dividends to everyone involved, says Robyn Rippel, Beebe School principal. “We have T-shirts for the program that say ‘Educating the Future Together,’” she says. “We’re educating college students and they’re educating our students.”
She feels the 20-week experience is especially valuable because the students become comfortable in the building environment. “You have to be immersed in the culture of a school to make a connection with that school,” Rippel says.
A second partnership North Central has with Highlands Elementary School prepares students to be better reading teachers by pairing them with pupils who need tutoring. The education students pre-test and post-test their pupils, provide reading interventions and learn how to prepare case reports that go to teachers and parents.
North Central students are also immersed into high- needs schools to understand the challenges and rewards associated with teaching in urban communities. The Pipeline to Urban Teaching program requires all first-year education students to tutor Junior/Senior scholars from Chicago and Aurora. “The ability to participate in the Junior/Senior Scholars was one of the things that attracted me to North Central,” says Alexis Smith ’12. Smith is a Golden Apple Scholar who plans to teach in Chicago schools upon graduation and she writes a blog for the College’s website.
A new immersion program planned for 2009-2010 will place student-teachers in Chicago where they will live in the neighborhood they teach. Already three student-teachers have been identified to live and teach in a public school in the Rogers Park neighborhood.
As they continue their undergraduate degrees, North Central College students have additional opportunities for experience, such as D-Term internships at high-needs schools. One project involved a team organizing a literacy resource room with grade-level materials for a high-needs elementary school in the East Aurora School District.
Graduating teachers who decide to work in high-needs schools continue to receive mentoring through a program sponsored by Associated Colleges of Illinois and North Central. Kelli Diaz, coordinator of elementary partnerships and field experiences at North Central, is mentoring several first-year teachers, including Jessica Schmidt ’08, a teacher at Hermes Elementary in Aurora. “When I first met with Jessica, I asked her what she needed,” says Diaz. “She didn’t need help with instruction or school supplies, she needed breakfast bars for mid morning snacks. She could tell their hunger was affecting their learning. So we found resources to help provide them.”
Also at Hermes, North Central educators have collected coats for pupils who come layered in sweatshirts, says Mavis Demar ’79, school principal. “We have a wonderful partnership with North Central, like the $10,000 grant through the College for staff development. And my training in education at the College is still part of my soul,” she says. “Plus I love getting candidates from North Central like Jessica Schmidt, who has totally jumped on board here with everything she’s got.”
North Central student-teachers are also welcomed by long-term teaching professionals because these future educators are prepared with solid content in areas like math and the latest teaching technologies and methods, says Jacqueline McGlynn ’89 Palmquist, chair of the 34-member math department at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, IL. “I know they’re well-prepared and I know they’ll get great support from Mary McMahon [associate professor of mathematics],” says Palmquist. “Mary pushes them to get involved in school clubs and field trips, to get outside their college shell.”
Staying responsive to the education field includes reacting to issues like assessment and the requirements of No Child Left Behind; the needs of English-language learners; and a new process called Response To Intervention that will require documentation of actions taken to help struggling students.
“We’re looking at ways to improve our preparation of teachers for special education and for the challenges of diverse schools with English language-learners,” says Kincaid. “What’s wonderful about our department is we couldn’t have a more devoted group of faculty preparing our students.”
It was this atmosphere that attracted Dina Tufo ’09 when she was ready to transfer from College of DuPage to focus on history and secondary education. A top student in the history department and a 2008 Honors Day honoree, she parlayed her enthusiasm for history into a positive student-teaching experience at Batavia High School.
“The interactions I’ve had with my professors in education and history have been so important to my success,” says Tufo. “They’re always willing to go the extra mile to help you develop into the best teacher you can be.”
North Central NOW Winter 2009