SJR Column: Teacher Education, October 2016
The hours may be long, the salary modest, and the “customers” sometimes challenging; but according to the National Center for Education Statistics, earning a bachelor’s degree in Education and becoming a teacher is still among the top choices made by college students in the U.S. today. Every year, nearly 200,000 candidates graduate from teacher preparation programs across the country, each of whom aspires to help young minds grow and reach their full potential.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, there are 77 approved teacher education institutions in Illinois. The University of Illinois at Springfield is one of them and Dr. Cindy Wilson, Chair of the Teacher Education Department, is enthusiastic about recent growth of the program.
“Students are attracted to the UIS teacher education program for several reasons,” she says.
“We take a team approach to supporting our students, providing individualized attention beginning when students declare their major and continuing through their student-teaching experience and job placement.”
Another strength of the program is the variety of pathways students can follow to achieve their educational goals. The department offers a major in Education that leads to licensure at the elementary level when combined with an appropriate academic major. Thus, students earn a double major, one in Education and one in a content area like Psychology, History or English. This pathway allows traditional full-time students to earn their bachelor’s degree in four years at the same time it prepares them for success in the classroom and related career options.
According to Dr. Wilson, students who enroll in Teacher Education come from many walks of life, with about 30% being non-traditional aged. It’s not unusual for a teacher education student to have already earned a bachelor’s degree in some other area or to have had a career in another profession. For such students, a post-bachelor’s teacher licensure program is available, offering credit for prior educational experience while at the same time providing the necessary sequence of courses needed to acquire a teaching license for Illinois. The introductory sequence is offered both on campus and online, further enabling working adults to participate.
UIS Dean of Education and Human Services Dr. Hanfu Mi is particularly proud of UIS students’ performance on the edTPA exam, an assessment used to verify an aspiring teacher’s readiness to succeed in the classroom, that is required for teacher licensure.
“UIS students consistently score well above the state’s average,” he reports, “with 100% of UIS students who attempted the exam passing it last year.”
“We currently have more than 50 agreements with local school districts that provide opportunities for our students to observe and participate in hands-on experiences including student-teaching,” says Dean Mi. “Area superintendents speak highly of UIS graduates.”
One of those superintendents is Dustin Day, Superintendent and Pre-K-6 Principal at Waverly School District #6. “UIS provides the quality of education and preparation I am looking for in potential teachers,” says Mr. Day.
“The program provides future teachers with real world knowledge about schools and how they operate, preparing them to use proper assessment to drive instruction and assist their students with potential deficits.”
Superintendent Day, himself a UIS alum, also serves on the College of Education’s Advisory Board – providing critical feedback and advice to the Dean and faculty to ensure the continued quality of the program.
Simon Wilson is one of many area residents who chose UIS to pursue a teaching degree. He now teaches 5th grade at Butler Elementary School in Springfield’s District 186 and is also pursuing his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership on campus.
“My courses at UIS provided in-depth knowledge on the development of children in all aspects of life,” he says, “and my professors helped me understand that every child is capable of learning, regardless of the challenges. The program also enabled me to develop the educational portfolio, clinical background, and technology skills I needed to be effective as an educator.”
“In other words,” says Mr. Wilson, “my UIS professors wanted me to succeed.”