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Teaching future teachers from NIU

Taking on a student teacher always helps Jenny Tekiela take stock of everything she does to manage a classroom.

Tekiela, a language arts teacher at Sycamore Middle School, is working with student teacher Jacob Keene from Northern Illinois University this year. 

It can be more work for her because she is finding herself having to explain what she does to teach a class to Keene, including subtleties such as talking while passing out handouts to keep the class engaged. Tekiela said she didn’t realize she did this at first, but knew it was to keep the class focused. 

“Teachers don’t realize the number of [things] they do on purpose in a given day,” she said. 

Keene is one of about 2,500 students who go through NIU’s teacher education programs each year. NIU has formed partnerships with many area school districts, said Sharon Smaldino, Morgridge Endowed Chair for teacher education within NIU’s College of Education.

Smaldino said NIU has several student-teaching programs and some of them are moving toward a model where the teacher works with the teaching candidate for one year. 

“It’s a chance for the teacher hosting the teacher candidate to have some time to meet with these candidates and work more collaboratively,” she said. 

In the beginning, Keene works with Tekiela side-by-side before being in charge over one part of her class, Tekiela wrote in an email. Eventually, he would take charge of the teacher’s full schedule and would be responsible for teaching under her guidance, she said. 

DeKalb High School has co-teaching programs and more traditional student programs, said Jennie Hueber, assistant principal for the high school and the school’s liaison for NIU.

With the traditional student-teaching model, the student quickly transitions into being a classroom teacher. Co-teaching allows student teachers to work closely with the regular teacher – typically for a year – and creates more opportunities for teaching candidates to develop a rapport with students.

“It’s a very valuable experience for them and can also obviously be a good thing for our teachers to have an extra pair of hands and eyes and ears in the classroom,” she said. 

When it comes to having co-teaching in the classroom, top teaching candidates are selected for the program because of the yearlong commitment.

“We want to give them a well-rounded experience at DeKalb High School so they are prepared when they go interview for a job,” she said. 

The co-teaching model works well for DeKalb’s math teacher Paul Severino. He is currently working with student teacher Abbey Aldape, a senior math education major at NIU. 

“They learn a lot and we can feed off of each other,” Severino said. “We can work together and it seems to flow really well with a co-teaching model.” 

This semester Aldape is completing her observation phase of the program and will begin student teaching next semester. She said she is learning to connect with students from Severino and finds herself helping students who don’t normally raise their hands.

“It’s really rewarding to walk around to know the students and for them to know me and call me for help,” she said. “And when they say ‘Oh I get it now!’, that’s the best.” 

Aldape plans on teaching high school freshmen math, which is what she is currently experiencing during her student teaching. 

Keene, an NIU senior English major, said one of his biggest goals was to become an author, but he enjoyed the experience of working with young students in the classroom. At Sycamore Middle School, he is learning from Tekiela how to plan lessons, grade and develop teacher-student relationships.

“In my experience, it’s very welcoming for me, and the university encourages that you get as much exposure while you’re in there,” he said. 

Tekiela said she thinks it’s hard for student teaching right now with the changes wrought by Common Core standards to improve school curriculum statewide and it’s a lot different than when she was a student teacher 12 years ago. Student teachers had less time to observe teachers and were less able to manage a classroom as a result, she said. 

She said she likes NIU’s full-year student teaching program because it allows more time for a teaching candidate such as Keene to observe and eventually take charge of a classroom. 

Student teaching is a chance for Keene to put all the theories and practice he’s been learning to use. He enjoys interacting with students and finding out what they are learning on a daily basis. 

“It’s a nice ‘rise to the challenge’ moment,” he said. 

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