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Free online tutoring available for NIU employees’ elementary children

January 20, 2021

NIU faculty and staff can receive free, online tutoring for their children in first- through sixth-grades, thanks to a new partnership between the College of Education and the Employee Assistance Program.

Mission Possible Tutoring and Homework Help connects elementary school students with nine teacher-licensure candidates who are pursuing Master of Arts in Teaching degrees through the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

The services, available via Microsoft Teams, include pre-scheduled tutoring support, “drop-in” hours for assistance with homework and on-demand, original videos that demonstrate hands-on science activities and experiments that children and parents can do at home.

Brian Smith, director of the Employee Assistance Program, calls Mission Possible “a perfect win-win” as many local school districts continue to navigate COVID-19 while parents cope with anxiety from that uncertainty.

“From the beginning of us going out working from home,” Smith said, “one of the things we’ve consistently heard from employees who are parents is, ‘How do we balance work, our life at home and our children’s academic needs when we’re not licensed teachers? I’m worried that they’re falling behind. I’m worried that I’m not able to give them the resources and support that they need.’ ”

Laurie Elish-Piper
Laurie Elish-Piper

Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, had heard the same concerns.

As a sponsor of an NIU committee developing well-being initiatives for faculty and staff under the leadership of Smith and co-chairs Andrea Drott and Jeanne Isabel, Elish-Piper raised the issue at a meeting. She then convened conversations with Smith and Jennifer Johnson, director of Teacher Preparation and Development in the College of Education.

“Our purpose is two-fold,” Elish-Piper said.

“First, we want to serve NIU employees who have elementary-age children, who may be doing remote school and who may need extra help, and who themselves may need some ‘quiet time’ to do their work,” the dean added, “and, second, to give our teacher-candidates rich and robust experiences.”

Johnson agrees.

“We want to provide this support for our faculty and staff as a give-back to thank them for all that they’ve done for us, and our programming, to support our students,” she said. “Now our students can support them.”

MAT candidates always welcome additional clinical opportunities to engage with students in multiple content areas. Many are career-changers with bachelor’s degrees in any discipline who have realized and decided that they want to teach elementary school instead, while others are provisionally licensed and already teaching.

Their work in Mission Possible Tutoring and Homework Help comes as part of their practicum, Johnson said, and builds on their previous coursework to develop their capacity to plan, deliver and assess lessons.

Jennifer Johnson
Jennifer Johnson

“One-on-one instruction is different from large-group instruction, and designing lessons for large groups or a classroom is not the same as providing intentional support,” Johnson said. “Just to have the opportunity to establish relationships like these – supporting students outside of the classroom – is huge. It’s a critical component of what a teacher does, and it’s another way to engage students.”

Doing so online also will prove valuable experience for their eventual careers in the classroom, she added.

“It’s a different platform in a different capacity,” she said. “It’s another tool for their toolbox.”

Smith is grateful for the collaboration.

“The well-being of our employees and their family members is part of our mission – it’s important to us, being part of Human Resource Services, to actively address the needs of our employees – and helping their children with remote learning has been a consistent need that they’ve identified,” Smith said. “This will allow them to concentrate on and complete their NIU work to the fullest extent possible.”

He expects that Mission Possible is only the beginning of similar partnerships across campus, and encourages employees to contact him to propose other professional development and support that could pair NIU expertise with staff needs.

For more information, or to enroll children in Mission Possible, email Karen Smith at [email protected].