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Education Pathway winds through classroom experience

High School District 214’s Career Pathways are designed to prepare students for success beyond high school by supporting their interest in a particular field or by pointing them in a different direction.

For Wheeling High School senior Stephanie Tadda, the program confirmed her decision to pursue her dream. Almost from the day she walked into Wheeling’s preschool program to teach after completing her Foundations of Learning and Development course, she knew that her future would lie in teaching.

“At that [preschool] age they find everything joyful and exciting,” Tadda said. “They’ll say, ‘Look, it’s snowing!’ when as an adult, I am more worried about driving in the snow or shoveling. Being with young students makes me a better person.”

Pursuing a profession, of course, hinges on more than warm feelings. District 214’s Education Pathway has prepared Tadda for a teaching career and reinforced her commitment in many practical ways. 

“My teachers have helped me to understand the significance of content and lesson planning—how to present the content, how to get the kids engaged and ensure understanding,” Tadda said. “The program started with a preschool learning plan; then as we progressed to 3rd, 6th, 10th grade, the lesson plans became more complex. The teachers use a step-by-step methodology, and all of that that is well explained.”

District 214 offers C areer Pathways in early childhood, elementary and secondary education. The District’s Educator Prep program teaches students the skills and knowledge needed to become successful educators while offering early college credit and the opportunity to observe and teach in classrooms. 

And District 214’s program was created for students interested in a teaching career locally by offering the opportunity to take education classes, earn college credits and gain student teaching experiences at area schools. The program has 450 students Districtwide, half of whom are students of color. The goal is for these future teachers to teach in the community where they grew up. 

While this year of hybrid and remote school is not anyone’s ideal, it has provided education students with invaluable lessons in flexibility and adaptability.

For Linda Thorson, who teaches education courses at Rolling Meadows High School, being flexible has translated into working with her high school students to create a Mini Mustang Lab School for the 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds enrolled in Rolling Meadows’ preschool program. Instead of being in a classroom with preschoolers, Thorson’s high school students establish a weekly theme, create lesson plans and send the preschoolers video guides to lessons, including reading, songs and fingerplays. The “Mini Mustangs” go through these videos with their caregivers independently and do the activities at their own pace.

“Parents tell us that their children love this and sometimes will like one video and play it over and over again,” Thorson said, adding that the high school students still gain the learning benefit of creating lesson plans.

For Prospect High School’s Joyce Kim, who teaches College Intro to Education and Intro to Teaching Methods, the pandemic has given her the chance to bring in guest speakers via Zoom. 

“We brought in a graphic novel author by Zoom to talk with us,” Kim said. “He was teaching a class himself and talked to our students for 20 minutes while his students were in breakout rooms. That opportunity wouldn’t have happened if not for remote learning, and our kids were so inspired that they got to hear him tell his story. 

In addition, Kim said, the pandemic has nudged her to broaden her view of legitimate teaching resources that are often forgotten, such as using Twitter feeds to share resources about racial justice and social equity.

And, said Wheeling High School Education Academy teacher Rebecca Castro, students who have successfully navigated remote learning will be “light years ahead on technology.”

In the end, working through pandemic-related challenges seems likely to sharpen the preparation of students looking to become teachers.

Said Thorson: “I challenge students to ask, ‘Do I want to do this or not?’ It doesn’t matter what level you want to teach in; you get in the pathway on the ground level as freshmen. I call our students teachers because they are teachers. It’s important for them to feel that ownership. It’s important for students to learn that no matter what else is going on for them, they know that ‘I have to put this all aside when I walk into a classroom’ because then it's all about your students. Because that’s what teachers do.”