New Program Reimagines Elementary-School Teacher Training

January 1, 2015 | by the Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Elmhurst students who begin the College’s new Elementary Teacher Education major next fall will find more opportunities than ever before for practical preparation and field work, including longer hours observing and assisting professional educators in area schools.

The new program responds to revised Illinois content standards for programs that prepare educators to teach in the state’s elementary schools. Approved in August, Elmhurst’s program became just the seventh in Illinois to offer a path to the state’s new elementary education endorsement as part of the professional educator license. The major launches in Fall 2015.

“The new program will offer a more intense clinical experience,” said Jeanne White, associate professor of education and chair of Elmhurst’s Department of Education. “Our teacher candidates will get out in the field sooner and spend more hours in elementary schools.”

The program incorporates new state-mandated content standards in English language arts, mathematics, science and several other subjects. White said she and her colleagues in Elmhurst’s education department saw the revision in state rules as a chance to rethink the way the College prepares students to become elementary-school teachers.

“We took the opportunity to dream big. We asked each other, ‘What if we wiped the slate clean? What’s your dream? What have you always wished we could do?’” White said. “We wanted to see where those ideas would lead us.”

Their brainstorming produced a program that White said was inspired partly by the extensive clinical experiences found in programs that educate health professionals. Teacher-licensure candidates will begin clinical field experiences earlier in their major at Elmhurst and will spend more consecutive hours in elementary schools than before. In the first semester of their senior year, they will spend two full days each week in schools, instead of dividing their time daily between coursework on campus and off-campus practica.

“Instead of an hour of observation here and there, teacher candidates will have the chance to experience full school days,” she said. “They’ll see how educators manage transitions from one period to the next, for example, and they’ll truly become a part of elementary school communities.”

Courses in the program are offered in term-length “blocks,” with each block devoted to a different grade level or teaching experience. The first block focuses on first through third grades; the second block on fourth through sixth grades. The third block concentrates on meeting the needs of individual students and fostering inclusive classrooms. Also in the third block, teacher candidates take on daylong internships in elementary schools. The fourth block is a 15-week full-time student teaching experience.

The two-year “block” design also accommodates transfer students entering Elmhurst from community colleges.

Each of the blocks is led by a team of Elmhurst faculty, who teach courses, coordinate fieldwork and supervise students at schools. Such a team-teaching approach is similar to collaborative methods employed in many middle and elementary schools. “It more closely mirrors what teacher candidates will see when they begin teaching,” White said.

Students in the new program complete a minor in one of four areas: Mathematics Education, Reading Education, Educating Students with Exceptionalities and Teaching English Learners.

More than 300 Elmhurst students are preparing for state licensure as teachers. The Elementary Education program is one of 17 licensure programs for undergraduates at Elmhurst. Elmhurst also offers M.Ed. programs in Early Childhood Special Education and Teacher Leadership, and non-degree, graduate endorsement programs in English language and bilingual education, special education, health education and teacher leadership.

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