Heather Grobe, who is studying early childhood education in NIU’s College of Education (COE), did not expect her recent Educate U.S. experience in Houston’s Aldine Independent School District to change her perspective on schools and students.
But change it did, and fundamentally so.
“The biggest thing I learned was to never jump to conclusions about students,” she said. “Get to know them. They could be the most amazing children you’ll ever be lucky enough to know; they just may not yet have been given the opportunity to show that off!”
Grobe is one of 18 junior-level teacher licensure candidates who traveled to Houston last month as part of Educate U.S., a new COE program designed to place junior-level teacher licensure candidates in partner school districts throughout the United States for an intensive week-long, in-class experience.
Participants in the program stay with host families, work side-by-side with district teachers, learn about employment opportunities and, if their busy schedules allow, sample what the host city has to offer.
Grobe’s was the COE’s first Educate U.S. cohort. Plans already are being made for another cohort to visit Aldine next fall. The college is also researching other school districts to develop similar opportunities in a variety of locations across the country. The program is offered at no cost to participants.
Jeff McCanna, director of human resources for Aldine Independent School District, hopes the Educate U.S. partnership will generate career opportunities for COE graduates.
“We hire between 600 and 900 teachers a year due to growth. Many of the people we hire took part in our student-teaching initiatives and partnerships like Educate U.S.,” he said.
One of those future hires just might be Kaitlin Brown, a COE junior who aspires to work in special education.
“In just one short week, I felt like I belonged there,” she said. “I am currently trying to student-teach in Houston next spring, and I can see myself working for this district in the future.”
For many candidates, Educate U.S. was a welcome opportunity to gain new skills and learn cutting-edge teaching techniques.
McCanna was equally impressed with the work the candidates did with students in Aldine. NIU teacher candidates are eager learners and excelled at putting educational theory into practice, he said.
“They were very hands-on and active from the very first day. They were very reflective of what they did on a daily basis and very willing learners,” he said. “They also made great connections with the students that they worked with while they were here in Aldine.”
McCanna said that he and his colleagues noticed one theme that kept emerging during the candidate’s stay in Aldine. “NIU teacher candidates all are in teaching for the right reasons – to inspire and make a difference,” he said.
“We are very thankful for the opportunity that was given to us, and we hope that we will be able to do this again in the future,” McCanna added.
“This trip provided me not only with connections in Aldine, but also connections (in Illinois). Who would have guessed that going to Texas would have connected me with special education director in Rockford?” Brown added.
Candidates returned from the trip with renewed passion and excitement for teaching. Grobe said her diverse experiences with the students are one of the reasons she would recommend Educate U.S. to other teacher candidates.
“I got an amazing first-hand experience working with students from a completely different culture. This specific district was so different from anything I had ever experienced,” she said. “I think as an educator, you can never be too well-versed in various teaching scenarios.”